Why your imposter syndrome is really your best friend
Feeling like an imposter isn’t pleasant, but it can help us transform ourselves for the better.
by: E.B. Johnson
Feeling like a fake is unpleasant, but it can be a secret weapon when you learn how to wield it. We all feel like we aren’t good enough from time to time but imposter syndrome forces us to believe that our successes are flukes.
Learning how to harness this insecurity and fear can create real opportunities and open up unexpected doors into our futures, but it takes commitment and it takes willpower. Though there are a million self-help articles that promise to help you overcome your imposter syndrome, you’re better served when you discover how to use it for good instead.
True power is learning how to overcome your insecurities, but there is even more power in embracing them and transforming them from weaknesses to advantages. Overcome the feeling that you’ll never be good enough by learning how to switch-up the game and switch up your thinking.
What is imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is a psychological term which refers to the inability to internalize your accomplishments. Those who suffer from it struggle with severe and crippling self-doubt no matter how successful they may be. Even if they achieve every single goal they set out for themselves, they have a persistent and internalized fear of being a fraud or being exposed as a fraud.
When someone suffers from imposter syndrome, they remain convinced that they don’t deserve their hard-earned success.
On one end, these people brush things off as good luck, but on the reverse side, those with I.S. can push their modesty to the brink by denying themselves credit for anything good that happens in their lives.
Imposter syndrome’s damages come primarily in the form of limitation. The fear generated by insecurity and self-doubt can paralyze us and cause us to limit ourselves needlessly. When we’re stricken by this consuming form of self-doubt we stop exploring areas of interest and stop putting ourselves out into the world in any meaningful way.
Cut off from the things that bring us joy, we become vulnerable to negative spirals and coping mechanisms that make life more difficult for us in the long run.
Who experiences imposter syndrome?
Decades of studies have come to some pretty interesting conclusions on imposter syndrome and those who are most affected by it. While initial research indicated that women were more impacted by I.S. than men, new research now shows that both men and women suffer from the condition equally.
The fact of the matter is that no one is safe when it comes to not feeling good enough. Studies show that more than 70% of adults will report experiencing imposter syndrome in their lifetime and this includes board-topping CEO’s and stay-at-home mother’s alike.
Even Maya Angelou was plagued by the nightmare that is imposter syndrome.
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”
There seems to be no one answer when it comes to dealing with imposter syndrome and there seems to be no safe way to protect yourself from its crippling effects.
Leaving imposter syndrome unaddressed can become a major issue but learning to live with it can also be a powerful tool. Getting past our feelings of inadequacy starts by voicing our fears, but it ends with learning how to live in harmony alongside our weaknesses. You can not only conquer your fear of being a failure — you can use it to your advantage. All it takes is a little know-how.
Why your imposter syndrome is really your best friend.
Though there’s a million self-help articles out there promising to help “cure” your imposter syndrome, you never really get over that fear of not being good enough. To be human is to doubt, but that doubt it a powerful catalyst for change.
Changing your perspective can help you transform your doubts into superpowers. You can do this by remembering 3 things:
Feeling like an imposter means you’re challenging yourself.
Growing as a person means pushing yourself into new and unexplored territories. Change is a strange thing and it can make us feel uncomfortable and ill-at-ease. It’s a good thing though, and a sure-fire sign that we’re moving in the right direction.
When things are new, they push us outside of our comfort zone and that’s always an uncomfortable place to be.
Change challenges not only our values, but our core beliefs and the way we look at the world. Feeling like an imposter is sometimes the first sign that you’re doing something right, and always a sign that you’re doing something new and potentially transformative.
Feeling like an imposter means you’re gaining experience.
Aristotle once said, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” Feeling like you’re out of your depth is a sign that you’re exploring new territory and gaining new experience that will make you more powerful and more well-rounded.
Learning more has a funny way of making you feel as though you know even less. Embrace that feeling. Your imposter syndrome isn’t just your insecurities talking — it’s your success coming to life.
Feeling like an imposter keeps your ego in check.
Though it can be hard to see, there is big silver lining to our feelings of inadequacy. There is speculation that imposter syndrome is actually a natural response that allows us to keep our egos in check.
Being successful or even good at something can cause our egos to become overinflated; something that can be even more damaging than suffering from horrendous insecurity.
When your ego takes over, you get complacent and when that happens you avoid potential unknowns and stop looking for better opportunities.
Imposter syndrome allows us to keep reality in better focus and also allows us to stop taking our opportunities for granted. When we open up to learning new things we can continue to sharpen our skills. Letting your ego take over, though? That’s a one-way ticket to staying stuck.
Signs you’re living with imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome has a funny way of manifesting in both our personal and professional lives. There are a lot of symptoms that you’re living with imposter syndrome and some are harder to spot than others. If any of these symptoms sound familiar, it might be time to check your perspective.
Symptoms of imposter syndrome:
- Failing to start or finish projects regularly.
- A playing down of achievements and an inability to internalize accomplishments.
- Fear of being “found out” or being exposed as a fraud.
- Overworking or “burnout” as a result of needing to prove that you’re “enough”.
- Avoiding feedback — even if it’s good.
- Second guessing decisions.
- Turning down new opportunities.
- An inability to ask for help.
There are a lot of things that can exasperate this feeling of being a fraud or a fake. Environments that thrive on competition and comparison can often drive us into a hard-to-control spiral, as well as a lack of diversity and mentorship with reinforces an idea of “otherness”. Unclear communication and expectations also feed into this cycle and make it hard for you to see the power in taming your insecurities.
How to use your imposter syndrome for good.
It’s all well and good to tell you about using your I.S. for good, it’s another thing showing you how to do it. Getting past insecurities (wherever and however they manifest) is never easy, but it’s often the first step in getting back in touch with our authentic selves.
