Conquer Imposter Syndrome: Humility, Confidence & the Bhagavad Gita

Let's not feel like imposters; rather, let's recognize ourselves as instruments.

Imposter syndrome is a common experience among high achievers in high-stakes environments. 

The Paradox of Success

Individuals grappling with imposter syndrome often contend with pervasive feelings of fraudulence, as if they're cheating or merely pretending to succeed. Despite their dedicated efforts, there's a lingering sense that they fall short, contributing to the belief that their endeavors were insufficient for the monumental success attained. Consider a scenario where they excel in a project, investing substantial effort and achieving success, yet, when the time comes to savor the fruits of their labor, a lack of internal fulfillment prevails. Instead of basking in the success, they are plagued by anxiety and stress, questioning the authenticity of their achievements and feeling undeserving of the rewards bestowed upon them.

The reward could be a promotion, appreciation, prizes, or another significant project that provides an opportunity to showcase their skills. Despite these potential rewards, they remain in constant anxiety. Why is this anxiety present? Firstly, they feel like they're cheating everyone. Secondly, there's a fear that one day their inadequacy will be exposed, leading to the collapse of everything bestowed upon them—losing it all. 

Coping Mechanism

To cope with the imposter syndrome, they often resort to either overworking themselves, engaging in excessive preparation before high-stakes tasks, or succumbing to procrastination. Why the tendency to overprepare? It's a mechanism to convince themselves that success didn't come naturally; they had to study and prepare rigorously for it. By doing so, they diminish the idea of being naturally talented or inherently successful. Another coping mechanism involves procrastination when facing high-stakes tasks.

They might lean towards procrastination, falling into a pattern where they delay tasks to the last minute. Strangely, when they finally work on these tasks and achieve success, they use it as evidence to reinforce their imposter syndrome. They tell themselves, 'See, I told you; you're an imposter. You're not good for anything. You just worked a little bit in the last minute, and you got the success.' This self-sabotaging behavior perpetuates stress and reinforces their belief that they don't truly deserve the success they're achieving.

Perfectionist Trait

They exhibit additional traits due to imposter syndrome, such as perfectionism. Striving for perfection in everything, they convince themselves that their achievements are solely because of this perfection. Superheroism becomes a coping mechanism as they attempt heroic feats. Moreover, they grapple with both a fear of success and a fear of failure. The fear of success stems from the belief that once successful, they will be exposed as not truly competent, especially when under the scrutiny of an audience. Simultaneously, they fear failure because it would mean exposure – all the praise, recognition, position, power, money, promotion, and salary they've received would be revealed as undeserved. Despite evidence of their competence, they persistently deny their own capabilities and convince themselves that they are not good enough.

The Modern Mindset vs The Humility of Awareness

Now, why does this stress exist? It is a byproduct of the modern world and the contemporary thought process that compels individuals – in fact, my perspective on this is that imposter syndrome signifies a person with significant potential, a genuinely good human being. I'll delve into the reasons behind this viewpoint and then discuss insights from the Bhagavad Gita and the Bhagavatam, supplemented by real-life examples.

The pressures exerted by the modern world, compel us to assert our ownership of success, to flaunt it as solely ours, create the pressure that leads to imposter syndrome.

However, imposter syndrome is a natural response of a thoughtful human being to the success they have achieved. And why is that? Highly successful people acknowledge that despite all their efforts – those who are comfortable with imposter syndrome and comprehend this fact – they recognize that it's not solely their effort, intelligence, or planning that has bestowed success upon them.

They acknowledge that they are not the sole contributors to their actions in that particular endeavor. They recognize that, 'Yes, I have made a contribution, but the current situation and the success we have achieved are not solely the result of my efforts. There are some super divine forces in action that have assisted me in reaching this point.' Consequently, such individuals do not experience imposter syndrome because they do not attempt to claim full credit for success, as modern society often compels us to do. Instead, they acknowledge the reality that their success is not solely their doing; there are divine forces and factors beyond their control that have played a role, and they are at ease with this realization.

How do great leaders handle the Imposter Syndrome?

Sachin Tendulkar and Virendra Sehwag's conversation:

There's a conversation between Sachin Tendulkar, the top cricketer, the most fascinating cricketer India has had, and Virender Sehwag, another great hard-hitting batsman who plays in his own fearless style.

In these conversations, they reminisce about the 2011 World Cup, where both of them got out and didn't score many runs. They were both sitting in the stands, watching the match, and in the second innings, as India batted, Sachin Tendulkar, with his bag open, continuously prayed to the various pictures of God on that black flap for India's success. Virender Sehwag, sitting next to him, was told to stay seated, creating a rhythm. Even when Sehwag wanted to use the bathroom, Sachin insisted on him staying, emphasizing the energy created by both of them sitting together in front of the Gods.

