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What Is Imposter Syndrome? (+How to Fight to Overcome It)

Does
your professional success scare you? Do you ever want to throw your hands up
and say, “I feel like a fraud?” If you answered yes to both
questions, you may be suffering from the imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome
is an obstacle that affects many successful and creative people—causing them
to doubt their own abilities.

But imposter syndrome is more than just a personal problem. If not dealt with, it has
a cost. It can cause someone to fail to live up to their potential. Imposter syndrome can rob businesses of much-needed talent, as it may keep someone from
applying for a challenging position that they are actually qualified for and
able to do. Imposter syndrome can also strip a person of the confidence they need to feel good about themselves.

Exploring Imposter Syndrome
Many successful people struggle with imposter syndrome. (Image Source: Envato Elements)

In
this post, we’ll explore imposter syndrome in more depth. I’ll define imposter
syndrome and explain how it affects those who struggle with it. And just to
prove that you’re not the only one who sometimes feels like a fraud, I’ll share
quotes from eight successful celebrities and leaders about imposter
syndrome. Finally, I’ll share seven tips on how to combat imposter syndrome in
your own life.

What
Is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter
syndrome is a term used to describe feelings of inadequacy that successful
people often have. The term was created in 1978 by two clinical psychologists,
Dr. Pauline Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes, as a way to describe their observation
that many of the successful women they
studied felt undeserving of their success

Although
it’s popularly referred to as a “syndrome,” the imposter syndrome is
actually not a medical condition. It’s not even a psychological
disorder
. But
imposter syndrome is very real and if you struggle with it, the effects can keep
you from achieving your full potential and keep you from enjoying the success
that you do have. Imposter
syndrome is sometimes also referred to as imposter phenomenon.

What Does Imposter Syndrome Feel Like?

Imagine
that you just got a major promotion at work. You’ve worked hard to earn the
position, but instead of feeling satisfied with your achievement you’re filled
with dread. Even though all of your colleagues agree that you’re more than
qualified to do the job, you’re afraid that you’ll be humiliated when people
find out that you really don’t deserve it. Worse yet, you’re afraid you’ll make a stupid mistake and everyone will realize you’re a fake. That’s what the imposter syndrome
feels like.

How Many People Struggle With Imposter Syndrome? 

A lot of people wrestle with it. While research varies on exactly how many people face imposter
phenomenon, some studies estimate that as many 7 out of 10 of us will experience imposter syndrome at least once. While the initial researchers believed it to be mostly a women’s problem, subsequent studies have found that imposter syndrome isn’t just limited to women. 

Note: Before you dig into stories those that have struggled with imposter syndrome, take a moment to learn about the upcoming event International Women’s Day on March 8, 2018. Help press gender parity and inclusiveness forward. 

Advice From 8 Successful People on Imposter Syndrome

If
you’re one of those who have struggled with imposter phenomenon, you may be interested
to know that you’re in good company. Some of the most accomplished and
successful people have come forward to share their own struggles. Here are some thoughts and advice about imposter syndrome from eight high achievers:

1. Cyan
Ta’eed

Cyan Taeed
Cyan Ta’eed, Image Source: Envato Newsroom

Cyan Ta’eed is the successful professional who co-founded Envato, a leading Australian tech
business (and also the publisher of Envato Tuts+). She’s won numerous awards
over the years including the Victorian Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the
2015, the Telstra Women in Business Award, and the Entrepreneur of the Year
prize in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year award program.

Yet
despite these successes, Ta’eed has admitted to the Women’s Agenda that imposter
syndrome has been a struggle
. Ta’eed shared this resolve:

“If
there’s stuff you’re going to do you shouldn’t wait around or say ‘no’ to it
because it stresses you out. I just decided I’m not going to worry what other
people think. So I got out of my own head and I stopped worrying about
failure.”

