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Imposter syndrome

Last updated on January 3, 2023

There’s a certain level of imposter syndrome that goes hand-in-hand with sustainability. Things are fine within the industry; I’ve found colleagues to be welcoming and supportive. But there tends to be a lot of gatekeeping when you meet someone on the outside. It’s like that meme: “Oh, you like sustainability? Name three of their albums.”

When I tell some people about my interest in this area, I get, “Oh yeah? If you’re really into sustainability, why do you travel/eat meat/use plastics/eat non-local foods/not protest.”

All of these questions imply that I’m an imposter, or not truly committed. It would be easy to develop imposter syndrome if I took the critiques to heart.

It’s so weird to me. I’ve worked for healthcare clients for decades. No one ever asked why I wasn’t doing endoscopic vessel harvesting at home. I was never asked why I didn’t have surgical lights installed in my kitchen. No one asked me my three favorite brands of adhesive bandage. In network security, no one asked me about my three favorite firewalls or my favorite HIPAA scenarios. So why do people respond that way to sustainability?

All or nothing

For some reason, sustainability comes with an all-or-nothing mindset. Are you a zero-waste, vegan, social-activist Instagram influencer? Or do you eat red meat 3x/day, drive a gas guzzler, and want to open the National Parks to drilling? There’s no in between.

I remember this as far back as high school. It was the first year of our school’s Environmental Club. I mailed a letter (how quaint!) to an organization in Berkeley (not the university) to learn how to set up a recycling program at our school. What came back was a reply that scoffed at our efforts; we weren’t doing enough.

Yes, it’s true that we need dramatic change. But as we’ve seen, there are limits to how much change people will tolerate. In reality, we need more people (and businesses and governments) doing things imperfectly than a handful doing it perfectly.

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