What Is the Imposter Syndrome? And Why Overcoming It Is Critical for Your Success
“I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.” – Maya Angelou
Do you ever feel like a fake?
Like you don’t have enough experience or the proper qualifications to do what you’re already doing?
You wonder if your boss or clients will “find you out” and realize you’re not the expert that your resume led them to believe you are.
Or you see other people in your field succeeding at the same thing you’re trying to do but believe you can’t compare. They actually know what they’re doing. They are an expert. But you? Definitely not.
One thing just led to another and here you are. You’re just lucky and good at faking it ’til you make it.
If you’ve ever felt this way, you’re not alone.
It’s called imposter syndrome and approximately seventy percent of people will experience it at some point in their lives.
Let’s dive into what imposter syndrome is and why you MUST overcome it to find satisfaction in your career and pursue your dreams.
What Is the Imposter Syndrome?
Clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes coined the term ‘imposter syndrome’ in 1978. It’s also commonly known as imposter phenomenon and imposterism.
Merriam Webster Dictionary defines imposter syndrome as, “a psychological condition that is characterized by persistent doubt concerning one’s abilities or accomplishments accompanied by the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of one’s ongoing success.”
Imposter syndrome is believing that you’re not good enough, expert enough, skilled enough or worthy enough to deserve something you’re already working towards or have already accomplished.
It’s the fear that your boss or clients will discover that you’re not actually the real deal.
That they’ll realize you’re a fake, even after all the successful projects you’ve completed and professionalism you’ve displayed.
It’s Not Based in Reality
Let’s get something straight.
Imposter syndrome has absolutely nothing to do with your experience level or how much you’ve accomplished.
In fact, feeling like an imposter is likely a sign that you’re doing something right. It means your testing new waters, facing your fears or challenging yourself in a way that you haven’t before—and these are all GREAT things.
So take that as your sign, that if you’re here right now (which you are because you’re reading this!) you’re most likely doing something right.
It’s Not a Disease or Disorder
Imposter syndrome has ‘syndrome’ at the end, but don’t panic.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders does not recognize it as a disease or disorder. It’s more of a temporary feeling, belief or experience.
How Pluralistic Ignorance Plays Into Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome is particularly alienating. You feel completely alone because you believe you can’t tell anyone what you’re experiencing or they’ll “find you out”. In reality, it’s likely that your peers are having the same thoughts and experiencing the same feelings of inadequacy.
They think that YOU have got it all figured out and that they are just a nobody who got really lucky. Hilarious, isn’t it?
This situation is called pluralistic ignorance, which is best summed up as “no one believes, but everyone thinks that everyone believes”.
How Imposter Syndrome Hurts You And Your Business
Imposter syndrome will hold you back in your business, career and life. It keeps you from taking risks, trying new things and putting yourself out there.
When you doubt yourself and feel like a fraud, it’s distracting and you can’t get work done. Not getting your work done causes anxiety and makes you feel like a failure. It’s a vicious cycle.
Here are a few more ways imposter syndrome holds you back:
- Prevents you from sharing your ideas
- Keeps you from taking more risks or trying new things that could benefit your business
- Isolates you
- Causes burn out
- Makes you procrastinate
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Overcoming the Imposter Syndrome
If you don’t learn how to overcome imposter syndrome, you’ll never:
- Launch that business you’ve dreamed of
- Leave the job you hate
- Start your blog
- Write your book
- Apply for the job you really want
- Speak on that podcast that wants your expertise
- Share your knowledge and experience with the people who could really benefit from it
- And SO much more!
Fortunately, getting over imposter syndrome is easier than you think. And you don’t have to spend any money. 😉
Step 1: Talk About It
Imposter syndrome is like many internal struggles: Once you talk about it, it loses its power over you.
When you’re feeling inadequate or like a fraud, you need to reach out to your Life Cheerleader. It might be your mom, best friend, therapist, mentor or sibling.
You know, the one person you call when you’re down.
That person you can tell anything to and you know they’ll still love you? And no matter how bad your situation seems they always end up making you feel better by the end of the call? That’s who you need to call.
And it’s especially important that you come clean to them.
Tell them all your ridiculous thoughts about feeling like a fake and having no clue what you’re doing. Get it all out. Hearing yourself say it all out loud will reveal how untrue it is and your Life Cheerleader will undoubtedly respond with encouragement. (or you need to get a new Life Cheerleader!)
