Feeling Like a Fraud at Work? Here Are 3 Reasons Why It Might Actually Be a Good ThingNone By Homaira Kabir
If you’re a high-achieving individual, chances are you’ve doubted your abilities at some point in your career. If you’re a woman, you’ve likely done so more often than not. Perhaps it’s even affected your professional growth.
Welcome to the world of the Imposter Syndrome. It afflicts those who can't internalize their successes—in fact, they often live in the perpetual fear of being exposed as a fraud. Some of it may be attributed to personality, but it is due in large part to societal factors that encourage perfection and competition. Comparing yourself against an impossible standard is likely to make your accomplishments seem trivial. And the success you do acknowledge is then dismissed as luck, timing, or the fortunate gullibility of others.
Of course, this has implications—we might keep away from jobs that will raise our profile, we fear asking for a pay rise, certain that we don’t deserve it—and we avoid speaking up in meetings for fear that our ignorance will be exposed. A rather sad situation for such high-achieving individuals!
And yet, there are hidden benefits we can harness once we recognize that feeling phony is itself, a phony feeling!
Benefit #1: It Can Lead to Humility
An interesting concept known as the Dunning-Kruger effect puts the Imposter Syndrome into perspective. The former is the illusionary superiority of unskilled persons who fail to recognize their own ineptitude. Nothing is as painful as the grandiosity of the ignorant. Given that self-assessment is always subjective, wouldn’t you rather have the humility of thinking you know less than you do than the pomposity of assuming the opposite? Research on humility shows that viewing others as humble facilitates greater commitment and promotes a sense of “we-ness” in relationships.
Benefit #2: It Can Strengthen our Relationships
Studies of collective cultures have found that in order to get along with others, East Asians tend to underestimate their abilities. Social psychologist Brene’s Brown’s research on vulnerability backs this belief. When we’re unsure about ourselves, we naturally feel the need to reach out to others for comfort and reassurance, and in doing so, we realize that we’re all bound together by common fears and desires. It is this shared human experience that is the cornerstone of compassion and the ideal launch pad for moving past our fears.
Benefit #3: It Can Make Us Competent
Psychologist Carol Dweck’s work on mindsets shows that attributing good performance to ability leads to a fixed mindset while believing it to be the fruits of effort leads to a growth mindset. This means staying open to feedback, persisting despite setbacks and staying committed to long-term goals. No wonder Einstein, who famously said “Success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration” is also known to have suffered from the Imposter Syndrome, believing himself to be “an involuntary swindler”! Considering our abilities to be less than they are forces us to put in greater effort, grow in competence and mastery and thus have a belief in ourselves that is grounded in reality rather than fluff.
So the next time the thought “I’m not good enough—and what if others find out?” taunts you, step back and think of its origins, appreciate the benefits that come with it, and then launch yourself into the wild and wonderful world awaiting you.
Homaira Kabir is a Women’s Leadership Coach, a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist and a Positive Psychology Practitioner, whose work expands the breadth of the human experience. She empowers women to become leaders of their own selves in order to become leaders in relationships, at work and in life. You can read more about her work at homairakabir.com or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter (@homairakabir).
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