Imposter syndrome is a term used to describe the feeling of inadequacy, self-doubt, and lack of confidence that many people experience in their professional or personal lives. It is the feeling that you are a fraud, that you are not good enough, and that your accomplishments are simply the result of luck or circumstance rather than your own abilities.
Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes were the first to coin the term for this psychological phenomenon. Clance referred to this experience as the Imposter Phenomenom. She said, “Even though they are often very successful by external standards, they feel their success has been due to some mysterious fluke or luck or great effort. These people are afraid their achievements are due to “breaks” and not the result of their own ability and competence. They are also pretty certain that, unless they go to gargantuan efforts to do so, success can not be repeated.”
The good news is that while imposter syndrome is a common experience, it is not the only one. The opposite of imposter syndrome is a sense of confidence, self-assurance, and belief in oneself. In this blog post, we will explore the opposite of imposter syndrome, how it manifests itself, and how capable people can cultivate it in their lives.
Before we start, though, let’s first address the elephant in the room… Is the word spelled Impostor or Imposter?
Wait, Wait, Wait… Is It Impostor Syndrome or Imposter Syndrome?
According to Grammerist, both spellings are correct. The Impostor spelling is slightly older than Imposter. So, I guess you can say that Imposter is an Impostor of Impostor. (But I digress.)
We will use both so that no matter how you spell it, you should be able to find this on Google. 😉
By the way, if you are doing research for a paper or you are looking for a test answer, you may be looking for the term Dunning-Kruger Effect. This comes from a research paper by David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University. The study found that people who scored low on logical reasoning tests tended to overestimate their performance on these tests Since this was the major find in the study, many people mistakenly refer to Imposter Syndrome as the opposite of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
This isn’t exactly true, though. The same study saw a smaller percentage of the subjects underestimate their performance. This small group would be the people suffering from impostor syndrome. So, the Dunning-Kruger effect is a type of cognitive bias that can have two extremes. A huge percentage of low-ability people tend to overestimate their own abilities. A smaller number of more competent people may underestimate their own abilities. (These are the people who will experience imposter feelings.) An even smaller number of people will accurately assess their own performance.
For details, see The Illusion of Competence. Dunning wanted to know why a bank robber, in broad daylight, covered himself in lemon juice (often used as invisible ink), so bank cameras couldn’t see him. (Very funny.)
So, a majority of people will tend to inaccurately assess their performance. Most people are either too overconfident or too self-critical.
So If That Is the Case, What is the Opposite of Imposter Syndrome?
The opposite of imposter syndrome is a sense of self-assurance and self-confidence. It is also a belief in yourself. It is the knowledge that you are capable, competent, and deserving of the success you have achieved. Imposter syndrome is characterized by self-doubt and negative self-talk. The opposite of imposter syndrome is characterized by positive self-talk, self-awareness, and a sense of purpose.
By the way, this doesn’t mean being arrogant or overconfident. It is not about being boastful or self-promoting. Instead, the process is about recognizing your own abilities and accomplishments. You also have to have the confidence to share them with others.
Years ago, I spent a year or so training with my boss, Rick, who had developed a unique leadership assessment. We experimented and ran test trials of the assessment over and over. The results were phenomenal. In fact, they were so impressive our company executives asked my boss to lead a breakout session about the process at the annual convention.
Rick asked a coworker and me to practice the presentation with him. Eventually, Rick looked at us and said, “I think you guys are ready.”
We both looked at each other and said, “Ready for what?”
“Oh, didn’t I tell you? You guys are the stars of the presentation tomorrow?” And then he walked out of the room.
Panic sat in. Each of us had been trainers for less than two years. The audience would be full of professional speakers, and we would be the least experienced presenters in the room. (The impostor phenomenon was kicking in.)
Moving from Imposter to Expert Starts with an Analysis of Your Expertise.
I went to Rick’s office and to ask him to reconsider. He smiled at me and said, “Doug, who in this room knows the most about this process?”
The two of us were the only ones in the room, so I replied, “You.”
“Okay then… Who has the second most experience?”
The answer was obvious.
“So, how many of the people in the audience have more experience on this topic than you?”
The answer was none of them.
“Doug, you have the cookie that everyone in that room wants. You are the expert. The only difference between you and me is that I know I’m the expert. Once you realize that yourself, there will be no stopping you.”
It was a great lesson. He wasn’t being cocky or over confident. He was just being logical. It made sense. (By the way, I killed it in the presentation the next day and had a blast.)
Five (5) Ways to Build Self-Confidence and Become the Expert. (Basically, Create the Opposite of Imposter Syndrome.)