Step 2: List Off Your Achievements Big and Small
This is kind of like making a gratitude list, only instead of listing things you’re thankful for, you list off all your achievements and anything you’re proud of, both personal and professional. Think back to those achievements that were really challenging or involved a scary decision but you did it anyway.
Here’s a snippet of my list to give you an idea:
- Started a blog
- Quit a job I didn’t like even though everyone told me I was crazy
- Pivoted my career to copywriting and freelance work
- Got over my fear of open water
- Created a SPEC copywriting portfolio from scratch
- Built a really nice coffee table
- Spent 9 hours on a challenging job application project even though I had never done anything like it (I got the job!)
- Had an article published by The Inertia
- Wrote copy for multiple crowdfunding campaigns that performed extremely well
Step 3: Get Inspired
Sometimes all you need is a burst of inspiration to get over imposter syndrome. One of the best ways to get inspired is to do something completely different and allow your mind to wander! Once you are all juiced up on inspiration, you’re ready to revisit the task before you.
- Watch a Ted Talk
- Listen to a podcast
- Read an encouraging blog or book passage
- Go for a walk or run
- Make a cup of tea
- Cook a delicious meal
- Take a free online yoga class
- Draw or color
Or, try a few self-affirmations. (If just the words “self-affirmations” make you cringe—I’m right there with ya.) But self-affirmations really work! All you have to do is actually do them.
- I am a really good [role you’re experiencing imposter syndrome in].
- I am powerful.
- I am successful.
- I am confident.
- I already have everything that I need.
- I am happy, healthy and wealthy.
- I am making my dreams come true.
- I am taking small steps to big dreams.
You can also try my method. When I’m stuck on a copywriting project—whether it be writer’s block, imposter syndrome, procrastination or confusion—I need a burst of inspiration to snap me into action.
So, I like to look at my previous projects for inspiration—projects I really loved or am especially proud of. I’ll think, “Wow, I can’t believe I wrote that!” and it reminds me that I do have what it takes and I am qualified to be the copywriter on the project.
Step 4: Stop Comparing
“The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.” – Stephen McCranie.
Comparing yourself to others doesn’t get you anywhere.
First of all, you have no clue how much time, experience and failure the person you’re comparing yourself to has experienced. You might be at the beginning of your journey while they have been working at it for 10 years! That’s not a fair comparison, is it?
You are truly unique and no one can offer exactly what you have to offer in the same way. So why compare yourself to anyone?
If you see someone with
- a better degree than you
- more clients
- more traffic
- more followers
- more experience
- a better body
Or anything that makes you feel like you can’t do it, take a breath and remind yourself to stop comparing. You have what it takes and the fact that you’re comparing yourself to other people in your field just shows that you belong. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be comparing!
Step 5: Do It Anyway
“When you have a dream, you’ve got to grab it and never let go.” – Carol Burnett
If overcoming imposter syndrome is what it takes to realize your dreams, it’s worth it!
So from here on out, you need to remember this question: How bad do I want this?
Every time you feel like you’re a fraud or like you can’t do it, ask yourself “How bad do I want this?” Every time.
You have to commit to move forward despite your doubts.
Signs of Imposter Syndrome
It may manifest itself as procrastination—because you “just don’t know what you’re doing or where to begin”. Or it may cause you to never feel accomplished in any of your work because you believe it’s never as good as it could be.
It’s that feeling that no matter how many ways you demonstrate and prove that you’ve got what it takes, you just can’t believe that you’re the real deal.
You may experience:
- Feelings of inadequacy
- Feelings of incompetence
- A struggle internalizing wins or success
- A struggle accepting compliments
- Chalking all success up to luck or someone’s mistake
- Feeling like you don’t belong
- Constant anxiety around work
If you’re not sure whether you experience imposter syndrome, take this imposter syndrome test!
What Causes Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome typically affects high-achieving individuals—the people with the most proof that they are not an imposter. (Confusing, right?)
A Big Win
Say you get a raise at your job because your boss is so impressed with your work. Instead of feeling proud and validated for your hard work, you think, “boy, if only she knew how little I know about this job”. And you start self-sabotaging because you just know you don’t deserve the raise because you’re not really the expert everyone thinks you are.
Your boss or client could be extremely satisfied with your work but you’ll just think “they just don’t know what to look for, that’s why they can’t tell this sucks”.
Another big cause of imposter syndrome is comparison. You’re scrolling through Facebook or Instagram and see an ad run by your competitors and immediately feel inadequate. You start comparing yourself or your business to theirs and it discourages you. You assume they must know something you don’t and have some tools you don’t have.