This incident illustrates the top batsman recognizing that winning the match wasn't solely in his power, skill, or technique. He acknowledged higher forces at play and sought to maintain balance for the team's success. 

There's another incident that Sachin Tendulkar shares during that conversation. Sachin Tendulkar is getting a massage for his body, and his eyes are closed while the masseur is doing his job. Virender Sehwag enters the room and tells the masseur, 'Why are you wasting your energy? He's already asleep. I don't think it's going to make any difference. Why don't you stop?' Sachin Tendulkar, with closed eyes, hears the conversation, and the masseur responds, 'I keep my eyes closed because I'm continuously praying to the Lord that India wins the match.'

The world's top batsman, known for his skill, intellect, and success, recognizes that matches are not won solely by individual effort or team skill. He acknowledges the presence of higher powers in play. Sachin Tendulkar is not just focused on personal skill; he understands that there are forces beyond human control influencing the outcome.

High achievers like Sachin Tendulkar, overcome imposter syndrome by owning and honoring their abilities, expressing gratitude for their success, and acknowledging the role of higher forces in their achievements. This perspective allows them to be comfortable with themselves, the results, the rewards and continue performing at a high level.

When Imposter Syndrome could come from Low Self Esteem

Imposter syndrome often stems from low self-esteem, and addressing that is crucial. Despite our achievements, we often fail to honor our skills, techniques, and hard work. Acknowledging these positive aspects within ourselves is essential. So, maintaining the right level of humility becomes important. It involves having an accurate estimation of oneself and thereby a healthy self-esteem.

A humble person, like Sachin Tendulkar, recognizes his skills, understands his strengths and weaknesses, and acknowledges that higher forces are at play. The formula here is straightforward: recognize and honor yourself. Realize that there are higher forces at play and appreciate the positive aspects within you. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna states, "I am the ability in man," emphasizing that these abilities are not ours alone; they come from Krishna, given to us by God. So, let's view ourselves as instruments.

The 5 factors of action from the Bhagavad Gita

In the 18th chapter, 14th verse, Lord Sri Krishna talks about the five factors of action.

अधिष्ठानं तथा कर्ता करणं च पृथग्विधम् ।

विविधाश्च पृथक्‍चेष्टा दैवं चैवात्र पञ्चमम् ॥ १४ ॥


The place of action [the body], the performer, the various senses, the many different kinds of endeavor, and ultimately the Supersoul – these are the five factors of action. (Translation by Srila Prabhupada)

These are the five factors of action that contribute to any action and the success of any action. So, we are not the complete doers. We are just one of the doers. And therefore, I say that the imposter syndrome is a very natural feeling of the soul. Because we may not have the language to say it, and we are forced by modern conceptions to stake a claim on the success that's in front of us fully and we don't feel comfortable doing that & feel like imposters. Even if we don't have the language for it, the taxonomy for it, we recognize the fact that "I alone was not responsible for the success."

In the scenario, much like a cricket batsman facing a challenging shot, he recognizes his mistake as the ball is given for a catch. The fielder drops the ball, not once but twice. In another scenario, acknowledging that he was supposed to be bowled out, he reflects on the alignment of his stance, the positioning of his bat, and the influence of the wind that unexpectedly saved his wicket. This reflection prompts a realization – when engaged in our endeavors, we become aware of the numerous instances where the Supreme Lord, the ultimate cause of action, plays a pivotal role, as outlined in these five factors. It underscores how the Supreme Lord serves as a fundamental force in all our actions.

Arjuna recognises the Lord's hand

Arjuna also recognized (as we explored during the overview of all chapters of the Bhagavad Gita towards the end of 2023) – the divine presence of the Lord manifested in the chariot. The chariot, a gift from Agnidev to Arjuna, prominently featured Hanumanji on the flag, these symbolized substantial divine support for Arjuna's triumph in the battle.

One might question why Arjuna received such divine favor while Duryodhana did not. The answer lies in the fact that Arjuna was working in alignment with the Lord's mission, drawing support from those who chose to stand by righteousness. This was in stark contrast to the forces aligned with evil. Arjuna emerged victorious in the war, propelled by the divine grace acknowledging the Supreme Lord's influence.

However, post the war and the Lord's departure to the spiritual realm, Yudhishthira Maharaj experienced deep concerns and anxieties. Unaware of the Lord's departure, he observed ominous signs – changing seasons, people in distress, and various unsettling events. Wondering why Arjuna had not returned, Yudhishthira grappled with apprehensions.