2. Tina Fey

An
actress and comedian as well as a writer (among other things, Fey wrote the
screenplay for the popular movie, Mean Girls), Tina Fey has made
countless millions laugh. Fey is perhaps best known for roles on the popular
long-running comedy series Saturday Night
Live
. Here’s what the actress said to the Independent about
feeling like a fraud
:

“The beauty of the impostor syndrome
is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a
fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So you just try to ride the
egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.”

3. Sonia Sotomayor

Sonia Sotomayor
Sonia Sotomayor, Photo by Stacey Ilyse — CC BY 3.0 — via Wikimedia Commons

Sonia
Sotomayor is currently serving on the U.S. Supreme court. Before being
nominated to the Supreme Court, Justice Sotomayor had a long and distinguished
legal career, ruling on many notable and groundbreaking cases. Yet despite these
successes, according to the
Wall Street Journal Justice
Sotomayor has also faced the imposter syndrome

“I have spent my years since Princeton, while at law school and in my
various professional jobs, not feeling completely a part of the worlds I
inhabit. I am always looking over my shoulder wondering if I measure up.”

4. Jodie Foster

Jodie
Foster is an accomplished actress, director, and producer known for dozens of
roles in television and film. The list of awards this actress has won is long
and includes multiple awards from:

  • American
    Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (The Oscars)
  • British
    Academy of Film Awards
  • Directors
    Guild of America
  • Hollywood
    Foreign Press Association (Golden Globe Awards)
  • Academy
    of Television Arts & Sciences, National Academy of Television Arts and
    Sciences, and the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences
    (Primetime Emmy Awards)
  • And
    many others

You’d
think with such a long list of accomplishments; the actress would be
comfortable with success. But it appears that’s not always been the case. In a
1999 60
Minutes
profile
, Foster
was quoted as saying:

“I thought it was a big fluke. [Referring to the
Oscar win] The same way when I walked on the campus at Yale, I thought
everybody would find out, and then they’d take the Oscar back.”

5. Howard Schultz

Howard Schultz
Howard Schultz, Photo by Photobra Adam Bielawski (Own work) — CC BY-SA 3.0 — or GFDL — via Wikimedia Commons

If
you’re a coffee drinker, you’re familiar with the work of this successful
entrepreneur and businessperson. The current executive chairperson of Starbucks
Coffee, Schultz served for many years as CEO and was instrumental of updating
the chain’s concept. Schultz has won numerous awards for leadership, including
the 2017 National Equal Justice Award from the NAACP Legal Defense and
Educational Fund. Still, in a 2010 New York Times interview,
Schultz had this to say when asked about advice for another CEO:”

“Very
few people, whether you’ve been in that job before or not, get into the seat
and believe today that they are now qualified to be the C.E.O. They’re not
going to tell you that, but it’s true.”

6. Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg
Sheryl Sandberg, Photo by cellanr — CC BY-SA 2.0 — via Wikimedia Commons

As
Chief Operating Officer of Facebook and a former Google executive, Sheryl has
influenced the way consumer technology is used. In addition to the Facebook
role, Sandberg serves on multiple
corporate boards and has won multiple awards for leadership. As a founder of Leanin.org, Sandberg
seeks to inspire women to succeed. Despite these accomplishments, it seems Sandberg sometimes
struggles with feelings of inadequacy
according to this statement from a Forbes
interview:

“There
are still days I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I
am.”

7. Shonda Rhimes

You’ve
probably watched a television show that was written or produced by this
talented author. Shonda Rhimes was the head writer and executive producer of
such popular TV series as Grey’s Anatomy
and Scandal. Rhimes was also involved
in the production of other popular series. In 2007 TIME magazine named Rhimes on their list of “100 People Who
Help Shape the World.” In 2015, Rhimes published a memoir, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in
the Sun and Be Your Own Person
, which includes this
statement
:

“We all spend our lives kicking the crap out of ourselves
for not being this way or that way, not having this thing or that thing, not
being like this person or that person … We all spend our lives trying to
follow the same path, live by the same rules. I think we believe that happiness
lies in following the same list of rules. In being more like everyone else.
That? Is wrong. There is no list of rules.”

