Impostor Syndrome & Autism: The One Hope in this No-Win Scenario

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I’ve been fortunate to work toward a half-decent level of professional success, but the further I go, the more accomplished the audience, the more I feel that onset of impostor syndrome.

At this point, I’m not so much concerned that people are going to unravel my disguise. I feel I’m donning fake glasses and comical mustache combo, wondering why no one has figured out my identity yet.

It’s hard for normal people, and harder for us on the spectrum.

Due to spectrum superpowers, I read quickly, retain a massive wealth of information, and recall most of it in a flash — people assume I’m smart, and that’s the peril.

It follows you.

So when I struggle to understand an abstract concept, or find myself flailing on simple maths that I’d need a calculator for, I am doomed by the “smart” label.

I remember my parents calling me into the kitchen, the concern traced across their brow.

“Hunter, what happened on this geometry test? Are you OK?” 

I’d missed four questions and gotten a 60. They’d never seen that, and it was unfathomable to them that I could actually be bad at geometry.

Or when my college classmates were shocked at me getting a D+ on a presentation, as if they’d sooner believe I’d murder someone in cold blood.

It follows you.

Despite the achievements and efforts I’ve made in my analysis career, I always feel I’m a mortal among the titans, the lone human among Mount Olympus, one failure away from being reduced to a mere pretender. 

It’s so much harder through the fabric of autism, too.

I’m an odd, strange, offbeat, oversharing person, more funny than fun, more social over a video chat, yet I maintain a reputation I enjoy and benefit from, one in which I almost feel like another person: social, “almost charming,” and energetic. Those attributes aren’t furtive, but they feel summoned from an aether of otherness.

No one could really like Hunter, I surmise. And thus, who they like must be an impostor.

It feels like a no-win scenario, where I’m working through a persona who doubts both the self of himself and the accomplishment.

But there’s hope.

If you’re familiar with Star Trek and/or no-win scenarios, you know of the Kobyashi Maru. Where Captain Kirk won through circumvention and cunning. But a win’s a win, right?

Yeah, we’re not that clever.

But we are resilient. 

Like Scotty, the Enterprise’s Chief Engineer who also took the test – setting an unlikely record in the process.

He didn’t win, but he lasted longer than anyone else: using every kind of arcane, profound, and experimental engineering construct, maneuver, hack, you name it — Scotty took out wave after wave of enemy ships until he was kicked out of the test for using methods that’d only work in theory, but not practice.

But he lasted.

That’s the hope. 

Digging into where talent fails and work prevails. Where some lateral thinking helps scale upward. Where we try everything in the book and beyond the margins just to last a little bit longer.



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