Imposter Syndrome?

In the article Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems, Wenger (2000) highlights the importance of organizations designing themselves as social learning systems and participating in broader learning systems. (p.226) The author suggests that within social learning systems there are different modes for belonging. (Wenger, 2000, p. 227)

Wenger (2000) reminds us “Sometimes we are a newcomer. We join a new community.   We are a child who cannot speak yet. Or we are a new employee. We feel like a bumbling idiot among the sages. We want to learn. We want to apprentice ourselves. We want to become one of them.” (Wenger, 2000 p. 227-227.) As I read this quote, it brought me back to when I first started in my current position. I was joining a new organization, had a new role and felt like an outsider. I did not feel as though I had the competence or experience to be one of “them.” During this transitional phase in my new role, I was talking with a colleague who said perhaps you have Imposter Syndrome. He was right. I felt like an imposter in this new community of practice. Even though my new role was still in the field of education, I didn’t understand the processes, artifacts or discourse within this community of practice. In fact there were so many acronyms, I felt like I was learning a new language.

As I embarked on my new role I relied heavily on what Wenger (2000) refers to as mutuality: the depth of social capital which he further describes as “people must know each other well enough to know how to interact productively and who to call for help or advice.” (p. 230) Developing these trusting relationships allowed me to ask questions about the processes, artifacts and discourse in a non-threatening way within our community of practice which increased my confidence in my competence. I slowly felt less like an imposter and more like I belonged.

As Wenger (2000) dedicated time in the article to newcomers to a community he also focused on what he calls “old-timers.” He discusses possible pitfalls in the area of competence and experience for a community of “old-timers” or people who have been with the same community for an extended period of time. One of the pitfalls the author describes is “If competence and experience are too close, if they always match, not much learning is likely to take place. There are no challenges: the community is losing it dynamism and the practice is in danger of becoming stale.” (Wenger, 2000, p. 233) This reminded me of complacency. If we are not taking risks, make changes in our experiences then we are not going to move forward in our practice. Wenger (2000) warns communities not to become a hostage of their history. (p.33) We don’t want to keep processes and artifacts in place just because that is the way we have always done things as a community. In the article, the author encourages us not to discount the role of brokers in communities of practice. Wenger (2000) defines brokers as individuals who “love to create connections and engage in ‘import-export’, and would rather stay at the boundaries of many practices than move to the core of any practice.” (p. 235)

One benefit of people who have been part of a community for an extended period of time is they are able to use their experience to introduce new ideas, artifacts or discourse and “pull their community’s competence along.” (Wenger, 2000, p. 227)
As I enter this new community of practice of doctoral students, I do feel like an imposter. Wenger’s article on Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems confirmed the benefit of mutuality and I am looking forward to learning from everyone in our journey as a doctoral student.



Wenger, E. (2000). Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems. Organization. doi:10.1177/135050840072002