Upon Arjuna's eventual return, Yudhishthira realized the divine intervention at play. He acknowledged that his ability to achieve victories, such as defeating the Mayadanava in the Khandava Forest, and the protection of the chariot against formidable Kaurava arrows were all manifestations of the Lord's grace. This profound realization with many observations is eloquently captured in the Srimad Bhagavatam, Canto 1, Chapter 15.

Arjuna says, "Despite facing a formidable demon and the overwhelming military strength of the Kauravas, we emerged victorious. I successfully retrieved cows, collected numerous helmets, and lived up to the name of Dhananjaya, the wealth collector, contributing it to your treasury, Maharaj. Our enthusiasm, strength, blessings, and power were all influenced by the divine." In text 12, it's mentioned, "I astonished Lord Shiva and received the Pashupati Astra through His mercy. With just one grain of rice in Draupadi's pot, we satisfied Durvasa Muni and his thousands of disciples, avoiding embarrassment. His mercy allowed me to see the fish's eye in the water's reflection and win Draupadi's hand. This astounding power, which impressed everyone, was solely due to His mercy."

In summary, Arjuna's success was not merely a result of individual prowess; rather, it was intricately woven with divine influence. This acknowledgment emphasizes the essence of humility and divine collaboration in achieving triumphs beyond one's personal capabilities.

Despite significant achievements, Arjuna , the greatest archer doesn't try to own them, he fully acknowledges that the Lord's presence and divine forces played a crucial role in their success, thus he does not feel like an imposter.

How should we act? - Nishkama Karma Yoga in Devotion

When we operate with the consciousness that I'm just an instrument, there's no room for the imposter syndrome.When we force ourselves to claim all success for our endeavors, that's when imposter syndrom sets in. I am here as an eternal servant of the Lord. Let the Lord use me in His service. As Srila Prabhupada said on the Jaladuta ship, let me be like a puppet and dance the way the Lord wants me to dance in His service. Whatever the Lord wants me to do through my adishthanam, through my karta and karanam, me, my body, myself through my senses and actions, through everything, let me just be an instrument.

My teacher gave the sample of the bat being useless by itself. However, when it's in the hands of Sachin Tendulkar, it works wonders. And when Sachin Tendulkar is depending on the Lord while working his skills, even bigger wonders happen. So, if we all care and want to be successful in the material world, grow, and live up to our full potential with contribution, the best way is to partner with the Lord in every step.  Recognize that I have been put in this special situation by the Lord, given these abilities, position and this body. (The Lord sanctions these actions and has put you there.) Let me connect my consciousness with God and live in a way that every step and action of mine is pleasing to the Lord, aligning with the Lord's mission, plan, and purpose. When we dovetail ourselves like that, we become even more successful than we could have ever been on our own. Please recognize that.

Of course, work on your self-esteem, but recognize that your abilities are not solely your own. You are not the only doer in any action; the Lord is there to help you. Therefore, there's no reason for you to feel like an imposter because it's a fact of life that whatever we are doing is not solely our endeavor or effort that brings results. Divine benedictions, blessings, sanctions, and arrangements play a significant role.

When we acknowledge and accept this, we no longer feel like imposters. We utilize our abilities, given by the Lord, in the Lord's service. Different ways of surrendering to the Lord are described in the 12th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita. If you can't go to the highest level, at least offer the results to the Lord. Read the 12th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita for more insights.

Partnering with the Lord

Some even go further, partnering by sharing a major part of their profits in service to the Lord. I'm not suggesting a specific percentage of partnership, but consider these inspiring examples. I recently spoke to someone I've known for many years, and he shared that he has designated the Lord as a 30% business partner in his profits. He plans to contribute the Lord's profit share in the Lord's projects and reinvest the rest to grow the company. Many others have made the Lord and his projects their 50% partner, redirecting profits to support the Lord's initiatives.

 When we operate with the consciousness that we are mere instruments, there's no room for imposter syndrome. All growth comes in because the Lord is their partner.

At EASE, we partner with the Lord too

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Let's not feel like imposters; rather, let's recognize ourselves as instruments. Understand that we are not capable on our own; it's the Lord's blessings that propel us forward. Own the abilities bestowed upon us by the Lord and use them in His service. Utilize our body, mind, and words in the Lord's service. As leaders, guide our companies with values, ethics, profit-sharing, and contributions to humanity. Work in a way that is pleasing to the Lord—an act of surrender and partnership. Wishing you all the best; I hope you found our discussion on imposter syndrome, viewing it as a natural feeling for the soul, insightful.

Next Steps

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Categories: Leadership, Personal Growth