Do you have recognizable accomplishments in your field (e.g., degrees, roles, skills), yet find yourself feeling like it all feels fragile and it could all go away with one misstep, one mistake?

Do you fear being found out as a fraud or incompetent, that all those accomplishments and degrees might be revealed as having been gotten in some illegitimate way?

Do you overwork to cover up?

Is the performance anxiety around highly visible projects so intense that it causes you to procrastinate and sometimes even engage in self-sabotage?

Last spring, when our now editor approached us to write a book on Impostor Syndrome, we (my partner, Richard and I) were thrilled because this was a population we knew really well, and one of our favorites to work with. We were excited to share with others the techniques and strategies that had been successful in helping us eradicate Impostor Syndrome in our clients.

We spent much of the last year reading research, examining our own process and writing the book titled “Own Your Greatness.”  In this newsletter, I am going to be sharing some of these techniques and strategies.

People ask me a lot about the book and some people are very familiar with Impostor Syndrome and some are not. I’m often asked if I am writing about people like Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in ‘Catch Me If You Can,’ people, who are duplicitous and trying to deceive others into believing that they are experts in fields they have no experience, knowledge, or credentials. These are real impostors. People with Impostor Syndrome are actually the exact opposite of real impostors.

The term, Impostor Syndrome, was coined by two psychologists, Drs. Clance and Imes, in the late 1970s after spending years counseling highly accomplished professors, administrators ,and students, who were extremely concerned with being exposed as a fraud. They often attributed their success to extreme overwork or relationships that protected and/or elevated them. People with Impostor Syndrome struggle to internalize accomplishments.

Impostor Syndrome is not a psychological disorder and over 70% of people in the US report that they have experienced it at least once.

Typically, when people struggle with Impostor Syndrome, you see the following behaviors, thoughts or characteristics:
  • High level of achievement
  • Tendency to deny ability and attribute success to luck, mistake, overwork, or a result of a relationship
  • Discounting of praise, feeling fear and guilt about success
  • Fear of failure and being discovered as a fraud
  • Not feeling intelligent
  • Perfectionism
  • Overestimating others, while underestimating oneself
  • Not experiencing an internal feeling of success
  • Overworking or self-sabotage to cover the feelings of inadequacy
Some people wonder how Impostor Syndrome develops and there are usually 3 typically early experiences:
  1.  You were the “smart” one in your family, but smart meant that things came easy. So, any time you had to work at anything it felt like proof that you weren’t smart.
  2. You were the one who “works hard” in your family, which meant that things didn’t some easy to you. You came to believe that only through extreme hard work could you achieve anything.
  3. You didn’t get a lot of support from parental or adult figures and your achievements were methods of survival. So, internalizing your accomplishments feels difficult because survival is always in the forefront of your mind.

Impostor Syndrome is conquerable. You don’t have to be plagued by the fears and insecurities about your fraudulence. The first step is acknowledging that you may struggle with it and figuring out how it may have come to be. I will continue to share in the newsletter some of the often surprising ways Impostor Syndrome can show up in our professional life and how to decrease its impact.