The impostor syndrome is not only harmful, but also beneficial

Published on February 14, 2019

The impostor syndrome is not only harmful, but also beneficial

https://medium.com/s/story/why-you-should-embrace-your-impostor-syndrome-acecbacf99d9
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We must not fight with self-doubt, but use it to our advantage.


Once, at the beginning of my career, I was invited to a pathetic event for the media in Los Angeles. When I saw journalists from the world's largest publications, I felt so out of place that I hid in the dressing room and sat there until my friend came.

That incident was one of the worst episodes of the imposter syndrome that happened to me. This ubiquitous and perhaps not always appropriately used term describes the sense of uncertainty, vulnerability and discomfort that accompanies career advancement. For example, you finally got your dream job, and immediately begin to convince yourself that you were just lucky or that you somehow deceived the one who hired you. Or you have the name of a prestigious position on your business card, but it only makes you laugh;

I talked about the impostor syndrome with many prominent people - businessmen, research scientists, and television reporters - and one and all said that with the advent of success, everything only gets worse: the more accomplishments, the stronger the feeling that you are deceiving. But, as strange as it may sound, the impostor syndrome is not such a bad thing. You just need to turn it to your advantage.
If you feel insecure, it means that you are more aware of your own weaknesses and, therefore, are better prepared to overcome them.
Kelsey Ramsden, author of the book Hangover from Success , argues that the impostor syndrome is both good and bad: "This syndrome is harmful because it prevents many from developing and using their own skills and talents." On the other hand, says Kelsey, the impostor syndrome - it is also a sign of leaving the comfort zone - and this helps to improve. So when you are “covered again,” know that this can be used for good.

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1. This is a sign that you are on the right track.


Ambitious people are especially susceptible to the impostor syndrome. The term first appeared in the 1970s. study of this trait in women. In the journal Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, psychologists Pauline Klans and Suzanne Imes noted that this phenomenon "seems to be especially common and pronounced in certain women with high achievements." A  recent study found that the impostor syndrome is the main scourge of executives around the world.

Ambitious people are more likely to feel insecure, and for several reasons. On the one hand, they are more likely to take on new challenging tasks, and it’s quite natural to feel insecurity for the first time taking on additional responsibility. Somewhat more complicated is the situation with why such people tend to devalue their skills. Ramsden writes: “If a person succeeds in something — when he works hard and hones skills, or perhaps because of a natural gift — then the use of these skills becomes intuitive, natural. And the person thinks: “Am I not deceiving others? Maybe I got rid of something? ”For example, the ability to generate ideas may be so natural for you that you will never believe that someone can appreciate this.”

It is convenient to perceive the "impostor syndrome" as a fashionable term for describing the state of vulnerability - after all, in fact it is. But ambitions are the cause of vulnerability: asking for a wage increase, negotiating conditions on new job offers and seeking a raise is all difficult and uncomfortable. But if you want to move forward, you will have to accept the fact that you will be a little uncomfortable - so you will learn how to use discomfort to your advantage.

2. This is motivation.


When it starts to seem to you that you are unworthy of something, you can do one of two things: either run and hide in the closet, or prove to the whole world - and perhaps even to yourself - that you really deserve it. And if you choose the latter, the impostor syndrome can be a powerful motivator. You try harder, learn new things, acquire skills and ask the right questions, until you finally gain new confidence in your new role, enough to no longer feel like a cheater.

And while you are doing this, you can be comforted by the fact that people who doubt their capabilities often have great potential. You've probably heard about  the Dunning-Kruger effect. - when people with low qualifications have an exaggerated understanding of their own abilities. (That is, if a person claims that he is “the best” in something, this is usually not the case.) David Dunning and Justin Kruger in their study found the opposite effect: competent people tend to underestimate their abilities, which, in turn, , stimulates their cultivation.

So if you feel a little insecure, this is not necessarily bad: you are probably more competent than you think, and, even better, you are more aware of your own weaknesses, which means you are better prepared to overcome them. Recognize that you have an impostor syndrome - and admit that in many cases you have underestimated your skills. Use this as an incentive to prove that you were wrong and overcome this syndrome. You are most likely surprised at how much you can do and what you will be able to do.

3. It helps to keep in shape.


The strong need for certainty, also known as the  need for cognitive closure , makes it difficult to recognize mistakes, and therefore inhibits the development of abilities, the expansion of horizons and creative potential - the qualities necessary for success. Sometimes, having come under the influence of the impostor syndrome, we seek to hide our incompetence and focus on deceiving others and ourselves that we damn well know what we are doing, are confident in our actions and are confident in ourselves.

But very soon we are faced with unpleasant consequences. One of the first tasks assigned to me by the head of the tasks was a spreadsheet: he believed that I would know what to do with it, but as soon as I looked at the jumble of numbers and letters, it became clear that he was wrong. Instead of admitting self-doubt and asking for help, I sat at the table for an hour, fruitlessly trying to decrypt the file.

By recognizing the presence of an impostor syndrome, one can avoid such situations. Take for granted a certain amount of uncertainty in the work: it increases insight, observation, impartiality and ability to adapt to the situation. In addition, you will not put yourself in a foolish position: you will not have to go to your boss in an hour and admit that you have no idea what to do with this table. “I only know that I don’t know anything” - perhaps this dictum of Socrates today sounds trite, but this does not make it any less relevant - especially in our case. If you feel insecure, then you are more likely to be open to the new. If I could return to my own past, I would advise little Christine to be confident enough to admit her insecurity.

4. It encourages focus on work.


The impostor syndrome is related to self-esteem and our self-image. “Many of us, with the most experienced and goal-oriented, tend to think that we are what we are doing,” writes Ramsden. “If we believe that the main thing in us is our achievements, then when we do something that does not correspond to our ideas about ourselves, this is where the impostor syndrome occurs.”

Suppose you were given a big boost, and the name of your new post sounds very impressive. It’s easy to start worrying about keeping up with everything that such a position implies - but all of this can be scary even more than the actual work you now have to do. If in your career you have achieved a leadership position, then you, most likely, have already become accustomed to many tasks related to such a role. Of course, you will learn something new, but you do not need to strive to meet the new situation - this is completely impractical and even impossible: it’s better to just get busy.

Ramsden says: “When we finally understand that the results of our activities are secondary to who we are, we begin to free ourselves from the influence of the impostor syndrome”. In other words, it is important to separate the assessment of work from the assessment of the individual: it is good for mental health, and if you move away a little from work, you will be able to see it objectively and without bias, which, in turn, will help to achieve better results. And then, after a while, you will be able to look back at what has been achieved, look at what you are doing now, feel a little more confident and understand that you really deserve what you have.

About the translator

. The article is translated in Alconost.

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