Uncover the Gifts of Imposter Syndrome? Discover its Hidden Benefits

Your eyes are fine. Yes, I’m writing about the gifts of imposter syndrome, and I know just how crazy that sounds.

My clients share a common goal: to “cure” their imposter syndrome as quickly as possible.

I suggest a different approach. Learn to make peace with it.

One of my favorite books is The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. Over the years, I’ve been inspired by her research on shame and vulnerability and her guideposts encouraging us to embrace our imperfections.

Take a page from Brené’s book and look at imposter syndrome with a new lens. Consider the gifts of imposter syndrome. Think about the lessons to learn—the unique opportunities to grow. Imposter syndrome doesn’t have to be a problem. It can be a tool and an asset.

I like to think of it this way—

In professional swimming, swimmers kick off from a starting block. They use this structure to propel themselves forward and get the fastest time. They take advantage of the starting block to build momentum.

If you let it, imposter syndrome can be your starting block. Learn the gifts of imposter syndrome to become more capable and confident at work.

Gift #1: True Self-Awareness

If you wear glasses, you know the drill. When you go to the eye doctor, they’ll ask you to remove your glasses and lower down a heavy machine with dozens of lenses. (A bit of trivia: this is called the phoropter.) For the next 10 minutes, you say “better,” “worse,” or “about the same” until you leave with your new prescription. 

The truth is most of us live our lives like we’re walking around wearing two-year-old glasses. We get where we need to go… with lots of unnecessary bumps and bruises along the way. The world looks new when we wear the appropriate eyewear (especially after years without it). Everything is extra crisp and sharp.

It takes time to adjust to a new pair of glasses, but the rewards are apparent when you do. Your vision becomes more precise. Life is easier. You may even get fewer headaches.

The same thing happens when something comes along and bumps us off autopilot. Most people live life on autopilot. Their thoughts and emotions run them, and they don’t know it.

But the gifts of imposter syndrome are very real, and one of these gifts is greater self-awareness. Imposter syndrome gets us thinking carefully and constructively about our thoughts, allowing us to step off the hamster wheel.

Something as simple as identifying a thought that keeps coming up and asking, “Is it really true?” can have a tremendous impact on our self-esteem and confidence at work.

When we bring awareness to our thoughts, we begin to grow. Imposter syndrome can be the “in” we need to access more self-awareness. It’s the beginning of deep inner work.

Gift #2: A Powerful Energy Shift

When you embrace the gifts of imposter syndrome, it becomes clear: it’s not about overcoming it. It’s about leveraging imposter syndrome to grow.

In November, Patricia landed a new role as a CMO. At first, she was overjoyed. I encouraged her to celebrate the milestone and smiled at her texts about a new set of paints and dinner at a classy restaurant.

But the celebration did not last long. Patricia’s doubts started creeping in after just one day in the office. She told me she felt like a fraud and questioned if she was qualified enough for the CMO position. She didn’t know whether she could do it and doubted she would ever feel confident at work.

I encouraged Patricia to unpack these thoughts. Had her boss or colleagues voiced them? Had they been anything but welcoming and supportive?

Patricia realized these unkind thoughts were coming from her head. She believed there were certain things she “should” do and feel as the new CMO.

Seeing these shoulds was a powerful first step. From there, Patricia was able to begin shifting her energy from who she thought she should be to her authentic self.

We talked about who she really was, deep down, what she wanted for herself—truly wanted—not because someone else said she should like it. And, we talked about her hobbies, passions, and personal goals.

Sometimes, when I ask clients what they want or who they are without their shoulds, they don’t really know. Lists are a great tool when you feel stuck. Keep it simple. Write a list of the things that make you smile. Write a list of things you wish you had more time to do. If you’re a visual person, make a vision board of everything you enjoy. Don’t overthink it. Just write.

Continue this exploration. When you do the inner work, you’ll forget about overcoming imposter syndrome and view it as an instrument to discover your most authentic self.

Gift #3: It’s a Signal of Progress

Pssst. Let me tell you a secret: people don’t experience imposter syndrome when hanging out in their comfort zones.

One of the best gifts of imposter syndrome is that it can act like a report card. There aren’t any letter grades; you can only pass or fail, and we’re measuring whether you challenge yourself, try new things, and work extra hard to meet stretchy goals.  When you fear you might not be good enough or skilled enough—when you feel like you lack confidence at work—that’s a telltale sign that you’re getting out of your comfort zone. You’re making progress.

Aristotle puts it this way, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” In other words, when we climb the next rung on the ladder, it’s new. There’s more to learn. But don’t forget you’re still climbing the ladder! The reason it can feel awkward and unnerving is because you’re moving forward.

You wouldn’t get the same butterflies if you stayed on the same rung or started climbing down. You also wouldn’t grow.

Maybe overcoming imposter syndrome and maximizing your confidence at work shouldn’t be your goal. Why? When you stop feeling the discomforts and pains of stretching yourself—when you feel fully confident in what you do—chances are you’ve stopped moving forward.

Gift #4: Sharper Social Skills

People who regularly think about their skills, talents, and confidence at work are more attuned to those around them. According to Basima A. Tewfik, researcher and assistant professor at MIT Sloan, “Experiencing this phenomenon can make you more adept at relationships, which is a key ingredient in career success.”

How does this work? Most people focus on themselves and are deep in their own little worlds. Their thoughts are so zoomed in on themselves that they don’t stop considering what other people might think.

One of the gifts of imposter syndrome is being other-focused. Within reason, it’s helpful to consider your team and boss at work. When you’re attuned to other people’s emotions, it makes you more personable and likable.

Pair imposter syndrome with deep introspection and/or working with a Career and Leadership Development Coach, and you might find that your heightened awareness of yourself and others is working for you, not against you.

Gift #5: Inspiration to Grow

Michelle Obama, Neil Armstrong, Maya Angelou, Sheryl Sandberg, Tom Hanks, David Bowie, and Arianna Huffington… what do all these people have in common?

They’ve all experienced imposter syndrome.

The gifts of imposter syndrome aren’t overvalued or overplayed. When you learn about and use them, you have a leg up. Overcoming imposter syndrome takes a backseat to working with it and learning from it.

Taking smart risks and working toward your goals always feels a little uncomfortable. Imposter syndrome will always be there, simmering under the surface.

If you can make peace with it and view it as a gift and sign that you’re progressing, you will be successful. 

What if your imposter syndrome is working for you?

Experiencing these symptoms is not a flaw. It’s common. According to an article published in Psychotherapy, 70% of adults experience imposter syndrome, and “overcoming imposter syndrome” is a little misleading—many of us feel some shade of imposter syndrome at all stages of our lives. For example, imposter syndrome might rear its head when you graduate from college, get your first big promotion, become a parent, return after maternity leave, and/or prepare for retirement.

When you learn to stop seeing it as a crutch and begin to unearth the gifts of imposter syndrome, that’s when you start to grow.

With the right lens, imposter syndrome can give you clarity, help you discover your most authentic self, and even boost your confidence at work. (After all, those who experience imposter syndrome have more finely attuned social skills and better performance than their peers. What’s not to feel confident about?)  You’re so close.

Your imposter syndrome is a gift. And there’s tremendous potential waiting for you when you see it.

A Career and Leadership Development Coach can act like a dial, helping you find clarity and wisdom among all the static out there.

To discover more about the gifts of imposter syndrome, let’s talk. It’s a free 45-minute consultation, and I’m eager to help you. 

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