How Experts Can Beat Impostor Syndrome

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DALL·E 2023 10 26 16.37.17 Cartoon illustration inspired by Bauhaus art set in a horizontal format. It features a diverse trio an East Asian male chef a Middle Eastern female

If you want to get rid of Impostor Syndrome, read this:

The answer to imposter syndrome is not more knowledge. But better communication.

You: are the only one who knows how much you know.
We: can only hear how you talk.

Stop piling knowledge in the hopes that more facts will turn you into a more confident person.
Start learning different skills.

The people who look confident usually have little knowledge, but they have one skill: they read the room and adjust their communication accordingly.
They’re ignorants. With situational awareness.

Your path to confidence is different. It requires you to learn how to transform your deep knowledge into small gifts for your audience.

Let me explain.

The Opposite of Impostor Syndrome: Selling Ice to Eskimos

DALL·E 2023 10 18 16.49.38 Cartoon of a modern ice vending machine in a traditional Arctic village with perplexed Inuit people curiously examining it. The vending machine window

In every office, there is a person who could sell ice to Eskimos. They know nothing about the Arctic culture or the ice itself. Ignorance is their asset. “Matteo, please make me like that person!” you cry.
I can’t.

These people know just enough to talk about a subject. At a super basic level. In simple terms. Very directly. To the point. Concisely. They don’t know much, and what they know is accessible, easy, straightforward.

They combine a minimal level of knowledge with excellent “room reading” skills. They know who they have in front and control their emotions. That’s the situational awareness I was talking about before.
Their ignorance, combined with their awareness of the room, is what makes them speak in an assertive manner. And you read this as confidence.

Not a new problem

This is not a new problem. Aristotle wrote about this exact issue 2300 years ago in Rhetoric.

“It sometimes happens that, despite knowing perfectly well what one is talking about, it is difficult to make use of that knowledge to speak persuasively to others. For speaking with knowledge is teaching, but when that is impossible one has to construct proofs and arguments on the basis of generally accepted notions.”

Rhetoric – Aristotle

How to Solve Impostor Syndrome if You’re an Expert

You’re an expert. You love knowledge. You will never be ignorant enough to use their strategy.
“Matteo! Then I will never be confident!”
No, my dear.
You just need to find your own path to confidence. A nerdy path to confidence.
Instead of being a confident ignorant, you can be a persuasive sage.

“Matteo, a persuasive sage? I will never know enough to be a real expert.”
Makes sense.
A true expert knows what they don’t know. And will never raise their hand and say, “I’m the expert.” They would much rather say they are a student, not a sage.

But you have to stop.
And think this over again.
You’re making this about yourself.
It’s not about what you know. It’s about what you can share.

It’s not about what you know, it’s about what you share

If I ask you to share with me your knowledge of arctic cultures to support the “Ice to Eskimos” sales campaign, you can respond in two ways.

a) You dump 110% of your information on the topic. Your answer is a 97-minute monologue. In the end, we’re both exhausted.
b) You start sharing with me little tidbits of knowledge, little gifts that allow me to enter into this new topic. You pause and check in frequently. We enter into a dialogue.

The keyword is a gift.

The antidote to Impostor Syndrome: Share Small Gifts with Your Audience

I know nothing about Eskimos. I am an empty container. You fill me with small gifts. I understand them and appreciate you in return. I immediately consider you an expert.

“Matteo, I am still not a sage or an expert!”

No, my dear.
You don’t get to decide.
Your audience will decide.
Not based on what you know but based on what you share.

Your level of knowledge is invisible.
Your ability to clarify, explain, and present instead, we can see.

How Best to Prepare to Avoid Impostor Syndrome

“Matteo, I spent all the time reading the latest research to ensure I know everything. Now I don’t have the time to make it simple for my audience.”

Serve yourself.
How you spend your preparation time is your choice.

You can focus on three main takeaways. Gather data on those three takeaways. Then, find examples and, eventually, stories around these takeaways. Speak for a short time in a clear way. And be seen as an expert.
Or you can read an extra research paper that confirms what you probably already know.

You can be an expert inside. And never feel like one.
You can be an expert outside. And enjoy the validation of your peers.

Deep down, you will always know what you don’t know. But that’s private stuff. Keep it under wraps. Continue your studies. Go deep. Never rest.

Do it because it gives you pleasure. Don’t do it in search of confidence. It doesn’t come from there…

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