Strategy Schmategy – Imposter Syndrome

Today I’m going to talk about a topic near and dear to my heart – imposter syndrome and self-doubt. To begin with, “Imposter syndrome is loosely defined as doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud.” I find it affects me most frequently when I’m stepping into a new role for the first (or second, or third) time, or when I’m accepted for a role that I see as prestigious. I’m just some guy who likes the rules a whole lot – why are they putting me in charge of anything?!

First of all – these feelings of doubt and uncertainty, of feeling like you’ve tricked the people around you into thinking you’re competent – they’re very common. If you’ve had similar thoughts, rest assured that there are plenty of people who have felt similarly and yet continue to work on exciting events and take on new and demanding roles and challenges.

However, before we dive in further, it’s important to recognize that external doubts or pressures are not imposter syndrome, and aren’t necessarily handled in the same way. Biased actions or exclusion (whether accidental or intentional) can make feelings of doubt feel worse – it’s important (if difficult) to take that into account when you’re looking at your own self-evaluation.

Confidence is Not Competence

It’s okay to doubt yourself – in fact, it’s a good thing in small doses. However, it’s important to remember that confidence does not implicitly lead to competence. There are plenty of times when I know I’ve been supremely confident in myself and my skills, only to screw it up in spectacular fashion.

Just because someone else is projecting confidence, or because they aren’t reading confidence in your presentation of words or body language, doesn’t mean that they’re right and you’re wrong. Being soft-spoken or cautious about interrupting doesn’t necessarily imply a lack of confidence, and even if it did, confidence is a subjective reflection of self-evaluation – and it’s possible for someone to be center stage and with all confidence they could say that Lightning Bolt is a blue card.

You’re Not Alone

It can feel like everyone else is better at their jobs than you are at yours, and they all seem so confident and comfortable with the tasks they’re handling. Everyone else clearly knows what they’re doing, and so they’re going to find out you’re a fraud. Right?

I’m going to pull back the curtain – now, I’m not naming names, but when I brought up imposter syndrome with my coworkers here at Judge Academy, practically everyone indicated in one way or another (whether by hiding from their webcam, or simply turning it off, or nervous giggling) that they felt attacked by my statement that many of us deal with it on a regular basis. 

It sometimes isn’t helpful to hear that people in positions of authority say that they struggle with Imposter Syndrome because it doesn’t sound right to you – there is objective evidence that they’re successful, after all, they have that role, right? A level 3 Head Judge of a thousand-player event saying that they don’t have full confidence in themselves sounds like a joke – they’ve practiced for years, they’ve been thorough interviews and panels and worked so many events. How could they not believe that they’re prepared for this?

It’s the same way that you can feel unprepared for a role you’re in. You have earned that role, but you feel like you haven’t proven yourself enough.

The Daily Fraud

“It can be hard to feel like an imposter going through your day-to-day life in what you do but it’s important to think about all the things you do well.”

So, before I said that I feel most like a fraud when I’m stepping into new roles – and that’s not quite true. I feel like a fraud in my day-to-day life almost always, but it’s not noteworthy because that’s the baseline of my expectation for myself.

Imposter Syndrome isn’t necessarily a big feeling of “I’ll never get hired as a head judge again.” It can also be a persistent “I don’t fit in, and eventually other people will realize that.”

I’ve had that thought for, at this point, seven and a half years, and somehow nobody realizes that I’m just someone who really likes Magic and its rules, and figuring out how to run tournaments, and that I’m clearly nothing like the people who like Magic and it’s rules and figuring out how to run tournaments.

It exists in my personal life too – I often question why people spend time with me, and sometimes it’s easier to assume it’s because of my position in the program, my knowledge, and what I can do for them, rather than them actually liking me as a person. How have I tricked so many smart, clever people into thinking I’m like them?

Sure, it’s a little ludicrous when I spell it out, and that helps for the moment, but that explicit recognition only helps a little bit. So how do you handle it?

Dealing With It

“Well; we were taught in school about imposter syndrome and were told it would be normal… I knew what it was, I was prepared for it, and it continues to slap me in the face.”

There is no solution.

That’s not a particularly constructive response, but it’s the truth. There’s no single solution that will “fix” the problem and make it go away forever. There are tactics to mitigate it, strategies to help you get through rough patches, and approaches that can make it easier.

Recognize External Judgment

“Our doubts are reinforced by society and not just internal and self-imposed.“

Many people, because of their race, ethnicity, gender, orientation, disability, or another personal attribute, will suffer implicit bias and passive judgment. They may be interrupted more, or their ideas repeated by someone else who then gets credit for coming up with it. These behaviors can very easily make you doubt yourself – are you not supposed to be there? Why aren’t people listening to you?

