It strikes most of us—both men and women—at different points in our careers. You’re successful, but you feel like a fraud at work. You’re paralyzed by self-doubt. Perhaps you feel like an actor playing a part in a movie. Then you convince yourself that you’ve gotten this far in your career because of luck, not because of your professional competence. It’s called imposter syndrome, and according to one study, it’s estimated that 70 % of the U.S. population has experienced it. And not just the general population. Noteworthy high achievers who have struggled with imposter syndrome include Academy-award winner Tom Hanks and business executive, Sheryl Sandberg. While many experts argue that one should work to “overcome” imposter syndrome, it is actually something that should be embraced. Because imposter syndrome typically doesn’t go away. It stays with you. The sooner you make friends with your imposter, the sooner you can transform it into your most powerful secret weapon.
Authenticity leads to success
The first step in embracing imposter syndrome is to understand the value that you bring to the table. Once you know your worth, you can present yourself as confident and authentic. By focusing on what makes you unique, you will be memorable, which will separate you from the competition and help you stand out. Authenticity also helps us build trust and deeper connections with others—a key trait of successful leaders. “My imposter is the voice that says I’m probably not up for the job and should step aside for someone who really knows what they’re doing,” says Rita Clifton in her new book, Love Your Imposter. “But I’ve learned to work with my imposter self rather than hide from it. Authenticity can be your biggest weapon on the path to success.”
Fear turns into excitement
You know the queasy feeling you get before a big presentation—the sweaty palms, dry mouth and racing heart? Farrah Storr, the author of The Discomfort Zone, suggests converting that fear into excitement. She says, “Tell yourself you’re excited, not nervous. Studies show that by relabeling stressful situations as ‘challenging’ as opposed to ‘terrifying’ dampens down the hormones that activate the part of your brain responsible for fear. What’s more, your body prepares for challenge by dilating your blood vessels and lungs, which means you’re getting more oxygen into your lungs. The result: you can make sharper and quicker decisions.”
Discomfort leads to growth
Feeling like an imposter is a positive sign because it means you’re being challenged. It’s only when we step outside our comfort zone that we can make real breakthroughs. Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, psychologist and author of Better Than Perfect, says people who regularly seek out novel experiences tend to be more emotionally resilient and creative than those who remain stuck doing mundane tasks. Lombardo adds, “Breaking your own mold can only make you stronger and more confident to reach higher levels in your professional and personal life.” Stepping outside your comfort zone has specific benefits, including increased productivity, growth, creativity and adaptability. As the saying goes, “the comfort zone is a beautiful place to be, but nothing ever grows there.”
Nobel Laureate Maya Angelou once said, “I have written 11 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.” None of us are immune to those nagging doubts caused by imposter syndrome. The key is to embrace it and turn it into positive energy. In the book by Bronnie Ware, a hospice nurse, called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Ware asks patients on their deathbeds about their greatest regrets. Their number one regret: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” Don’t let your doubts and fears interfere with your ability to live the life you were destined for. By replacing fear of the unknown with curiosity, you’ll turn your imposter into your greatest secret weapon.