Impostor syndrome in watch collecting

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You are about to attend your first Redbar meet-up, and you have no idea what to expect… you’ve heard several stories from fellow collectors, and you’ve been assured that it will be fun. You spend far too long deciding what watch to bring, and you wonder whether it is safe enough to bring several watches. You finally pick a watch, and you head off to meet some strangers.

As you arrive at the venue, you see a handful of people standing around, some are engaged in casual conversation in which you overhear familiar words like ‘deployant’ and ‘dial’ – you realise you’re in the right place. You head on over to the bar, and order some liquid courage. As you do so, someone else comes to the bar, and says “Hi, I’m Sam”. You aren’t sure how to react, but you nervously say hello… and instinctively ask what their Instagram username is. Upon hearing it, you tell them your own username, and you both have the biggest smiles as you hug one another like long lost friends.

This is often the way it unfolds when it comes to ‘watchfam’ gatherings… and I am sure many can relate – in fact, there is an awesome book written by Richard Vinhais called “Discovering Time: Stories from a collector community” which actually has an opening scene very much like the one I shared above, but obviously much more well-written! As an aside, I’d highly recommend this book for any watch collector.

Anyway, that isn’t the point of this article… the part I want to discuss is more about the unsaid feelings which many people might have. Firstly, there are a few folks who leave an event feeling like it is too ‘cliquey’ and have a terrible time. Maybe the most jovial and friendly bunch weren’t in attendance that day, but for some reason they weren’t welcomed in the right way – and this can happen – and this leads them to think it is just a bunch of snobs ogling each other’s expensive watches. While that is absolutely NOT what Redbar is about, nor is it my own experience, sh*t does happen, and it is regrettable. Beyond this there is something much deeper that can happen.

Folks might leave Redbar feeling like they don’t really belong there. As sad as that may seem, allow me to elaborate. You might be a roaring success in your own world… starting from nothing, you worked hard in public school, used your top grades to get into a prestigious university and eventually go on to get a really great job and earn a decent living for you and your family. You treat yourself to a nice watch, and end up discovering the online watch collecting community, which leads you to Redbar. Growing up, you would never have imagined owning an expensive watch, let alone several of them… and so you join this community feeling like you belong.

As you join, however, you encounter people speaking about watches worth more than your family home, and you realise that this game really has no ceiling. You hear about someone who has just purchased a watch worth more than your car, and that is his third variant of the same watch! This just seems crazy to you, and although you’re treated with utmost respect and your own watches are equally appreciated, you somehow feel like you don’t belong there.

The term ‘imposter syndrome’ was first coined in 1978 by two US psychologists who called it the ‘imposter phenomenon’ and at the time, believed it mainly affected women. They defined it as feeling like a fraud despite obvious successes and high achievements, and observed that it mostly affected women. Over the years, more studies have been completed and the term imposter syndrome has become part of the arc of self-improvement, with employees even running courses on how to address imposter syndrome in the workplace. A 2018 study of 3,000 adults in the UK by OnePoll found the syndrome was widespread, with 66% of women and 56% of men claiming they had experienced it over the previous 12 months.

Although this concept is mostly applied to workplaces and working professionals in various fields, it absolutely does apply in watch collecting, and I believe it signals a loss of one’s perspective – which just needs some recalibration.

The most important thing in this imposter syndrome pitfall is we need to shift our focus from the watches, to the individuals around us. The watch collecting community is a community of people, not of watches. The watches and our passion for these watches and watchmaking, is what brings us all together, and the key thing is to leave the egos at the door. Owning a 6-figure watch doesn’t make you a better person than the next, and believing it does, is where the problem starts. Equally, NOT owning a 6-figure watch doesn’t make you any less passionate about the hobby than someone who does – and it is worth reminding ourselves of this fact every time we feel this impostor syndrome creeping in.

Granted, everyone collects at different levels and that is driven by personal circumstances and priorities – the existence of these collector groups is a positive thing, as it allows people who may otherwise never experience some of these watches, to get hands-on in a safe and friendly environment. The takeaway here is twofold: First, for those fortunate enough to have such luxuries, remember that watches don’t make you – your attitude does. Second, for those who feel impostor syndrome creeping in – always remember where you started, and realise that if you’re made to feel unwelcome due to your lack of these luxuries, that is not on you; but equally, it is always best to look down and see how far you’ve come, than to look up and focus on what you don’t own. Always maintain your attitude for gratitude.

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