Why having impostor syndrome isn’t such a bad thing

Why having imposter syndrome is not such a bad thing

Impostor syndrome is a widely discussed phenomenon. Google it and you will find plenty of articles and papers, but let’s start by redefining the concept.

Impostor syndrome is commonly thought of as ‘the feeling of being inadequate and a fraud despite a reputation for success at work’. The dictionary definition of impostor is “person who pretends to be  someone else in order to deceive others”.

Based on that, would you say you’re an impostor? Really?  I don’t think so. You are not trying to pretend. You are supposed to be here, doing just what you are doing. You are unique and valuable.

You experience the world through your eyes, your experiences and your feelings. No one else’s. I am not disputing your feelings but offering a different angle from which to view these possible feelings.

The perpetual cycle of comparison

Maybe what you are feeling is ‘comparisonitis’ which is defined as “the compulsion to compare one’s accomplishments to another’s”.

It’s not surprising, really, given all through your life, you are compared to others. When you are born, you are immediately compared to other newborns in terms of things like height and weight. Then you may get compared to your siblings and other children around your developmental milestones, like when you first started talking and walking. Then you go to school and/or university and there, too, you are compared in terms of your grades. Then you enter the workforce and the same thing happens.

Embracing individuality

You are rarely seen as a unique individual because you are continually assessed against a specific set of criteria. However, you have amazing talent and strengths within you, you just might not know what they are yet.

Gallup defines talent as a naturally recurring pattern of thought, feeling, and behaviour. According to Gallup research, the chances of you having the same top five talents and strengths in the same order as someone else are more than one in 33 million.

Being alert to what we have yet to learn is a sign of growth. As humans, we are constantly evolving, learning, and growing. Life is a journey of discovery, and there’s always more to explore.

Our existence is our unique tapestry of experiences, woven together by moments of joy, sorrow, and everything in between. We strive, we stumble, and we rise again. Each day brings new challenges and opportunities, urging us to push our boundaries and embrace the unknown.

The power of growth

The CliftonStrengths Theme of ‘learner’ is globally one of the most commons strengths themes from the 31 million people who have taken the assessment.

People exceptionally talented in the ‘learner theme’ have a great desire to learn and want to continuously improve. They find deep satisfaction in putting the time and effort into learning a new skill, concept or methodology. This makes them valuable resources for their teams as they research, study and explore innovative new ideas.

For my (baby boomer) husband this is his number one strength, and for me (Generation X) it’s my very last. It doesn’t mean I can’t learn. I learn through doing, I jump in and give it a go, and if it doesn’t work, I try again. Do I fail? Yes. Am I trying to deceive someone? No. Do I always tell someone when I fail? No. Do they sometimes see it? Yes. I am human, after all.

In 2016 research by Gallup, they found that 87 per cent of millennials rate “professional or career growth and development opportunities” as important to them in a job. More recently, Generation Z rated career development as the most important work element in the Oyster Survey and in the LiveCareer survey.

Growth was rated as the second-most important element, with 46 per cent of millennials and 42 per cent of Generation X giving it priority. Regardless of your generation, ask yourself: how do I learn best?

Shifting perspectives

Is what you are feeling a gap of some sort? How might you fill that gap through experience, reading, testing, connecting with others, learning with and through others?

We call it impostor syndrome, but it’s pretty common and normal – just as normal and breathing in and out. Yet, we don’t say, “I have breathing in and out syndrome”.

What if, instead of seeing impostor syndrome as a bad thing, we shift our perspective and see it as a catalyst for recognising our unique talents and transforming them into strengths?

After all, growth begins with embracing who we are and what we have yet to become.

Charlotte Blair

This article was written by Charlotte Blair, author of Career Unstuck: How To Play To Your Strengths To Find Freedom And Purpose In Your Work Again.

Charlotte is an ICF coach and one of Australia’s most established and experienced Gallup Accredited strengths coaches. She works with individuals, managers and teams across the world to help them discover and use their strengths to meet their business and personal goals.

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