Guest Post: Imposter Syndrome and Judging

Casey HanfordSt. Charles, Missouri

Casey Hanford
St. Charles, Missouri

It took entirely too much nudging for me to finally write an article for Bearz Repeating. Something would always be the excuse: I don’t know the topic well enough; nobody cares about that idea anyway; I don’t have enough time to write. But, at the end of the day, there was really only one reason I wasn’t sharing my thoughts with you. I was afraid. Scared that those who knew me would be let down by my performance; that those I’d never met would get the first impression of a dunce who had no business putting words where others could see them.

In short, I was afraid of being an imposter.

This fear wasn’t limited to article writing. Project involvement, self-review, preliminary examinations — all things I procrastinated for fear that they might be what finally exposes the fraud I am.

But I was wrong. I had no real reason to doubt my accomplishments as luck, or downplay compliments as niceties. I was suffering from Imposter Syndrome, and I was afraid.

Imposter Syndrome is a term coined in the ‘70s to describe people who struggle to internalize their accomplishments; who, despite evidence to the contrary, are convinced they are frauds undeserving of their position or accolades.

The fear of exposure and failure can be devastating to a judge’s potential success. I want to equip you to help those among us who struggle to see their greatness — maybe even yourself. The rest of this article is broken into two pieces: how to recognize the symptoms of Imposter Syndrome, and how to provide judges suffering from Imposter Syndrome the support to realize their true strength.

Symptoms of Imposter Syndrome and their impact

Consistently diminished compliments

A judge suffering from Imposter Syndrome often chalks up personal accomplishments as luck, timing, or a product of those around them — leading to a lack of confidence in their abilities. These judges can come off as humble, sometimes overly so, when receiving compliments. But this brand of humility only serves to diminish a self-image that should be bolstered by praise. The true essence of humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.

Seeks external validation

Even when tackling tasks that should be mundane for someone of his of her caliber, a judge suffering from Imposter Syndrome may check with those he or she considers wiser or more experienced. This reveals both a lack of self-confidence and a perception of inferiority to those from whom they seek approval. While validation can be helpful when tackling challenging tasks or ensuring boundaries of responsibility aren’t crossed, there are times when the best solution is a judge acting autonomously to solve the problem. Time-sensitive issues cannot be put on hold for the sake of validation. Worse yet, some people struggle to even take the validation at face value, fearing that the advice was intended for the imposter and not the internalized individual.

Superman-like levels of effort

While this is a symptom easily confused with a solid work ethic, a judge with Imposter Syndrome may feel that their effort means less. They feel they must go above and beyond to even match their peers’ results. You might see a judge like this always rushing to be the first one on a call, always volunteering for special assignments, and essentially worn to rags by the shift’s end. This extra effort is seen as bailing out a sinking ship, as opposed to exceeding expectations, and is rarely recognized by the judge in question as anything extraordinary.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. Anyone can suffer from it and, of those who do, anyone can overcome it. Our ultimate goal is to accept our accomplishments for what they are and take ownership of our success. If we realize that failures will happen, they won’t be the devastating ordeal we fear them to be. These strategies will help anyone build self-confidence, and I strongly encourage any judge to share these practices with those around them.

Gracefully receiving compliments

When someone pays you a compliment, the best response you can give is, “Thank you!” Don’t downplay your effort or involvement. Give credit where it is due, but accept that you own a part of that credit. Let the compliment validate your efforts and trust that the outside observation is a good judgement of your success. This will help you internalize the accomplishment instead of attributing it to luck, timing, or the efforts of others.

Accept that you’ve been given responsibility for a reason

If a judge or Tournament Organizer has provided you with a new role or responsibility, chances are they did so because they believe you can succeed. Assume that you deserve the position that you have earned. You didn’t get there by chance. If you take these challenges head on, you will always improve yourself. Sometimes you will fail, but those will be the lessons best learned. You will never realize your full potential if you can’t accept that you deserve to be where you are, and proceed onward.

Take the next step

Once you’ve overcome your initial self-doubt, ride the wave of self-confidence into uncharted territory. Write an article. Present a seminar. Ask for a team lead or head judge position. It is in these new endeavors you will find the value of feedback. While praise is good for an ego boost, critique is one of the best tools for self-improvement. External critique provides unique perspectives and learning to absorb that input will be key in your continued growth. Overcome the perceived insult of criticism and absorb as much as you can to improve yourself.

Value your accomplishments as much as your efforts

You don’t have to be a superhero to add value to an event. Focus less on showing effort and more on providing value. Helping those around you will not only enable your team to function more cohesively but will also give you the immediate feedback that you are being of use. Feeling useful will boost morale for you and those you’re helping more than the blisters you get for putting on the red cape all day.

Stop comparing yourself to That Judge

You’re not That Judge; you are you. You have your skillset, your experience, and your drive. Chances are, if you are comparing one of your traits to someone else, it is because that person is a rockstar in that field. Instead of recognizing your own abilities, you’re focusing on the gap between yourself and That Judge who’s been at this a lot longer. Do yourself a favor and stop making this comparison. Even if you never get to be as good as Riki at providing feedback, what you’ve got to say still brings value. Own what you’ve got to add, no matter how big or small. You’re still contributing.

Wrapping Up

Now that you have both a field guide to spotting Imposter Syndrome and a toolbox to overcome it, I hope you feel more empowered. Whether it’s taking ownership of your accomplishments or helping others do the same, we can work together eradicate Imposter Syndrome from the judge program. If we can internalize our successes, we build the confidence to take risks. With risks come failures, and the lessons learned from our mistakes. Finally, those lessons lead to growth and greater successes and by internalizing successes we come full circle. It’s easy to get derailed from this growth cycle, but you can always come back to the tools that put you on track in the first place.

Bearz, who is so graciously enabling my overcoming of this fear, has a great article about building habits. While it’s easy to consider some of the solutions presented here and in other articles about Imposter Syndrome to be cures or remedies, there is no reason not to make them habits. Every day, make a conscious effort to accept a compliment at face value with a simple, “Thank you!” Make a list of the constructive feedback you’ve received and put in deliberate effort to improve something on that list at each event. Then, take it a step further and find a way to share how you’ve improved. Make it a habit to internalize your success and own your strength.

When doubt creeps in and tries to tell you what you can’t do, that you aren’t qualified or lack the credentials to accomplish your next goal, remember the words of Marianne Williamson:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”

Who are you not to be an awesome judge? You’ve already got it in you, and owning your accomplishments is the first step.

Additional Resources


If you have any questions or just want someone to bounce ideas off of, feel free to send me an email through JudgeApps. Talking to someone who has shared your experience can help arm you with ways to overcome the adversity of imposter syndrome.

3 thoughts on “Guest Post: Imposter Syndrome and Judging

  1. There is no spot, no paint brush so advantageous, which you can hand paint a straight line of any distance.

  2. Two things:

    This visualization captures it in a nutshell:

    As for compliments, I’ve found the response “That’s so kind of you to say, thank you!” incredibly helpful. It acknowledges the compliment and returns one. This is super helpful for those of us who aren’t comfortable with compliments, and it’s even helpful if you’re getting problematic compliments!

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