The Hidden Upside of Imposter Syndrome.

July 27, 2021

The Hidden Upside of Imposter Syndrome.

May 29, 2023

We often do an exercise at MEA in which our "compadres" (our cohort participants in a week-long workshop) don name tags that define mindsets or identities that aren't serving them.

One of the most prevalent name tags says, "I have Imposter Syndrome," which is defined as "the persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills."

Have you ever felt that way? I know this afflicted me in my first few months at Airbnb. I was supposed to be the wise, senior leader, but I had no clue about some of the tech words being bandied about in our product meetings. The truth is, more than 70% of us have been affected by workplace imposter thoughts at some point in our careers. While this can be a discouraging place to find yourself in, there is a potential positive. This BBC article illuminates some of the upsides of feeling under-qualified, including:

1. By leaning into the feelings of inadequacy—rather than trying to resist or overcome them—and putting extra effort into communication, imposters can actually outperform their non-imposter peers in interpersonal skills. This means that a trait most people dislike in themselves may motivate them to perform better.

2. Imposters can have perfectionist tendencies, harboring a secret need to be the very best at what they do. When they cannot fulfill their perfectionist goals, "imposters often feel overwhelmed, disappointed, and overgeneralize themselves as failures." A cycle thus emerges in the workplace that causes imposters to forbid themselves from accepting positive feedback on their work. On the other hand, this desire to excel—if properly tamed—can lead to peak performance. You're less likely to be complacent.

3. One of the main definitions of imposter syndrome is a gap in how individuals perceive their own competence compared to how competent they actually are. The key is creating independent support from co-workers that remind you that you offer more value than you think. Often, you're seen as a better collaborator and show more empathy, possibly because of your humility due to feeling like an imposter.

In sum, imposter syndrome doesn't have to be debilitating, and it's more normal than you may think.

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