We should never want to know (nor work for) a person who does not have imposter syndrome – can you imagine that person’s arrogance? So why do so many good and capable people experience this feeling and, worse, see it as a huge weakness? So let’s change that perspective.
Imposter syndrome often wears the guise of an inner critic, that nagging voice that whispers you’re not quite the genuine article, that you’re merely masquerading as something more. Yet, what if we dared to reframe this voice not as the harbinger of doubt but as the herald of our uncharted potential? Imposter syndrome can be seen not as a flaw but as a fulcrum, leveraging our discomfort to catapult us into realms of growth we might never otherwise dare to explore.
In the human experience, imposter syndrome emerges as an unexpected and universal thread of the high achievers, weaving through the lives of the accomplished and the aspiring alike. Often misconstrued as a harbinger of self-doubt, this phenomenon can be a catalyst for profound personal development and a testament to an individual’s humility and growth.
At its core, imposter syndrome is not a barrier but a gateway—a signal indicating the onset of a new chapter in one’s professional or personal evolution. Benjamin Schwartz, a connoisseur of the human psyche, offers a refreshing perspective: imposter syndrome is a unique development function. As one navigates the waters from learning to being, from knowing to doing, a natural delta arises between the self you know and the self you are called to be. It is within this gap that the seeds of growth are sown.
Consider the journey of becoming a leader, where the mastery of theory transitions into the art of practice. It is here that imposter syndrome can surface, not as a foe, but as a companion, guiding you through the uncharted territories of your expanding role. For those in the healing professions, like doctors and nurses, or even new parents thrust into the caretaker role, imposter syndrome is a transient yet vital stage, sometimes lasting mere months, as they blossom into their new identities.
Now, picture the path of the relentless achiever, the visionary entrepreneur, or the creative spirit, all striving to scale new heights of success. In these realms, too, imposter syndrome serves not as the specter of doubt but as a beacon, illuminating the gaps in our armor not to taunt us but to fortify us. The quiet before the breakthrough, the necessary tension precedes the transformation. For anyone reaching beyond their grasp for more knowledge, impact, or innovation, this syndrome is a rite of passage, marking the threshold between the familiar ground and the extraordinary leaps yet to come.
This progression is not a linear path but a cycle of peaks and valleys. As individuals conquer one summit of their capabilities, they gaze upon the next, and in that moment of self-imposed challenge, imposter syndrome whispers, “Who am I to climb this mountain?” It echoes the Dunning-Kruger effect, where competence breeds a healthy dose of doubt, propelling one forward.
Such moments should be embraced with grace rather than frantic energy, with intentional response rather than reactive haste. The interplay between emotional and logical responses becomes the dance floor where one learns the steps to overcome imposter syndrome. It’s the act of turning our minds toward remembering past triumphs and learnings, challenging deeply ingrained beliefs, and reshaping them with both internal conviction and external affirmation.
Lingering too long in the shadow of imposter syndrome can challenge one’s identity, but facing it head-on is where the true development of identity occurs. It presents a dichotomy: a fear-based identity questioning one’s worth against a growth-based identity that embraces responsibility, regardless of perceived qualifications.
Thus, Imposter syndrome is not an adversary to be defeated but a challenge to be met—an invitation to step into the arena of responsibility, chip away at the monolith of self-doubt, and affirm, “I am, even though I may feel unqualified.” It’s about accepting the fear of what might go wrong and recognizing it as the flip side of the coin of growth.
There is a common saying in Special Operations: “You need to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable.” Maybe we should take the idea to heart even when we are successful.
So don’t fight that doubt – embrace it – relish it – and now that it means you are humble. Imposter syndrome is not a sign of weakness but a hallmark of the brave. It is a natural developmental process that all go through. It is okay to have an escape, to balance humility with confidence, and to find comfort in the place we belong. It serves as a reminder that we all a work in progress, striving towards greater versions of ourselves. It is, in essence, the subtle art of embracing the discomfort of growth as the playground for our potential rather than a battleground for our insecurities.
J.C. served in the U.S. Army as an infantry officer for 20 years, primarily in special operations and special missions units with more than 11 combat tours. Since retiring from the military, JC has brought his innovative and unconventional thoughts on education, leadership and resiliency into the private sector, consulting with Fortune 500 companies, the NFL, NBA, NCAA and professional sports teams including the Denver Broncos, Carolina Panthers and the Charlotte Hornets.
He holds a Masters Degree from the Naval War College and was a Senior Fellow in the Service Chief’s Fellowship at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
He has earned 3 Bronze Stars, 3 Meritorious Service Medals, a Joint Commendation Medal, and the Order of Saint Maurice. He is a Liberty Fellow, a part of The Aspen Institute and the Aspen Global Leadership Network.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.