Imposter Syndrome is a career compass
Don't ignore the feeling, it might be right
There it was, nestled in the magazine rack at the checkout counter of Whole Foods. The Harvard Business Review’s Summer 2023 Special Issue.
How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome.
Seeing this magazine while buying a rotisserie chicken felt like some sort of sign. Have we hit Peak Imposter Syndrome?
Do you have The Right Stuff?
In the past year, I've noticed a surge in talk about Imposter Syndrome. What started out as a reasonable discussion seems to have morphed into a nebulous catch-all. In popular parlance, Imposter Syndrome has come to mean feeling unprepared and nervous in relation to something important in a professional context.
"Feel like a fraud? Ignore it. Everyone feels this way," is what you're told. But is that really good advice?
In truth, I think the “Imposter” feeling is often telling you something. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad. It can be a useful tool for a person as they build their career. Rather than be ignored, it should be examined.
Imposter Syndrome can help you answer two key questions:
1. Is what I'm doing a good fit for me?
2. Am I putting in real work to build meaningful credibility in what I'm doing?
Nerves relating to something like a big meeting or a promotion are normal. I still get a touch of them before meeting with a big client, even if I've worked with them for years. And I think that's good!
This feeling pushes me to be better prepared. It makes me more effective in my work. If it ever went away, it would mean I'm not challenging myself enough.
I don't feel like an imposter because I've put in meaningful effort to generate results and become credible in my field. It didn’t happen overnight, but through the significant compounding effects of consistent good work.
But sometimes Imposter Syndrome exists for a reason and shouldn't be dismissed because the HBR’s Special Issue tells you so. If you have an overwhelming feeling of being an imposter, perhaps what you're trying to do isn't aligned with your intrinsic strengths and goals.
Feeling really unprepared? Are you doing something about it?
If you aren't putting in work, you'll feel like an imposter because you'll be one. Maybe it's not the kind of work that you're meant to pursue. That’s ok and it’s best to figure that out sooner rather than later so you can move on to something that’s a better fit.
The more aligned your work is with your intrinsic strengths, the more you'll actually put in meaningful effort. It's a virtuous circle that gives you the confidence to handle uncertainty. To recognize that you won't be prepared for everything, but you'll find ways to deal with it anyway.
Imposter Syndrome is a career compass. Use it wisely and it’ll guide you to the work you’re really meant to do.