8. Tom Hanks

Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks, Photo by Alan Light — CC BY 2.0  — via Wikimedia Commons

This actor has starred in so many motion pictures and
television series that the name “Tom Hanks” is pretty much a
household word. In addition, Hanks has collaborated on the production of many
popular films. Plus, the actor has received numerous awards including awards such
as:

  • Academy Awards
  • British Academy of Film Awards
  • Hollywood
    Foreign Press Association (Golden Globe Awards)
  • Academy
    of Television Arts & Sciences, National Academy of Television Arts and
    Sciences, and the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences
    (Primetime Emmy Awards)
  • Producers
    Guild of America
  • And
    many others 

Even with all of those achievements, Hanks admitted to
feeling like an imposter in a 2016 NPR
interview:

“No
matter what we’ve done, there comes a point where you think, ‘How did I get
here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take
everything away from me?'”

7 Tips to Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Is
all this starting to sound a bit too familiar?

If you’re experiencing the fear of imposter syndrome, know
that it doesn’t have to hold you back. As I’ve shown you earlier, many
successful people struggle with imposter syndrome. Here are some tips to help
you with overcoming imposter syndrome: 

Tip 1. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

One of the biggest contributors to imposter
syndrome is comparing yourself unfavorably to others. This can make your
feelings of inadequacy worse—especially if there are real or perceived
differences between you and the person you’re comparing yourself to. Instead,
remember that you’re a valuable individual with your own unique strengths.

Tip 2. Don’t Listen to Naysayers

Internalizing criticism can lead to imposter syndrome. When
you face criticism (and all of us do face it eventually), learn from it if you
can. But if it’s criticism about something you can’t help (or of you
personally) tell yourself the criticism isn’t a reflection on you—because it’s not! Remember instead that it reveals a flaw in person criticizing you. 

Tip 3. Surround Yourself With People Who Believe In You

Just
because we all face criticism, doesn’t mean you’ve got to put up with only negative
people. Keep several people around you who believe in you and support you. A
few encouraging words from these friends can help offset the negativity. Also,
if you can, try to be that positive person in someone else’s life. The rewards
will be great.

Tip 4. Allow Yourself to Make Mistakes

Even
the most talented, gifted people make mistakes. In fact, making mistakes is how
we learn. So, know that making a mistake doesn’t mean you’re not qualified or
that you’re a fake. Don’t let fear of mistakes keep you from trying something new. Allow
yourself to make mistakes so that you can learn and grow in your field.

Tip
5. Keep Your Eyes on Your Goal (And Not Yourself)

As you work, don’t think about how a project will affect you
or what others might think. Instead, stay focused on meeting the goals that you
need to complete. Acknowledging the little successes along the way to achieving
your goal can help. For example, celebrate (even if only privately) each time
you complete a step project step on time or early.

Tip 6. Look for the Humor in The Situation

If
you do happen to have a setback on your way to success, seeing the humor in the
situation can help you to put things in perspective (and relieve stress). Another
way to put things in perspective is to ask yourself, “How will I really feel
about this setback/problem in five years? In ten?” In many cases, you’ll
have to admit that whatever you’re stressing over won’t seem as big to you in
the future.

Tip 7. Know That It’s Normal

If
you take nothing else away from this article, I hope you take this last concept
away. If you feel fake, you’re not the only one who feels that way. It’s normal
to sometimes feel like a phony. And imposter syndrome doesn’t have to keep you
from achieving your goals. As I’ve demonstrated earlier, many successful people
have felt the same way.

Where to Go From Here

Imposter syndrome can hold you back, but only if you let it.
The good news is: you don’t have to let it hold you back. Now that you’ve read this article,
you should know that you’re not that only one who deals with self-doubt. You
also have some tools in your arsenal to help you deal with and overcome the
imposter syndrome. Best wishes in everything you do!

Also, take a moment to learn about the upcoming event International Women’s Day, which is happening March 8, 2018. Help press gender parity and inclusiveness forward.