“I got the job but am scared” She said. This did not come as a surprise to me. I hear these words a lot. When you mentor someone and push them to rise, it’s because you know and believe that they can. There is however that feeling of inadequacy. The questions that ring in our mind, “Did I shoot too high? Am I even qualified for that role? Can I handle the pressure?” Despite the vote of confidence from others you might feel like you are not good enough.

This does not only happen at work it happens in all other aspects of life. Will I measure up as a parent? Will I measure up as a friend? Do I measure up as a partner? Am I good enough? We rarely feel fully prepared for most eventualities even after we have worked hard to get there. Once in a while you feel like people are putting you in a pedestal and you don’t feel like you deserve it.

That is the basis of imposter syndrome; Feeling like you are a fraud and you are going to be found out. You constantly feel like you are not as good or as competent as others perceive you to be. This can be a factor of many things. Top on the list are below roles;

  1. Perfectionist – Perfectionists set excessively high goals for themselves, and when they fail to reach a goal, they experience major self-doubt and worry about measuring up.
  2. Superwoman/man attitude – When you are convinced that you are the real deal you push yourself to work harder. It also becomes harder for you to measure up to your set expectations.
  3. You are a natural – If you are known to be a natural at something you set your internal bar too high. If it takes you long to master something or don’t get it the first time your mental alarm sounds.
  4. The Mr/Miss independent – You feel you need to achieve everything on your own. Any thought of asking for help makes you feel inadequate.
  5. The overachiever – They measure their competence based on how much they know or can do. The thought of not knowing enough shakes them to the core. They cannot stand being exposed as inexperienced or unknowledgeable.

On the extreme imposter syndrome is an aspect that needs to be addressed. Learning how to separate feelings from reality is a major stride in this. Just because you feel like a fraud, inadequate or outright stupid does not necessarily mean that you are one. The other important factor is embracing failure as part of life. The realization that not getting it right does not make you a failure. It gives you a chance to learn more and discover more.

I have however discovered a positive side to imposter syndrome. Last week I was watching a show that features young CEOs. Most of them had something in common. They became CEOs by default. They were following their passion but eventually had to turn it into a business. As fate has it, every business needs a leader. They did not have the advantage of working in the corporate space or attending management classes. Something was evident though; their hunger for knowledge. In their own words, they felt inadequate from the beginning. They hence made a commitment to learn all that they can.

Their mastery of concepts would pass with distinction in a management class. Their interpretation of financial statements was impressive. This is the upside of imposter syndrome. It pushes you to learn and prepare beyond expectation. Before you sell the downside of imposter syndrome remember;

  • Self-criticism can fuel achievement – perfectionists see flaws in their work where others do not see. If anything ambition is inability to be satisfied with your current achievements.
  • Fear of failure is a great motivator – People perform at higher levels when they are worried about being incompetent. If you care about your reputation and feel some pressure to stand out, you will have a reason to prepare and perform better than if you did not.

Feeling competent and adequate can keep you stagnated in a comfort zone. It can give you the illusion that you are good enough. Feeling good enough can lead to complacency. When the average person puts in the work they can easily beat the talented or learned person who did not put in the work.

Not knowing something does not make you a fraud it makes you a student and it’s not what you are that holds you back, it’s what you think you are not.”

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