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Leveraging Imposter Syndrome

TIGNUM Thoughts

July 19th, 2022

Insights from the author

By Brian Wade

Imposter Syndrome. Just the name alone sounds like something to avoid and something that might make you wind up in the hospital or worse. Much of what you may have read or heard paints it in a negative light. It’s been linked to exhaustion, fear, freezing, and, most recently, burnout. It also seems like now, even if someone feels just a tiny bit nervous before doing a big task, they label it “Imposter Syndrome.” The irony is that Imposter Syndrome is probably one of the most universal experiences humans share and one of the most misunderstood.

Perhaps it was showing up to a new school on the first day, your first “real” job, getting a promotion, or even being chosen to lead a critical project. The feelings of Imposter Syndrome are pretty universal. You feel nervous, anxious, apprehensive, and maybe even full of dread. Your thoughts may ruminate around “not being good enough,” “being inadequate,” and even “what if they find out I’m not smart/good enough for this role?” While these thoughts can be a recipe for poor performance, feeling Imposter Syndrome doesn’t guarantee you’ll do poorly, nor does it mean you aren’t ready. In fact, at TIGNUM, we believe that Imposter Syndrome can actually be quite useful, help you learn more, and become even more impactful in your new venture. How do you do this? It’s simple - embrace it.

The interesting thing about Imposter Syndrome is that it often occurs when you go through a significant transition or transformation period. It rarely flares up when things are going easy and when you're facing the mundane daily. It happens when there is change - change in you. You may often read that you need to “avoid Imposter Syndrome” or "use these tips not to feel that way." To be honest, if you never felt Imposter Syndrome, it meant you weren’t growing, challenging yourself, or evolving as a person. For that reason, we think that Imposter Syndrome isn’t a sign of bad things to come; we believe it’s the first sign of great things.

If you’re feeling challenged by a new role, it means that someone believed you were strong enough to do it. Embrace the discomfort of growth. If you feel inadequate in your experience or knowledge, it means you have an opportunity to learn so much more. Embrace the discomfort of not knowing. Try to reframe your original thoughts or feelings toward celebrating the new opportunity you’ve earned or thinking of how much you’ll grow as a result of this new venture.

Another amazing way to leverage Imposter Syndrome is to use it to unlock your curiosity. When you feel surrounded by uncertainty, use it as a trigger to ask more questions. Research has found that when faced with uncertainty, the brain becomes more vigilant in looking for new information. The problem is many of us don’t leverage this because we are too busy distracting ourselves with how nervous or inadequate we feel. But, if we lean into the brain's default solution to find new information, it enhances our situational awareness and helps us process more information, create clarity, and find solutions. Recent research even shows that when you learn something new, there is a dopamine release in the brain, giving you excitement and satisfaction. When you feel the discomfort of Imposter Syndrome, let that be the alarm bell to look around and start asking questions and flex your curiosity.

Finally, one thing that will, without a doubt, cause your Imposter Syndrome to feel worse and even reoccur is fatigue. There is a reciprocal relationship where Imposter Syndrome can cause emotional fatigue, but feeling fatigued can also amplify the feelings of Imposter Syndrome. The emotions and brain power required to go through a transition, learn new things, and grow as an individual will already be fatiguing. The last thing you want to do is compound it all by not strategically practicing recovery. Going through a transition or starting something new is an excellent opportunity to double down on your recovery strategies or establish new behaviors. Making sleep a priority, moving more, choosing brain-boosting meals, and practicing breathing techniques can give your body the extra energy it needs to navigate through this period of transformation.

So, the next time you feel uneasy with a new challenge, don't fear that you may have Impostor Syndrome. Instead, embrace it and all of the great things it can generate.

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