If you are experiencing impostor feelings and want to do the opposite, these five tips can help. High acheivers typically don’t start their careers as high achievers. Anytime we try something new, we can experience the feeling of low self-esteem. On your first day on the job, everyone — even the guy who started yesterday — is more of an expert than you are. We all start with a recognition of our own incompetence.
However, as you develop new skills, your confidence should grow. To speed up this growth, follow the following steps.
1) Start the Process by Becoming Self-Aware.
People who are the opposite of imposter syndrome are self-aware. They understand their strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement. Also, they understand their values, goals, and purpose in life. They use this self-awareness to guide their decisions and actions. And they are not afraid to ask for help when they need it.
By the way, the Johari window is a psychological tool you can use to become more self-aware. It was created by psychologists Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham in 1955, and it is named after a combination of their first names.
The Johari window is a diagram with four quadrants. Each quadrant represents a different type of information, and each person’s Johari window is unique to them.
The four quadrants of the Johari window are:
- Open or Arena: This quadrant represents information about you that is known to both you and others.
- Hidden or Façade: This quadrant represents information about you that is known only to you and not to others.
- Blind or Blind Spot: This quadrant represents information about you that others know about you but that you don’t see yourself.
- Unknown or Unknown Area: This quadrant represents information about you that is not known to you or others.
Impostor Syndrome occurs when the Blind Spot quadrant is artificially larger than it should be. Basically, others see us as an expert, but we don’t see it in ourselves. High achievers tend to try to decrease the size of their Blind Spot zone by identifying Hidden talents. You can do this by asking others for feedback. Or you could objectively reflect on past experiences to identify patterns of behavior that may be causing problems. Once you have identified your blind spots, you can work to address them by taking action to change your behavior. You also want to be open to constructive criticism from others.
Successful people are able to objectively look at what their real strengths are and set higher standards. So, instead of seeing yourself as a victim and an imposter, a self-assessment shows us where we have potential to grow.
2) Courage When You Are Nervous Will Move You in the Opposite Direction of Impostor Syndrome.
People who are the opposite of impostor syndrome show courage when their feelings betray them. They know that they are capable of achieving their goals. They are also not afraid to take risks. Don’t let setbacks or failures hold you back. Instead, see setbacks as opportunities for growth and learning.
The old adage is to feel the fear and to it anyway. High performers know that, in order to grow, they have to challenge themselves. This often means trying things where they are not yet an expert in order to eventually become an expert. As these high-achieving people experiment, they will have hiccups along the way. During the learning process, you have to realize that each setback is an opportunity to get better.
By the way, there is a reason why this is step #2. Without the continued self-assessment first, the imposter syndrome can actually grow.
For instance, the BBC wrote an article about how impostor syndrome can be a good thing. The author used a quote by Maya Angelou as the opening paragraph. “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now.”
Even after all her success, Angelou still doesn’t see herself as an expert. She still has a huge blind spot. So, start with the self-assessment. Then use courage to tackle the imposture syndrome.
For additional information, see Poise Under Pressure in the 7 Qualities of a Great Speaker post.
3) People Who Experience the Opposite of Impostor Syndrom Are Authentic.
Be authentic. Don’t try to be someone you’re not or pretend to know more than you do. Confident people are honest about their abilities and also their limitations. They are not afraid to show vulnerability or ask for help when they need it.
Let me give you an example related to public speaking. A female accountant came through my class a few years ago. She confessed that speaking in front of the senior management at her company was very uncomfortable for her. But she was required to give monthly and quarterly reports about the finances of the company. As we progressed through the class, I comment about how her strength was her enthusiasm and how she made her presentations lively. She reacted negatively because that was the opposite of what she wanted.
I was a little taken back because enthusiasm is one of the main attributes that audiences want from a speaker. She had it naturally but wanted to get rid of it. It turns out that her boss was a highly analytical presenter. His delivery was dry and somewhat boring — the polar opposite of her style.) She was trying to mimic his style because she assumed that this was the best way to deliver a finance speech. And, of course, she was having a very hard time pulling this style of presenting off.
Basically, she was altering her delivery from what she was good at to try to fit what she thought the audience wanted. She wasn’t being authentic. Once we explored the fact that different people have different strengths (and different delivery styles,) she began to focus on increasing her own competence.
4) You Also Want to Be Humble.
Confident people are humble. They do not take their success for granted and are grateful for the opportunities they’ve been given. They are also willing to acknowledge the contributions of others and share credit for their accomplishments.
My pastor is a fantastic example of this step. He knows more about The Bible and what The Bible truly says and means than anyone that I know. A while back, during Sunday School, a parishioner interrupted him with a pointed question. The question was designed to put the pastor on the defensive and force him to prove his point. However, if the pastor had responded the way that most people do, it would have just created an argument.