This is not Imposter Syndrome. This is external judgment and the behavior of other people diminishing your work and your efforts. If this is what is happening to you, or you see it happening to a peer, call it out. If you can, point it out in the moment, or talk to your boss or your peers and express your observations. This is something that can be directly addressed, not something you need to overcome internally.

Acknowledge Challenges

“Things going wrong isn’t a confirmation of imposter syndrome, but rather what happens to everyone and everyone has to manage mistakes.”

Everyone makes mistakes. In fact, things going wrong isn’t proof that you’re out of place, but just something that happens to everyone. Having a plan for things to go wrong isn’t a sign that you expect yourself to fail, it’s a sign that you are competent and prepared!

If you’re put in a role where you expect to make mistakes because you feel that it’s beyond you – that’s also okay! Being challenged and making mistakes is how we learn. However, it’s also entirely okay to acknowledge that you feel out of place and that you might need help.

Learning something new is never a bad thing. Asking for help is never a bad thing.

Nobody has perfected every skill (or even any skill). Heck nobody is incredibly good at every skill. Most people aren’t incredibly good at most things! Not perceiving yourself to be ready for the task at hand doesn’t mean you’re an imposter – it just means that you have the opportunity to continue to grow and learn.

Trust the Evaluation of Others

“Find someone you trust and ask for an evaluation, or get someone to review a plan, or just talk through what you’re thinking with someone if you need a boost.”

Often, when you’re given a role, it’s because someone else has evaluated you and determined that you’re ready for this role. Sometimes it’s because they know you’ll do an amazing job. Sometimes it’s because they know you’re ready for it and haven’t had the opportunity yet. And sometimes it’s because they think you’re almost ready for it, and they have the support to make it a good learning experience for you while retaining a certain quality.

When you believe yourself to be a fraud, you’re also saying, in one way, that you’re very good at deceiving others into believing that you’re competent. Ask yourself if you trust their judgment regarding the other individuals they have chosen for various roles and responsibilities? Do you think that the person putting you in charge is incompetent themselves? If you don’t, maybe you should trust that they have evaluated your skill set somewhat accurately.

It’s also important to trust your friends and your peers when they give you feedback. If you don’t trust them when they give you positive feedback, then you should be equally distrustful of any critical feedback. If you trust their critical feedback, then you should be equally trustful of their positive feedback!

Stop Comparing Yourself

“I tried to copy other peoples’ styles to see what fit. This led to more direct comparisons with judges who particularly excelled at any given role, which exacerbated my feelings of inadequacy”

We constantly compare ourselves to those around us, especially those who are doing the same jobs or hunting for similar achievements. We look at objective measures – who does the work faster, who is on more events, who gets the coveted role first – and then take those as objective condemnations of ourselves.

That isn’t fair.

Other people start in different places than we do, have different ways of learning or adapting, have different support structures, have different additional responsibilities – the list goes on. Comparing yourself to others, especially if you focus on individuals who exemplify a particular trait, can be extraordinarily demoralizing.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t aspire to be more like other people – using the achievements of others to motivate you or provide you guidance can be an incredibly powerful and rewarding tool.

The accomplishments of others do not lessen your own accomplishments.

Fake It Til You Make It

“I view it useful as a bridge of sorts, to help keep the imposter syndrome from overwhelming you.” 

This perhaps seems a little counterintuitive, if you’re already feeling like a fraud. Accepting the situation that you feel out of place can be okay. Vent to your friends and people that you trust that you’re uncertain about yourself.

But then go out there and act confident. Don’t disregard good advice, but don’t undermine yourself before you get started. Ask for specific feedback about the things you’re most worried about and then just brazen your way through it. You have someone watching for you to screw up, but that’s because you asked them to do it. If it happens, they’re going to be there for you.

Don’t let your negative feelings get in the way of you challenging your skills. You’re not faking it forever, just for this one time, so you can really evaluate how good you are.

“Making it” isn’t “achieving perfection” but rather, “making it through the day.” You’re not faking your skills, you can’t fake those. Instead, you’re tricking yourself about your confidence.


“People get into judging for different reasons…. Have conversations with new judges about what they want out of judging.”

Different people want different things out of judging – I wanted to see if I could, and see how far I could push myself (definitely a selfish motivation, and I’ll get into that in another article), others do it because they like being the person others come to for help, others want to see the events at their store run more smoothly, others do it because they want to create community gatherings.

This ties into the above – if you’re starting out and want to develop your community, comparing yourself to judges who want to be policy experts isn’t going to help. Pushing yourself to compete with them, if that’s not what you want, is going to be frustrating.

