4 surprising hidden benefits of imposter syndrome

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Imposter syndrome. You feel it when applying for scholarshipsat work or at university. According to a 1978 study, imposter syndrome describes the feeling of being a fraud — a problem plaguing most students in higher education. 

In a 2019 study, 20% of college students experience imposter syndrome. A 2020 review of medical studies showed that up to 82% of people experienced the syndrome at some point in their lives. 

Contrary to popular belief, research shows that there are hidden benefits to this fear of being “found out” — if you know how to use this fear to your advantage. Curious to know more? Here are a few hidden benefits of imposter syndrome:

imposter syndrome

Living and studying in a new environment can elevate the feelings of imposter syndrome, but here are a few hidden benefits of this “fraudster” feeling. Source: Brandon Bell/Getty Images North America/Getty Images/AFP

4 surprising hidden benefits of imposter syndrome

1. You have an increased level of self-awareness

If you know the things that trigger you, you can consciously choose to behave differently. Be mindful of the situation that triggers your imposter syndrome: Is it speaking up in meetings? Is it public speaking? Is it any scenario where you are seen as the expert?

Recognising that you are feeling like an imposter — and that it is either preventing you from acting or making you feel bad — is a good sign as imposters don’t tend to see themselves as “imposters”.

This heightened self-awareness helps you make smarter decisions since you’re more likely to test your gut rather than make a rash decision based on a hunch.

2. You learn to develop mental flexibility

When you question yourself, you tend to be more curious and open to new information. Students who are more open to shifting their mindset can uncover their strengths and weakness — the perfect combination to find a better solution.

Richard Harrison, a Psychodynamic Counsellor at the University College London, concurs. “The fear of getting things wrong can lead you to silence yourself, stopping you from communicating the valuable ideas that you have,” Harrison explains.

“Sometimes the only way to give yourself a voice in a group is to risk the possibility of making a mistake. You may be surprised to find that others receive your idea very differently from how you expected.”

imposter syndrome

You can carry the art of confident humility into the workplace — skills that employers will value. Source: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images North America/Getty Images/AFP

3. You learn the art of “confident humility”

Organisational psychologist Adam Grant accurately describes the art of “confident humility” as being assertive about what you know and willing to acknowledge what you don’t.

Grant’s hypothesis is in line with Basima Tewfik’s research. According to the assistant professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, feeling like you are not good enough has the converse impact of making you a better team player.

You can see this in group assignments or social events. The art of expressing confidence while being humble can help you build meaningful relationships with your peers and professors — which can pay off in the long run once you graduate.

4. You are more compassionate and empathetic

Imposter thoughts make you more “other-oriented” — being more attuned to other people’s perceptions and feelings — which makes you more likeable,” Tewfik shares. Her study showed that imposter syndrome correlated with higher empathy skills and generated higher sympathy scores in many cases.

What does this mean to international students? Pair the art of confident humility with skills like active listening, and you’ll have an easier time making friends while studying abroad. This can help you to combat loneliness, improve your mental well-being and build genuine friendships.

The best part: you’re not alone. Chances are, other students may struggle with the same feeling. Unsure of where to start? Thanks to that heightened awareness, you should be able to reach out to those dealing with the syndrome comfortably. 



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