Provoked by Justice Sotomoyer’s observation of dealing with her atypical “imposter syndrome”, in a recent Business Standard Op-Ed piece, Shyamal Majumdar writes, “The ‘imposter syndrome’ – Even high achievers often dismiss their success as some fluke or luck, and not the result of their own competence.”

This got me thinking. Internet based research revealed that, “The impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”


Analyzing this wiki definition, I feel that at least partial description of “imposter syndrome” in the West is simply being realistic. After all, in my case I am sure what I am today is also a function of the bosses, colleagues and subordinates in the teams that I have worked in, as well as suppliers, customers and well-wishers in the extended environment. Thus, it is difficult to find a purely self-made individual. Hence, I believe that my success can be attributed to luck, fortune and timing.

I remember my days in Toyota, when our domestic market share in Japan in the segments we operated was increasing from 40 to 44 %, while Nissan’s was in decline. Sitting in the smoking corner during lunch, one of my colleagues made the observation that“managers and executives at Nissan are just like us, from the same classrooms of the same universities”.  In many cases, the choice between the two companies was made purely on geographical reasons, while choosing their office locations in Japan. Yet, one company is rising and the other is declining. Certainly, decisions taken by our seniors were instrumental in the current success and failure, rise or decline, but the fruits that WE were enjoying (or not, as in Nissan’s case) were more a matter of providence”.

Back then, my Toyota colleagues and I shared the perception that we were part of destiny.


I remember another instance of a junior, call him Taro for now, who joined us from one of the leading private universities in Japan, Keio. Being assigned to an operations group that was very busy with re-structuring, his seniors could not mentor him sufficiently. They just did not have enough time. His development as an executive dragged, until he was transferred to an administrative job. There, under appropriate mentorship he became like a fish taking to water. He was admired for his attention to detail, his confidence grew and he started commanding respect. Different circumstances, different results, same person. Taro would not internalize failure changing to success purely to his competence.

I dedicate my own competency development to being a function of luck, timing and hard work. What about you?