Publish date: 04 March 2021
Kelly Phelps

Over three years ago I had the opportunity to change roles and take the next step in my career. In the early days I would find myself thinking “maybe I don’t belong here” and “maybe I don’t deserve this”. Whilst those feelings don’t come quite as often anymore, there are still times every now and then when imposter feelings bubble to the surface.

It wasn’t until speaking to a colleague (a very clever, experienced, and well-respected lawyer) who admitted to having similar thoughts from time to time that I started to wonder whether those feelings ever go away, or whether they are even so bad?

When you Google the term “Imposter Syndrome”, the results are mostly inspirational articles about how to overcome your insecurities and build self-confidence. When you scratch the surface, however, it’s easy to see how this phenomenon is far more complex.

A recent study conducted by Wharton researcher, Basima Tewfik, of over 160 employers of an investment solutions company showed that whilst having imposter thoughts can illicit fear (which can be detrimental to a project), those who reported more frequent imposter thoughts were also found to have:-

  • higher motivation levels; and
  • better interpersonal performance – driving participants to be more cooperative, helpful and encouraging to those around them.

When a similar study was performed on trainee doctors, it was found that those who admitted to regularly experiencing imposter thoughts developed similar treatment plans and diagnoses’ as their peers, but were reported to be more engaging, asked more questions and offered better explanations to their patients overall.

Adam Grant, organisational psychologist, has said that feeling like an imposter in our work lives from time to time can actually help to fuel our success by helping us to:-

  1. work harder, and not become complacent;
  2. work smarter, valuing what we can learn from those around us; and
  3. avoid overconfidence and being more open to questioning preconceived ideas and rethinking strategies, visions and assumptions.

If experiencing these human feelings actually keeps us more humble, curious and compassionate, then how can they be so bad?

Kelly Phelps
Kelly Phelps
Chief Executive Officer & Partner
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