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Finish Line: Weaponize the chip on your shoulder

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This appeared first in Axios Finish Line, as Axios CEO Jim VandeHei’s weekly feature on hard-learned lessons for life and leadership.

Confession: Yes, that is a big chip on my shoulder.

It was planted by the high school guidance counselor who told me I wasn’t smart enough for college. It was fertilized by my 1.491 GPA in Year 3 of college, validating her point.It sprouted fully the moment I landed in Washington, D.C., where most had fancy pedigrees and Ivy League degrees. This was intimidating as hell for a small-town Cheesehead with one Supper Club plaid sports coat and little hope of a job. I’ve spent every year since, consciously or subconsciously, trying to prove I am smart enough to not just belong — but thrive.

Why it matters: None of us wants to be insecure. But never underestimate the power your own insecurities can generate if you are aware of them and exploit them in a healthy way.

Mine inspired me to try to outwork — and outthink — those I assumed had a head start or some educational or connections edge. I still like to read critics and naysayers for an extra jolt of motivation. Sometimes, I toss out an incendiary quote in the media to bait them. 😃

Truth is, we all suffer some form of imposter syndrome (save the true narcissists around us).

Punchbowl’s John Bresnahan and I, back when we were reporters together at Roll Call, would talk about how after each scoop or big story, we would have no time to savor it — because we instantly worried if we could ever do it again.The insecurity led to a lot more scoops.

Here’s how to attack your own imposter worries:

1. Be honest with yourself. Insecurities are often rooted in some truth. Try to understand your weaknesses, real or perceived, so you can do something about them.

Fear is a fabulous motivator.

2. Attack your weakness. Do the small, daily things to overcome the nagging insecurity. First, try to mitigate it and then turn it into a strength. You will be shocked how persistence and effort can ease limitations.

3. Weaponize the fury. Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan famously looked for any slight by another player to manufacture motivation, knowing it provides an extra edge. He was maniacal about it, but the trick does work.

4. Give yourself grace. I can’t sing. I can’t dance. I’m kind of lousy at Trivial Pursuit. At some point, it’s wasted energy to lament. Double down on things you do well instead.

The bottom line: No sane person is as confident as they seem. We all carry baggage.

The successful people in my life simply accept that — and do something about it.