As mentioned above, you’re not going to be great at everything – it’s okay to find something you like and are good at and specialize in that, and focus your efforts there – everyone’s journey is different. Mastering one skill is incredibly valuable, and knowing where your areas of improvement are allows you to ask for help when you need it.

Examine Your History

“Now that I have a better idea of how I evaluate my skills I’d be interested in going back and looking at my own self-deprecation with a more kind eye and giving myself the benefit of the doubt.”

Look where you were a month ago, six months, or two years. Remember how you felt then, and how you evaluated yourself then. Given time and distance, you can evaluate yourself in those moments again.

Did you judge yourself too harshly? Did you forget about exceptional circumstances? When you first reach a new plateau, whether it be a level or a position of leadership or a role at an event, it’s important to remember that you haven’t done this before. Therefore, it is very difficult to know what is actually expected – both for you to do and for how you will respond. 

Once you’ve been at that point for a while – you’ve done that task for several events – then you can fairly go back and evaluate yourself. Evaluating your performance the first time you attempt something, especially if you compare yourself to others who have done it before, is only going to end in frustration. Now that you’ve done it and understand what the expectations and road bumps are, you can more properly evaluate how prepared you were for the role, and whether or not you were, in fact, ready, when you took on the challenge.

It’s hard to properly evaluate ourselves in the moment, but if we look back and see that we were constantly harsher on ourselves than we perhaps should have been, we can draw a conclusion that there’s a chance that we are still doing the same.

Growing the Community

One of the ways we can address Imposter Syndrome is to, well, address it as a community. The more people are aware of imposter syndrome and how it can affect them, the easier it can be to handle it.

As I’ve said before, there isn’t a simple solution to this – it requires constant vigilance and the nagging feelings are incredibly difficult to push away entirely. However, beyond working alone and dealing with your own thoughts, there are some tactics that can help others, and that in turn can help you.

Talk About Failure

“I had this whole image in my head that we as judges needed to be 100% infallible beacons of knowledge and that getting things wrong was unacceptable”

One of the simplest, yet, at the same time, hardest steps towards mitigating imposter syndrome is to talk about your failures. By talking about them, you help normalize the idea that we are all imperfect, and that we can all learn and improve.

Beyond that, other people can learn from your mistakes and avoid those errors themselves when they run into similar trials.

Talking about failure and not being judgmental about it encourages other people to talk about their mistakes and what they’ve learned. It also helps reinforce the idea that if you make a mistake you can find someone who you know will support you, rather than blame you, and lets you know who you can go to if you see someone else who might need assistance.

Embrace Other’s Achievements

“It would have been helpful to hear that I am good enough. That I am capable of doing great things.”

On the other end of the spectrum, celebrate the achievements of your friends and peers. The accomplishments of one person do not diminish the achievements of another. It absolutely can be true that one person gets a particular role and someone else does not, because of limited availability. It can be hard to celebrate a role that someone else earned that you’ve been trying for and have been rejected for. Seeing someone else get what you want and not having yourself is crushing.

However, when you do get those opportunities, you want your friends to celebrate with you, not hold dissatisfaction close to their hearts. If you can, make an effort to express your excitement or pride in their accomplishments. Support your friends and your peers, and they will, in turn, support you.

It can feel as though a role earned by another is an opportunity lost to you. Don’t treat these incidents as failures, don’t see the other judge as your opponent. Talk to them and ask them what they learned from the role so that you can be prepared when you do get your chance. Work and collaborate with your peers, rather than trying to push yourself above them. Together we can help each other rise and find success.

Wrapping It Up

That’s… a lot. This is one of my longer articles, and I wanted to thank you for sticking through it. I could have broken it into several pieces, but that would have spread it out over months.

I want to take a moment to thank everyone who spoke to me about Imposter Syndrome and their experiences, what they wish they had known, and what they would like to see the community discuss moving forward. I had conversations with dozens of people, and everyone I spoke with influenced this article in some way or another. I don’t have the space to include all of the details from those conversations, and I wish I could.

I encourage you to speak to each other – ask publicly or privately to discuss how you’re feeling and what you’re struggling with. Everyone I spoke with had incredible insights into how they approach imposter syndrome, how they see it as an entity with the program, or how it’s affected them outside of judging. This article can only do so much – talking with others is so, so, incredibly valuable and was helpful to me on a personal level, and maybe for you as well.

It’s a really challenging space – talking about our insecurities and vulnerabilities, especially when it’s something as insidious and pervasive as self-doubt. Take a risk and believe in yourself.

Remember, you have a whole community of certified judges who have your back! Join us on the Judge Academy Discord to connect with peers and share your thoughts, experiences, questions, and feelings.