Instead, he responded with, “Ultimately, we all have to determine our own interpretation of what this passage means. Of course, different people are going to be looking at the passage from different perspectives. In the last 30 years, I’ve often altered my interpretation based on a better understanding of the text. As I learn more, I hope that my interpretations become even more accurate.
“So, as I present this to you, I’ll explain why I believe what I do and how I came to that conclusion. So, obviously, if you have additional information that will help us all understand this better, I welcome the input.”
It was a brilliant response. He didn’t tell the guy, “I’ve got 30 years of intense study under my belt. So, step off, dude.” Instead, he was humble. Humility is a good way to defeat fraud syndrome.
5) Finally, Be Focused.
People who are the opposite of imposter syndrome are focused. They have a clear sense of purpose and direction and are committed to achieving their goals. They don’t let distractions or self-doubt get in the way of their progress.
A few weeks ago, I interviewed a guy for my High Impact Leaders podcast. The guest was supposed to be a social media expert. About 10 minutes into the interview, though, it was really easy for me to see that he was a fraud. He was spouting tips from Seth Godin books that were 15 years old.
And when I asked him for practical examples of how his clients had used these tips, he kept going back to a laundry list of conventions he had spoken to. Eventually, I stop the podcast recording. This guy’s focus was on promoting himself, selling books, and getting invited to speaking gigs. He wasn’t focused on helping his clients solve problems. So, none of them did. As a result, he was one of the people experiencing the Dunning-Kruger Effect. He had developed a huge facade.
A better example in the same industry is Michael Stelzner. 12 years ago, he started the Social Media Marketing podcast. He became an expert on using social media as a way to promote companies and products. But the industry was changing so fast that there was really no way for a single person to be the expert. So, he started inviting other experts onto his show. Over the years, because his focus was on helping his listeners, he has made a ton of income from the show.
So make sure your focus is on your audience — not your shortcomings or perceived shortcomings. If you do, the risk of being seen as a fraud or imposter goes away entirely.
Practical Ways to Cultivate the Opposite of Imposter Syndrome in Your Own Life.
If you struggle with imposter syndrome, cultivating the opposite of imposter syndrome may seem daunting. However, there are several strategies you can use to cultivate confidence, self-assurance, and belief in yourself. Here are a few suggestions:
One of the best ways to cultivate the opposite of imposter syndrome is to practice self-compassion. This means treating yourself with kindness, understanding, and empathy. Instead of berating yourself for your mistakes or shortcomings, acknowledge them and give yourself permission to learn and grow from them.
Celebrate your accomplishments.
People who struggle with imposter syndrome often down play their accomplishments or dismiss them as luck or circumstance. To cultivate the opposite of imposter syndrome, it’s important to celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem. Take time to reflect on what you have achieved, and acknowledge the hard work and dedication that went into it. Celebrate your successes with others, and allow yourself to feel proud of what you have accomplished.
Practice positive self-talk.
Negative self-talk is a common symptom of imposter syndrome. To counteract this, practice positive self-talk. This means replacing negative thoughts with positive ones and reframing your self-talk in a more empowering way. For example, instead of saying, “I’m not good enough,” try saying, “I am capable and deserving of success.”
Surround yourself with supportive people.
The people we surround ourselves with can have a significant impact on our self-confidence and belief in ourselves. Surround yourself with people who believe in you, support you, and encourage you to be your best self. Seek out mentors or role models who can provide guidance and support as you work to cultivate the opposite of imposter syndrome.
Set realistic goals and work towards them.
Setting realistic goals and working towards them can help build confidence and belief in yourself. Start by setting small, achievable goals and work towards them step by step. Celebrate each small victory along the way, and use these successes to build momentum and confidence as you work towards larger goals.
Embrace failure as an opportunity for growth.
Failure is a natural part of the learning process, and it’s important to embrace it as an opportunity for growth. Rather than seeing failure as a reflection of your own inadequacy, see it as a chance to learn and improve. Use the lessons you learn from failure to refine your skills and apply these insights to future projects and endeavors.
Remember, You Have the Cookie. You Are the Expert. Don’t Let Others Make You Think You Are an Impostor.
So remember, the opposite of imposter syndrome is a sense of confidence, self-assurance, and belief in yourself. It’s the knowledge that you are capable, competent, and deserving of the success you have achieved. While cultivating the opposite of imposter syndrome may seem daunting, it’s important to remember that building self-confidence and belief in oneself is a process that takes time and effort.
First, practice self-compassion. Next, celebrate your accomplishments. In addition, use positive self-talk versus pointing out your own errors. Surround yourself with supportive people. Set realistic goals. And finally, when things don’t go perfectly, embrace your failure as an opportunity for growth. If you do these things, you can work to cultivate the opposite of imposter syndrome in your life and become a truly confident expert!