The Cowan Within

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
WB:. Robert E. Jackson

I've recently joined a new company. Well, recently is a relative term, so we'll say about 3 months ago at the time of this writing. Getting the new job was quite an accomplishment to me. The company seemed amazing, and every person I spoke with was so incredibly kind, and smart. 

Soon after starting the job, like probably the first day, I started wondering if I deserved to be in such a good company. I would worry about not being good enough, or smart enough, where at times I wouldn't be able to focus on my work! Colleagues would tell me that they all felt that way, and everybody goes through it, but it was so hard to believe that they felt the same amount of anxiety. Then, during a team dinner, I learned that it wasn't just me. Hell, it wasn't just this company. It was Impostor Syndrome.

So, like any good Mason, I started searching, and reading, about Impostor Syndrome. Sometimes called the Impostor Phenomenon, the condition was introduced in 1978 by Dr. Pauline Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes. It was initially seen in high performing women, being introduced to a male dominated work force. These women, although worthy and well qualified, didn't feel like they belonged, always feeling like they weren't good enough.

For some time, it was believed that this issue was only evident within females, but it was later discovered that the feeling had no gender bias, but recognition did. Kevin Cokley, a psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, stated that “people who are experiencing or struggling with impostor feelings struggle alone. They think that they’re the only ones feeling that way.” Men typically tend to either compartmentalize, or not admit this feeling of inferiority, especially among their peers. Some feel that the best way to battle the phenomenon is to recognize and encourage the positive outcomes. Be sure to give the accolades when they are due. However, asking for such recognition and encouragement, can be deemed a sign of weakness in many circles, further exacerbating the problem. 

There have been several papers and articles written on the Impostor Phenomenon, and some studies have attempted to correlate the Phenomenon to family upbringing, or correlation with other disorders such as anxiety and depression, as well as perfectionism. What appears to be at the core, however, is the belief in a false-self, whose value depends solely on what others think and how you’re perceived. The apparent Impostor (I say apparent because they are an impostor only in their own perception) obsessively analyzes and reflects upon their mistakes, big and small, and always wonders what they could have/should have done. What some may see as a common error, the apparent impostor sees as a personal deficiency, another imperfect aspect of their own ashlar. The fear of exposing another deficiency, revealing another weakness to the community, can cause procrastination and be debilitating at times. Any success (such as a new job) is viewed as luck, or an oversight of somebody else. 

As Masons, I see several opportunities for the Impostor to sneak in. Think of when you might have delivered a presentation, or a section of ritual. Often times your Brothers will congratulate you on your success. If you've ever focused more on your mistakes, or had a fear that the bar was now higher for your next delivery, you've heard from your Impostor. If you aren't sure, go ahead and take this online test (yes, there is a test for everything now). 

Thank you for reading this far. A big portion of this article for me was researching and trying to understand, and cope with, the feelings I had in this new job. Seeking to understand the false self, and the lack of a true static self, has helped, but my search is far from over. If you're curious, the best paper I've found online about the phenomenon is from the Journal of Behavioral Science. In which Dr. Clance identifies six potential characteristics of the 'Impostor:' (1) The Impostor Cycle, (2) The need to be special or to be the very best, (3) Superman/Superwoman aspects; (4) Fear of failure, (5) Denial of competence and Discounting praise, and (6) Fear and guilt about success. One of my favorite quotes during the research, however, was from Business Insider; "And yes, the biggest deceiver in all of this really is us: Not in how we believe we lie to others, but in how we lie to ourselves. You see, impostors tend to mistake feelings for facts. But, feelings, unlike facts, lie — and they lie often."

Of course I'm no expert, but if you recognize a similar struggle, or patterns within yourself, please don't hesitate to discuss it with others. The phenomenon isn't a weakness, or a handicap, but to truly understand your own process, seeking a professional is always the best option.


Robert Edward Jackson is a Past Master and Secretary of Montgomery Lodge located in Milford, MA. His Masonic lineage includes his Father (Robert Maitland), Grandfather (Maitland Garrecht), and Great Grandfather (Edward Henry Jackson), a founding member of Scarsdale Lodge #1094 in Scarsdale, NY. When not studying ritual, he's busy being a father to his three kids, a husband, Boy Scout Leader, and a network engineer to pay for it all. He can be reached at

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