People love to talk about imposter syndrome. From sharing strategies on how to combat it to the “humble brag” LinkedIn post that may as well say “I’m really great… I just have to remind myself how great sometimes… I’m really humble like that”. It’s a hot topic for sure, but the more I see and hear people talk about it the more convinced I become that Imposter Syndrome, that feeling of being a fraud when you aren’t, is a good thing. In fact, some people could do with feeling it a lot more often.

Like most people, I’ve had that imposter feeling all too often. One time that still burns particularly bright in my mind was speaking on stage at Google Singapore. Looking out at a global audience of my peers (many of whom had achieved far more than I had), left me with that classic “I don’t deserve to be here” feeling. I’ve spoken publicly often enough, including at a number of Google events, but there was something about having people in booths live translating my burbling that really triggered the feeling that day. More usually for me it is face to face meetings with people, whose work I really respect; “Why should this person, who knows so much, care what I think?”.

It’s all good though. We most frequently experience Imposter Syndrome when we are pushing ourselves further. It’s one of the discomforts experienced when moving outside our comfort zone. That means, to me at least, it is not something to be “beaten” or “conquered” and definitely not to be avoided. Instead it needs to be acknowledged and embraced. Imposter Syndrome is often the literal feeling of improvement.

Imposter Syndrome is often the literal feeling of improvement.

What’s more, it’s important to feel that discomfort as we push our own boundaries. That feeling of not being deserving reminds us that we’re reaching those boundaries and need to try harder to do well. That feeling is what saves (most of) us from arrogantly assuming we are great at everything we do and ploughing ahead accordingly. There are enough Confidently-Wrong people in the world without us trying to ignore or suppress the instinct that stops us joining their ranks.

There’s an interesting chart in Adam Grant’s Think Again that explains this well in terms of being a “Confidence vs Competence” issue. I particular like how this offers insight into to why it’s often people who the rest of us see as competent that are affected by it. Once we graduate out of that novice zone, it’s “confident humility” that we should be aiming for. However, when our competence grows faster than our confidence those imposter insecurities creep in.

Imposter syndrome : Adapted from the original in Think Again


Knowing what drives Imposter Syndrome, and how normal it is, helps us stop it holding us back. “I feel like an imposter – just like everyone else does. This is normal and good” is far easier to deal with than “I feel like an imposter – everyone must know I am”.  Framing it as something to be avoided or beaten makes it difficult to turn it to positive use.

It’s right, of course, that I have Imposter Syndrome now writing this. Not only am I not a psychologist, but I wouldn’t even claim to be a great example of someone who “has their shit together”. I’m known for writing  & talking about adtech, not the human subconscious. Why should you read anything I have to say about this? That’s fine though. That feeling made me think much longer about whether or not to write this than I would an adtech topic. It made me really consider whether I had anything to say on the subject and it made me do some fact checking to ensure I wasn’t just talking out of my arse (good news: Others agree with what I am saying: 1 2 3). The feeling of being an imposter drove me to do better. See… it’s good.

So, imposter syndrome demonstrates that we are growing, keep our egos in check and drives us to do better. What’s not to love?