Blowhard syndrome

This post and the links it contains offer a worthwhile tour through a small portion of a topic prominent in the current buzz, namely women in tech. I haven’t followed the topic closely because most of what is written is carefully crafted to promote one agenda or another, making it hard to discern the actual issues beneath. But the issues are there, and this is a pretty direct account of one of them.

While there are a few situations that make me feel insecure, I am, for the most part, an excellent judge of what I’m capable of. Expressing a reasonable amount of doubt and concern about a situation that is slightly outside my comfort zone is normal, responsible behavior. Understanding my limits and being willing to acknowledge them is, in fact, one of my strengths. I don’t think it should be pathologized alongside the very real problem of “impostor syndrome”.

In fact, it is the opposite behavior—the belief that you can do anything, including things you are blatantly not qualified for or straight up lying about—should be pathologized. It has many names (Dunning-Krueger, illusory superiority), but I suggest we call it blowhard syndrome as a neat parallel.

“Blowhard” is one of my favorite epithets—not one I would publicly apply to anyone, but a category I use actively In classifying people. I think it has maintained a fairly precise meaning over the years, and I think the writer nails it here.

I like her no-nonsense description of the problem and its cure.

Just to be clear, I’m not mad at anyone who has tried to reassure me by telling me I have impostor syndrome, and I recognize it as a real problem that lots of talented people struggle with. But I am furious at a world in which women and POC are being told to be as self-confident as a group of mostly white dudes who are basically delusional megalomaniacs. We’re great the way we are, level-headed self-assessments and all. Stop rewarding them for being jackasses.

My totally reasonable amount of self-confidence is not a syndrome; dudes’ bloated senses of self-worth and the expectations we’ve built around them are. Correct accordingly.

Assuming the writer intends “correct accordingly” as advice to individuals, I’m all for this cure. Learning to recognize blowhards, and to then dismiss what they say, will bring significant personal benefit no matter how the rest of the world behaves. And if enough of us adopt this pose, the world will gradually become a place where blowhards are denied the cultural clout they use to wreak havoc. But we don’t need to wait for that better world in order to benefit from the pose—and in fact our waiting just delays its advent.


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