An Antidote to Imposter Syndrome

I am not ready for this. There are more qualified people for this than me. This scares me. What if I mess up?

If this soundtrack seems familiar to you, then you know what it's like to feel imposter syndrome.

Simple definition: Imposter syndrome is the feeling you get when your confidence is lower than your ability.

If your confidence is higher than your ability, you're an armchair quarterback. I'm sure you know a few.

As an aside, Adam Grant does a phenomenal job of breaking down these two concepts in a wonderfully succinct way in his book Think Again. Read it.

Is imposter syndrome a bad thing? I don't think so. If you use it as a tool to never stop being qualified for the job you have, it can be quite healthy.

I've found it just has one not-so-great symptom.

It makes the soundtrack in your head have a lot of "I" and "me" in it.

Hard truth: It's not about you. It's about what's in front of you.

So, what can you do when you find yourself feeling imposter syndrome again?

Consider the approach of beginner’s mind.

The mind of the beginner is empty, free of the habits of the expert, ready to accept, to doubt, and open to all the possibilites.

Taken from the introduction to Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind by Shunryu Suzuki


Yes, I know you're not actually a beginner. According to the earlier definition of imposter syndrome, you just have a confidence issue.

Confidence is often related to expectations.

So what feels like a confidence issue, I suspect is actually an expectation issue. Specifically, a here's-what-other-people-expect-of-a-person-in-my-situation issue.

This is why taking on a beginner's mind is so useful.

As a beginner, you have no expectations. You can question previous assumptions. Including your own. You can reason from the ground up. You can ask simple questions (because others are likely thinking them but too afraid to ask them - another symptom of imposter syndrome).

When in doubt, specifically self-doubt, simply begin again.

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