Even worse is when you compare yourself to your own expectations for yourself. “I should be done with this by now.” “This shouldn’t take me so long.” “This shouldn’t be so hard, I’ve done this before.” You get what I’m saying!
Perfectionists tend to stress about the tiniest mistakes, procrastinate and constantly worry about measuring up. Because of this, perfectionists experience imposter syndrome more frequently than non-perfectionists.
Perfectionists and those experiencing imposter syndrome both struggle with internalizing success. Instead of feeling good about their accomplishments, their negative self-dialogue takes over. It causes them to feel self-conscious about everything and look back on past mistakes regularly.
The study “The Links Between Parenting Styles and Imposter Phenomenon, 2014″ revealed that lack of parental care and parental overprotection increased the likelihood of experiencing imposter syndrome as an adult.
Similarly, the likelihood of imposter syndrome is also increased in families that strongly value achievement or regularly criticize their kids.
Different Types of Imposter Syndrome
Valerie Young, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, discovered 5 different Competence Types in her research on imposter syndrome. She realized that people who feel like imposters “hold themselves to an unrealistic and unsustainable standard of competence and falling short of this standard evokes shame”. She also learned that “not all imposters experience shame in the same way because they don’t all define competence the same way“.
5 Different Competence Types in Dr. Young’s Own Words:
“The Perfectionist’s primary focus is on “how” something is done. This includes how the work is conducted and how it turns out. One minor flaw in an otherwise stellar performance or 99 out of 100 equals failure and thus shame”.”
“The Soloist cares mostly about “who” completes the task. To make it on the achievement list, it has to be you and you alone. Because you think you need to do and figure out everything on your own, needing help is a sign of failure that evokes shame.”
“The Superhero “measures competence based on “how many” roles they can both juggle and excel in. Falling short in any role — as a parent, partner, on the home-front, host/hostess, friend, volunteer — all evoke shame because they feel they should be able to handle it all — perfectly and easily.”
“The Natural Genius also cares about “how” and “when” accomplishments happen. But for you, competence is measured in terms of ease and speed. The fact that you have to struggle to master a subject or skill or that you’re not able to bang out your masterpiece on the first try equals failure which evokes shame.”
“The Expert is the knowledge version of the Perfectionist. Here, the primary concern is on “what” and “how much” you know or can do. Because you expect to know everything, even a minor lack of knowledge denotes failure and shame.”
Celebrity Imposter Syndrome Quotes
“I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.” – Albert Einstein
“I had enormous self-image problems and very low self-esteem, which I hid behind obsessive writing and performing. … I was driven to get through life very quickly. I really felt so utterly inadequate. I thought the work was the only thing of value.” – David Bowie
“Even though I had sold 70 million albums, there I was feeling like “I’m no good at this.” – Jennifer Lopez
“When I won the Oscar, I thought it was a fluke. I thought everybody would find out, and they’d take it back. They’d come to my house, knocking on the door, ‘Excuse me, we meant to give that to someone else. That was going to Meryl Streep’.” – Jodie Foster
Inspirational Imposter Syndrome Quotes
“Commit to getting good at it. Then do it and practice it. Before you can be great you have to be good. Before you can be good you have to be bad. Before you can be bad, you have to try.” – Jim Edwards
“Show up in every single moment like you’re meant to be there”. -Marie Forleo
“Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will”. – Suzy Kassem
Imposter Syndrome Reddit Threads to Join
Or join any Reddit group that’s specific to your industry and start reading some of the threads. You’ll immediately realize that you are not alone in believing that you’re an imposter or inadequate.
Ted Talks Imposter Syndrome
- How You Can Use Imposter Syndrome to Your Benefit
- What Is Imposter Syndrome And How Can You Combat It?
- How Students of Color Confront Imposter Syndrome
- Know Your Worth, And Then Ask for It
- How to Speak Up for Yourself
Imposter Syndrome Books
- The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women by Valerie Young
- Get Out of Your Own Way by Mark Goulston and Philip Goldberg
- Why Do I Feel Like an Imposter? How to Understand and Cope With Imposter Syndrome by Sandi Mann
- Yes! You Are Good Enough by Trish Taylor
- The Imposter Cure by Jessamy Hibberd
- Ditching Imposter Syndrome by Clare Josa
- Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy
- The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Dr. Brené Brown
- Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms by Dr. Brené Brown
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