When asked in an interview if he ever felt like an impostor, Saturday Night Live writer and comedian John Mulaney replied:

“Oh yeah. Steve Higgins [a producer for SNL] asked me on one of my first one or two days: ‘You feel like a fraud?’ And I said yes, and he said, ‘Good. ’Cause if you didn’t, you’d be an asshole.’ And it’s really true! If you walk in at 25 and you’re like, ‘I got this,’ you’d be insufferable. A couple people in comedy have pulled that off, but I think embracing how terrified you are is the only way to begin there.”

This is not the first time I’ve heard impostor syndrome framed as a positive… as something we should “embrace.” One even described it as her career “superpower.”

I understand the thinking because over the three decades I’ve been working on this topic, I’ve said much the same.

In fact, I dedicated a couple of paragraphs in my book to some of the adaptive elements of impostor syndrome.

Now I know that framing it as a positive, is yet one more aspect of impostor syndrome we must rethink.

That’s because the advice to embrace our impostor feelings is based on a false narrative.

A narrative that says you have two choices.

You can continue to feel like an impostor with all the negative emotional, physical, and financial consequences that go along with it — OR you can be an egocentric jerk.

To be sure, there are plenty of people who are the proverbial “smartest guy in the room.” All the more so in high places.

But if you’ve spent your adult life seeing yourself as undeserving of your success, even if your impostor syndrome magically disappeared tomorrow, the odds of you becoming that person are pretty much zip.

impostor syndrome | valerie young | why embracing your impostor syndrome is a really bad idea; humility and impostor syndrome

So, what if you knew that you didn’t have to deal with all the downsides of impostor syndrome in order to be humble?

Put another way, what if you knew it was possible to ditch impostor syndrome and still have healthy humility, even well-deserved pride in your work?

What if you knew that it’s entirely possible to walk into a new situation (new job, promotion, and yes even SNL) and feel like “I’ve ‘got this’” — not out of arrogance — but because you understand, as non-impostors do, that it’s okay to be in the midst of a learning curve?

In fact, what if you knew that you can be scared out of your ever-lovin’ mind, and still not feel like an impostor because you understand, as non-impostors do, that fear is a normal response to the unknown?

What if you knew, as non-impostors do, that it’s entirely possible to ask for help… or not know the answer… or struggle to master something… or make a mistake… or fall flat on your face… and not experience shame that “impostors” do?

In other words, what if rather than embrace your impostor syndrome, you learned instead to think and act like someone who embraces a healthy response to competence, failure, criticism, and fear?

The downsides of feeling like a fraud far outweigh the good. And the consequences are costly — not only to you but to your organization or business as well.

Rather than embrace a pattern that comes with such emotional, physical, and financial baggage, I invite you to embrace non-impostor thinking instead.

Because the bottom line is this:

If you want to stop feeling like an impostor, you have to stop thinking like one. Click To Tweet

About Valerie Young

Valerie Young, Ed.D. is an internationally-recognized expert on impostor syndrome and author of the award-winning book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It (Crown/Random House) now available in six languages. She has delivered her highly solution-oriented to hundreds of thousands of organizations including IBM, Merck, Google, Boeing, Procter & Gamble, Facebook, Microsoft, Intel, Chrysler, Blizzard Entertainment, Dell, BP, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, McDonald's, NASA, The Space Science Telescope Institute, National Cancer Institute, Society of Women Engineers, and The Conference Board. Valerie has also spoken at over 95 colleges and universities in the US, Canada, Japan, Europe, and the UK including Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, and Oxford. And her career-related advice has been featured in business and popular media outlets on five continents including The BBC, Yahoo Finance, Newsweek, Time, O magazine, Fast Company, Science, and many more. You can learn more at ImpostorSyndrome.com

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