Transform yourself and your life by transforming your insecurities into your most powerful strength with these simple techniques.
1. Normalize and manage.
The first step in turning your I.S. into a tool is normalizing it. Realize that you’re not alone and that almost every single person on the planet experiences what you’re experiencing right now.
Remind yourself that even the most powerful executives in the world suffer from imposter syndrome and that even the biggest stars and celebrities doubt themselves from time to time.
Half the battle in learning how to manage your feelings of inadequacy is just realizing and accepting that you’re not the only one that feels it. When we realize that others are struggling with the same feelings we are, we feel as though we aren’t alone and that, in itself, can be extremely inspiring.
2. Figure out your leverage.
A lot of the reframing that we do when working to overcome our imposter syndrome centers around changing the way we let our inner voices respond. Rather than thinking “Oh no, everyone here is smarter than me,” you have to train yourself to think, “This is a great learning opportunity.”
Figure out what your leverage is and use it to reshape the thoughts that formulate the foundations of your inner dialogue. When the sense of being an imposter is riding high, it’s often because you’re letting your inner critic run the show. Reclaim your power by changing that critic’s voice from a negative one to a positive one.
3. Focus on actions over identity.
It’s easy to get caught up on our identities, especially in this social media age. Are our identities really what define us, though? Or are the projections we put into the world less meaningful than the actions that create the world around us?
Our egos can cause us to focus on our identities and lose sight of the actions that give our lives meaning. Our egos are our sense of self and they are bottomless and insatiable in their need to be fed. Identity-based thinking is this manna that allows the ego to grow big and fat (while feeling more important all the while).
An overfed ego is a blind ego; one that is incapable of seeing the work that actually matters.
By letting go of this “identity” we let go of our need to be something we’re not, and find our way back to who we truly are (thus, letting go of a need for imposter syndrome at all.)
Habits are the best way to re-channel your imposter syndrome into positive change. Putting work consistently into something that speaks to your passions retrains your mind to focus on your actions and the reality of the work you produce — rather than just focusing on who or what you are “supposed” to be.
4. Build a support network.
Our friends are the reflection by which we see ourselves in the world. Trusted friends and confidantes are a great way to get reliable and honest feedback that can help us accept the reality of our strengths and successes. Use your feelings of insecurity to build a quality support network that can help keep you grounded but reminded of your greatest qualities.
When we open up to others about our imposter syndrome, we allow them to open up about their own self-doubts. Joining forces with people who know how you feel can be a powerful asset, and a great way to turn your tortured syndrome into a transformative relationship builder.
5. Get some clarity.
Feeling insecure is often sign that we’re unsure about what the future holds. If you’re feeling like you’re a fraud because you don’t know what’s coming next, take a step back and take a deep breath. Rather than panicking, use this time to get some clarity and figure out exactly what you want and what you need.
Get a handle on your own expectations (the only ones that really matter). Analyze how these expectations add to or detract from your life and reshape the ones that don’t serve to get you where you need to be.
Bonus: The Witness Exercise
Sometimes, it’s not enough to see the big picture; we need help getting to the final destination with concrete examples of how to reshape our fears.
If you’re still a little up-in-the-air when it comes to using your feeling of fraud for good, then consider using The Witness Exercise — a simple strategy developed by Debra Maldonado, CEO of Creative Mind Media LLC.
What it’s about.
The Witness Exercise is all about getting in touch with your true self through practicing what is called meta-consciousness.
Meta-consciousness is the state of being in which the border between physical reality and spiritual existence dissolves. It’s when we remember who we truly are and drop the facades and superficial projections that keep us stuck, unhappy and scared.
Through this exercise, you can think without judging and drop your need to change the way you feel or the way you appear to those around you. Getting caught up in your thoughts is easy to do, but reshaping them isn’t always as easy. Thankfully, the Witness Exercise lets us do this relatively painlessly.
First, find a quiet place where you can sit undisturbed and free from distractions. Bring a journal with you or, if it’s more comfortable, a video or audio recording device.
Sit with the lights low and quietly focus on your thoughts or the events in your life that make you feel the most fearful or apprehensive. Watch your thoughts from a distant place and let them come and go as they please. Do not engage with them, but instead view them as you might view the floats in a parade. Do not judge them as they go by — just watch.
Notice the difference you feel viewing your feelings from a distance (versus the way they made you feel in the heat of the moment).
Take time to observe the “thinker” (from the perspective of the witness) and then take time to observe the “witness” (from the perspective of the thinker).
Notice how each one reacts to the situation and try, too, to consider how one might view the other. As you become the witness and view the thinker, you’ll notice that emotion is brief and fleeting, less indicative of reality than it is fear.
Take note of your emotions and compare them against the reality of the situation as you know it now. By becoming intimately aware of the duality of our emotions and our realities, you’ll be able to see that you imposter syndrome isn’t so much of a hindrance as it is a gift. Use this inspiration as the encouragement you need to get past your fears.
Putting it all together…
Sinking or shining are only separated by our own perceptions of reality. When we lose sight of our authentic selves, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by fear. This fear and insecurity can make us feel not only like we aren’t good enough, but as though we are frauds — a toxic and corrosive mindset to have when it comes to acknowledging and maximizing our success.
Use your imposter syndrome for good and use it as the inspiration you need to get to the next level. Feeling insecure is a sign that you’re heading toward positive growth, but you have to accept and embrace that change for the opportunity it offers. Getting outside of our comfort zones is uncomfortable, but it’s necessary to shape us into who we need to be.
Embrace everything you are and everything you could be by learning to embrace the things that make you feel unsteady. You belong to be here as much as anyone else and no one deserves credit for your triumphs but you. Take action and take a stand for yourself and the incredible person that you truly are.