Paradox Pair #33: Imposter Syndrome & Motivation

If our confidence lags our competence we can feel like an imposter. Leaning in to the reasons why we may have this inferior feeling can create a motivation to perform better.

Paradox Pair #33: Imposter Syndrome & Motivation
Imposter Syndrome & Motivation, James LaPlaine

When our confidence grows faster than our competence we can fall victim to overestimating our own abilities. On the other hand, if our confidence lags our competence we can feel like an imposter. Imposter syndrome besets all of us at times, and while it is generally portrayed as a thing to avoid — there can be goodness here too.

Leaning in to the reasons why we may have this inferior feeling can create a motivation to perform better. It helps to focus our energy on what it takes to close the gap between our skills and those of our colleagues. In a study on imposter syndrome, Basima Tewfik found that those that were feeling this symptom asked more inquisitive questions than those that were not. They also engaged in active listening more often and provided better explanations about their own thinking.

Overconfidence, when combined with an under-developed skillset, poses a much harder problem to solve. One where we are so unaware of our skills gap that we dedicate little to no attention to addressing a deficiency we are blind to. Worse, we may come across as arrogant to those that are more knowledgeable and observant than we are. It's better to feel like an imposter on occasion than to be ignorant due to overconfidence and then fail to investment in skills development.

Read more about Tewfik's research at the link below:

The hidden upside of imposter syndrome
Imposter syndrome can shake your confidence, but being underqualified for your job may actually give you an advantage over your more confident peers.

Updated April 18, 2022:

MIT News released a more recent article on Tewfik's research:

Study finds an unexpected upside to imposter syndrome
People who report “impostor workplace thoughts” are often still successful, by being strong team players in the office, and being recognized as such, according to a new study. The research was led by MIT Sloan Assistant Professor Basima Tewfik.

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