Throughout my conversations I have heard two words spring up unexpectedly: Impostor Syndrome. I was curious because I have met so many incredibly talented wine professionals since I entered the industry in 2013. Yet many of them have mentioned that at one point or another they did not feel good enough for the position they were in. Turns out this is not a syndrome isolated to wine. In fact as many as 70% of people have experienced it in one way or another:
"The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: 'I'm a fraud! Oh God, they're on to me! I'm a fraud!' So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud." - Tina Fey
"I have written 11 books but each time I think ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’" Maya Angelou
“I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people.” John Steinbeck
Impostor Syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which one doubts one's accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud." It affects even the most accomplished wine professionals, forcing the feeling that you are not capable or worthy of the position/title you hold, whether you are working towards being a full-time winemaker, floor sommelier, or manager in wholesale.
Impostor syndrome affects people of all industries. And it can take various forms. The Muse listed five ways in their article "5 Different Types of Impostor Syndrome (and 5 Ways to Battle Each One)":
The Natural Genius
*Symptoms include: wanting to get things right on the first try, feeling validated by working (not necessarily by the work itself), not being satisfied with your work because you feel you could have done better, or not asking for help when needed because you are worried it will paint you as a "phony" (cue Catcher in the Rye reference).
For me personally it was both becoming a sommelier at the Rosewood Hotel in Menlo Park in 2017 (after I had taken my Certified and CSW exams), and then later when taking the Advanced Sommelier exam. The constant fear of not knowing the "right answer" is a challenge that many people decide not to take. But the reality is - no one knows the "right answer" all the time.
So how do we counteract this experience? The easy answer is "Be Confident" but how easy is that actually? Wine is intimidating when you are first starting out; to assert yourself among the masses as someone who "knows about wine" might take just a bit more than confidence. It requires support and positive encouragement from those you work with, study with, and live with.
The truth is everyone needs to be a little less judgmental of others and a little more accepting to the fact that we all learn at our own pace. So I taste cherries and you taste alpine strawberries. Great! We can both taste those things and no one is wrong (unless we're both tasting Chardonnay). Everybody has to start somewhere; no one is born with all the knowledge locked and loaded. If you are curious about why people decant white wine or how to make champagne extra cold for a guest, we all had to ask those questions at some point!