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IMPOSTOR SYNDROME: Listen to the critics


IMPOSTOR SYNDROME (IS) refers to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. While this definition is usually narrowly applied to intelligence and achievement, it has links to perfectionism and the social context.


So that’s what it is defined as. Let’s turn this on its head:


NOT IMPOSTOR SYNDROME (NIS) refers to an external experience of believing that you are more competent than others perceive you to be. While this definition is rarely broadly applied to lack of intelligence and absence of achievement, it has links to neglect and the antisocial context.


So I just kinda reversed the whole definition, but it relates to the Michelle Obama Youtube clip I posted earlier. As a black woman, society generally told her that she doesn’t belong at the big table. Until she realized that there were a lot of white dudes at that table that completely believed they belonged – but had no business being there.


So a lot of the research indicates that a full 75% of people suffer from Impostor Syndrome. We also know that a number of incredibly high achievers suffer from this perpetual condition, and in a way it fuels them to never sit on their laurels. So Impostor Syndrome, if it doesn’t freeze you into inaction, can actually be quite a good thing if embraced, leveraged and used for momentum.

On the flip side, there are a good many people who are sitting at the table who are lazy, incompetent, and completely unaware that they shouldn’t be there. The phrase “ignorance is bliss” was probably born partially from this crowd. But by a combination of historical advantage, external factors or just dumb luck, they actually get along quite nicely - and therefore believe their own bullshit.


One would argue that time and market forces should catch up to these clowns – but, in a cruel twist of fate, the skill that they do acquire is to palm off accountability to others, to skillfully avoid the stink of their failures and move on to the next thing. I often marvel at this exact type of individual, who has an inverse correlation relationship with ability and dexterity. How wondrous would the world not be if they applied their mental agility to actual productive contribution, as opposed to finding the margins to avoid blame and destroy value?


It brings me back to the idea that Impostor Syndrome is not necessarily a bad thing. The moment you believe your own legend – what the yes-men, the sycophants, the toadies tell you – you are screwed.


Instead, you should listen to the critics. Embrace the harsh words of your worst clients. Onboard the unpleasant truths of your own shortcomings. And then strive to do better. And observe the balance, I suppose. You should listen to the right voices, and develop the wisdom to know which these are. This requires reflection, a focus on inner work and constant searching for knowledge and wisdom.


Where the inner critic shouts louder than any external villain, there is no danger of falling into mediocrity. You might stress yourself out to a point of dodgy mental health, but you will keep on trying your best.


Would we not be living in a glorious world if the norm was thicker skins, habitual onboarding of a different view and striving to incorporate those comments into a better version of self?


Next week, we delve a bit more into how exactly to tame that inner dragon.


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