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WTWs Paige Seaborn discusses imposter syndrome and self-doubt

WTW's Paige Seaborn discusses imposter syndrome and self-doubt

 November 16, 2022

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WTW Senior Associate for Corporate Innovation, Paige Seaborn, discusses the all-too familiar imposter syndrome, and how harnessing self-doubt can power innovation. 

"When you’re feeling like an imposter and doubting your intellectual abilities, try viewing your doubt as an opportunity for growth," she shares. 

Imposter syndrome can be a driving force for innovation

Imposter syndrome has seen lots of media attention amid the increasing focus around emotional wellbeing. Although imposter syndrome is not an official psychiatric disorder according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), in extreme cases it can result in diagnosable conditions such as anxiety and depression.

But many professionals – particularly high achievers – have feelings of inadequacy that while described as imposter syndrome are normal feelings of self-doubt that can be positive. Such emotions often inspire individuals to challenge themselves and achieve more. Harnessed in a healthy way, it can be a driving force for innovation.

The best innovators are likely aware of known unknowns

Paige shares that employees experiencing self-doubt are often less narrow-minded than employees who seem to know everything. "An employee who is overly confident or certain may not think broadly enough to consider all they might not know and all the potential pitfalls," she says. 

"Your best innovators are likely aware of “known unknowns” – things we know we don’t know and need to figure out. But your employees experiencing self-doubt are also keenly aware of (and anxious about) the likely existence of “unknown unknowns” – things we don’t know we don’t know. The latter are probably experiencing some level of imposter syndrome and a greater level of stress. They’re trying to prepare for what will happen and what could happen."

Paige advises that with a little encouragement and the right messaging, "and undoubtedly a fair amount of bravery", innovators with self-doubt can become some of the strongest contributors, driven to succeed while thinking of and preparing for a multitude of risks along the way. They just need help overcoming it.

Looking at how to harness self-doubt, Paige advises: 

  • If you don’t address it, who will?
  • Think about the leaders you admire most. 
  • You can’t be a fraud if you're transparent and communicative. 

Self-doubt is part of a growth mindset

Paige concludes: "If you’re not feeling self-doubt amid uncertainty, chances are you are too comfortable and not doing something that really challenges you. A little self-doubt can be healthy to push you to take on new challenges and grow. Obviously, that’s easier said than done. To get started, work on cultivating your growth mindset. This is a mindset that embraces change, strives for constant improvement and believes in the ability of individuals to develop, learn and grow.

"When you’re feeling like an imposter and doubting your intellectual abilities, try viewing your doubt as an opportunity for growth and imagine all you can achieve."

Read the article in full. 

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