imposter syndrome

How ‘Impostors’ Become Innovators


I’ll get this out of the way upfront: I think “imposter syndrome” is bullshit.

Specifically, I think the way the original 1978 research that identified the phenomenon has become so watered down that “imposter syndrome” has become a synonym for “lack of confidence” is bullshit.

Also bullshit: Taking the well-documented impact of bias against women and BIPoC and weaponizing it back against them as a “syndrome” that they need to personally overcome rather than an insidious socioeconomic problem that we need to team up to dismantle.

You know what else is bullshit, though? Treating your lack of confidence at work as if it were a permanent “condition” rather than investing your time in getting better at your job and creating the support system you need to build your confidence and achieve your professional goals.

I say all this, and yet, I found Andrew Taylor’s session on impostor syndrome at Managing Editor Live 2020 intriguing. Andrew is a marketer and copywriter at UKG, and his approach to managing self-doubt centers on using it to your advantage. Here are a few of my favorite highlights of his talk.

Don’t Confine Yourself — Redefine Yourself

In a world full of “experts,” we might actually be better off viewing challenges from a novice’s lens, Andrew argues. The folks who are incapable of doing things the way they’ve been done are finding new ways to do things no one thought possible.

That starts with getting comfortable with your relative ignorance. Not only do you not need to know everything, but you also don’t need to pretend like you do either. That mindset is incredibly limiting, Andrew notes. “It puts this weight on us that becomes something that we carry around with us all day, and we're trying to do our best job, but we're getting in our own way because we're trying to be something that we're not.”

But once you give yourself permission to be open about what you know and what you don’t, you can lean in and get curious. You’ll actually achieve competence faster this way.

I’m Just Dumb Enough to Pull This Off

Andrew makes being a novice sound almost cool: “When people are put in positions that they're not prepared for, they get creative. People find ways. You find a way to make something happen. You don't have a blueprint that you're following. You know where you need to go, you know your own experiences, your own skillset, and you bring all that newness to the table and you create something amazing.”

There’s no defined qualifications for being a leader and an innovator, according to Andrew, and he cites the Wright Brothers, Rosa Parks and Malala as examples of people who all stepped up at the right time with the right ideas with no traditional “qualifications.” You're bringing new ideas to the table, and you can transform things the way that someone who only knows one way of doing something might not be able to,” he notes.

It’s Not You — It’s the Job

What if you don't really have "imposter syndrome" at all? What if the job is awful? Or more charitably, it’s just not a good fit for you.

If you’re still feeling out of place in an organization after you’ve been there for 6 months, that could be a sign that you should look to move on.

This is especially true if you have no external evidence to think you’re not performing well at your role (the classic definition of imposter syndrome). Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you have to, Andrew says. “Because a lot of times we are [qualified], but there are those moments when we can be real with ourselves and say, maybe I could force myself to do this, but do I want to?”

Watch Andrew’s full session on demand.

Mary Ellen Slayter is CEO of Rep Cap. Before creating her own content marketing firm, she served as director of content development and a senior general business and finance editor at SmartBrief, a leading publisher of e-mail newsletters. Before joining SmartBrief, she spent 8 years at The Washington Post, where she authored the Career Track column and worked as an editor in the business news department. You can find Mary Ellen on Twitter @MESlayter.


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