How to Become More Confident with this Simple Distinction

  • I can’t do this.

  • I don’t know what I’m doing.

  • This is too hard.

  • I’m not going to make it here.

  • I’m going to be found out.

Do you have a track record of achievement, yet still hear these kind of messages running in your head?

If so, you may be dealing with impostor syndrome -a sense of inadequacy, even if your prior accomplishments would say otherwise.

Impostor syndrome creates perpetual self-doubt.  If you’ve got it, you may believe that any external ‘success’ that you’ve achieved has been due to luck.You may feel like a fraud.  Anxious you could be unmasked at any moment.

If you’ve felt this way, you’re not alone.  It’s been reported that up to 70% of people will experience impostor syndrome at some point in their lives.  According to research,  it’s particularly prevalent among high-achievers.  Even Albert Einstein may have suffered from it towards the end of his life.

So how do you do you overcome it?

We can learn from Sam’s story.Last month, I spent eight days working with Sam.

Sam had just been hired as an analyst at a prestigious company.  With his razor-sharp intellect and strong leadership presence,  Sam stood out among his cohort of 25 peers as a top performer.

Yet, during our one-on-one coaching session, Sam confided in me he was thinking about quitting. He was struggling with feeling like an outsider.  Working for this company felt radically different from anything he’d ever known.

Sam had grown up as an immigrant in extreme poverty.  He’d put himself through school working blue-collar jobs.  He’d never even worn a necktie before his job interview.  Now, just a few days into his professional career, he kept doubting himself.

He didn’t feel like he belonged.   He was ready to quit.

However, by the time we finished our conversation 45 minutes later, Sam shifted his perspective completely.Not only did decide to not quit, he decided that he was going to work his hardest to become a star in his new role, and become a high-achiever in the organization.

What changed?

A subtle distinction.

One that I’d learned listening to a Q & A session with US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Justice Sotomayor grew up in the Bronx as a child of Puerto Rican immigrants.  When she arrived for her freshman year at Princeton University, she described feeling like “an alien from a different planet”.

She felt stupid.  She felt she didn’t belong.

But, over her time at Princeton, she learned this valuable distinction:


Sotomayor realized that while she might have felt stupid, she wasn’t stupid.

Stupid implies a mental deficiency.

Ignorant means a lack of knowledge.  The reason you don’t know is because haven’t been exposed to that subject.

Sotomayor accepted her ignorance.  She cut herself some slack.  How could she know what she’d never seen?

She took on a philosophy of:I don’t know, but I can ask.  I can learn.

I shared Justice Sotomayor’s story with Sam.

His eyes blazed with recognition.  He realized that he wasn’t stupid.  He was ignorant.

He hadn’t known how tie a tie.  But he’d learned.

He’d never worked in a company like this.  This was all new.  But he could ask.  He could learn.

Sam walked away from our talk knowing that while he might have felt stupid, he wasn’t.

He’d just confused feeling stupid with being ignorant.

Armed with this new perspective, Sam was ready to take on the challenges of his new career.

What have you done to overcome your own ignorance?  Join the conversation by adding a comment below.

Leave a Comment

Connect with Alain


I am interested in...
(please select all options that apply)*

I can be reached at...

What would you like Alain to know about your role and/or organization, and what you'd like to achieve?