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How to Use Your Imposter Syndrome as a Superpower

Imposter syndrome is an issue that most of us face at some point in our lives. It can show up in our interactions and relationships with colleagues, friends, and family. At its worst, it can create anxiety and stress in our lives.

But, what if we could turn it from our weakness to our strength?

The concept of imposter syndrome originated from Pauline Clance and Maureen O’Toole in their 1987 article about successful women. They described it as the state of doubting your ability to be successful and to feel inauthentic, deceptive, and not worthy of the role you hold. 

Initially considered a female phenomenon, it is now understood to be found across gender, ethnic, and age groups. Research has found that it may be present in up to 82% of the population, and some factors indicate it could be more.

So, imposter syndrome can be considered a universal phenomenon encompassing our experiences, beliefs, and emotions. And if we leave it unattended – it could create havoc throughout various aspects of our lives.

But, can imposter syndrome be a superpower?

Valerie Young introduced five different types of imposter syndrome in her book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, Crown Business, 2011. 

Dividing imposter syndrome into different types highlights that not everybody experiences the associated negative emotions and feelings of competence. From the list of five, it is likely you identify with a major kind of imposter syndrome and then others to a lesser degree. 

Understanding your type can help you work on the negatives and embrace the positives in a productive way. 

Below are the five types of imposter syndrome and suggestions of what you could do to turn this into a superpower.

The 5 types of imposter syndrome

1. The Perfectionist 

If you are a Perfectionist, you will find it hard to be satisfied with your achievements. You will focus on any minor flaws instead of focusing on the good (or probably great).

Your superpower

As a Perfectionist, you have a high standard of work. You can work hard at your goals and produce results that impress the people around you. Embrace that you can do an excellent job on any project.

Tips for those unhelpful thoughts

  • Work on the way you relate to your perceived flaws, e.g., see them as learning experiences. 
  • Separate your feelings from facts, e.g., you are not a failure because there are flaws. 
  • Work on rewarding yourself for the wins. 
  • Fight the need you may have to withhold the work that isn’t perfect by remembering its good in the world.

2. The Expert 

As an Expert, you are never satisfied with your level of understanding. Typically, you will be highly skilled and highly educated. You feel like a failure when there is something you don’t know.

Your superpower

Embrace your education for the rich and rewarding asset that it is. Not only have you acquired an abundance of knowledge, but your quest for knowledge makes you an expert in absorbing new information and issues to analyze, and problem solve. 

Tips for those unhelpful thoughts

  • Embrace what you have to offer and see the opportunity in the things you don’t know, e.g., you can add your unique lens with fresh eyes and add value.
  • Separate feelings from facts, e.g., it is essential to understand that a lack of knowledge does not translate to failure. 
  • Remember that a (perceived) lack of knowledge doesn’t make you a fraud. 

3. The Soloist 

As a Soloist, you get confidence from your productivity and see asking for help as a weakness. For achievement to be yours – it has to be completed by you alone.

Your superpower

You are a great operator because you can navigate challenges to produce results without assistance. Embrace your ability to be able to get sh*t done! Not only can this make you an excellent part of a team, but it means you have great skills you could teach others.

Tips for those unhelpful thoughts

  • Work on the inner dialogue that tells you “asking for help is a sign of weakness” 
  • Remind yourself that success can be shared, and it is not less of an achievement. It is a valuable experience for you as you learn to grow
  • Reward yourself when you take steps to work with others
  • Don’t be afraid to fake being a happy team member, and until you make it

4. The Natural Genius 

As a Natural Genius, you will find yourself setting big goals and then feel crushed when you fail on the first try. You judge your competence on the ease and speed of obtaining your goals.

Your superpower

If you are in this category – you are naturally talented. This is a great advantage whether you get it perfect the first time or not. Get confidence from the natural abilities you can utilize and be excited about all the skills that you can add.

Tips for those unhelpful thoughts

  • Remember that not being able to master a skill immediately does not make you a failure. See it as an opportunity for learning. 
  • Remember, you are not a failure if you can’t achieve things quickly. You have an opportunity for growth.
  • Try visualizing success as a tool in your journey

5. The Superhero

As a Superhero, you focus on the number of things you can juggle and achieve at once. You feel like a failure when you can’t handle everything in your life easily and perfectly. You push yourself as hard as possible because deep down, you feel you may be inadequate.

Your superpower

As a Superhero, you know how to push yourself hard. You know how to excel in many areas at once. These are all impressive skills that you should embrace. 

Tips for those unhelpful thoughts

  • Learn to go easy on yourself. When one of the balls falls out of the air – you are not a failure. It is just an opportunity to reprioritize.
  • You don’t have to be able to achieve it all. No one should expect you to. 
  • When you are feeling inadequate – don’t forget you can fake it until you make it.

Imposter syndrome can work for and against you

You could let imposter syndrome stop you from going after your goals as you shy away from the uncomfortableness. Or, you could embrace the positives and strive towards the success you deserve.

Embrace your superpower!