No matter which stage of life you find yourself in, everyone has occasional doubts. Whether you are a college student or a seasoned professional. You may even be raising the curtain on your second or third act with a new career or venture.
Then, the nagging doubts begin creeping in. I’m not good enough, I’m a fraud, what was I thinking? I can’t do this!
You may be experiencing Imposter Syndrome as many people have at some point in their lives. And you’re not alone.
What Is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome or Imposter Phenomenon was first identified in 1978 by American psychologists Pauline Rose Clance (take her self-test here) and Suzanne Imes. Their early research found women to be especially prone to feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and fear of failure. Convinced their hard-earned success wasn’t deserved, despite having ample evidence of their accomplishments, they were certain to be discovered as frauds at any moment.
Men aren’t immune to Imposter Syndrome either. The common thread woven across genders seems to be the inability to talk about it. But maybe that’s exactly what we need to do.
Black women and women of color are affected more especially in male-dominated workplaces. And BIPOC college students also experience imposter syndrome with greater frequency than their white counterparts.
Who Me, An Imposter?
I hadn’t heard of this syndrome until discussing my insecurities with a girlfriend about transitioning from a longtime nursing career to freelance writing. “Sounds like you have imposter syndrome,” she said.
It rang true, that’s exactly what it felt like! “There’s an actual syndrome?” We laughed. My friend explained she had also been plagued by this erroneous thinking several times during her life and career — even in her roles of wife and mother.
“I would have never guessed,” I told her. She always seemed to have it all together. She shook her head. “Maybe people need to talk about it more?”
But we don’t talk about it because we’re ashamed and that shame fuels the false belief that we are imposters. So we continue to self-sabotage, procrastinate, overachieve and fear failure when we set goals.
This was my experience as a new mother, a new graduate from nursing school, and later culinary school. Even though I worked my tail off earning two degrees, I was convinced that my peers deserved their success and I didn’t. But why?
That is the million-dollar question.
In the late ’90s, during my final quarter of culinary school, my chef instructor informed me he was recommending me along with five other students for internships at a five-star hotel in Las Vegas. Me a chef in Vegas? I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t believe it.
After mulling it over for several days, I declined the invitation armed with the excuse that Vegas was no place for a single mother to raise her young son. Well, maybe it wasn’t. But, was that just an excuse? Years later I still wonder. Now, I am haunted by the same doubts all over again in my writing career despite publishing successes.
There is solace in knowing other women (some very famous) experience exactly what I’m going through. So I consider myself in good company.
Maya Angelou, the multi-award-winning author once said, “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.”
Actress and comedian Tina Fey admitted, “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!’
Even Michelle Obama admits she still struggles with Imposter Syndrome.
Combating Imposter Syndrome
“Talking about imposter feelings is a start, but you can’t share your way out of imposter syndrome,” says Dr. Valerie Young, imposter syndrome expert and author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, in her Ted Talk. Young says the key is learning to think like a non-imposter by reframing the conversations going on in our heads.
Young explains that feelings are the last to change. “If you want to stop feeling like an imposter, stop thinking like an imposter.” Easier said than done? Maybe we need to enlist our friends.
We can help each other reconstruct imposter narratives. If you hear your friends engaging in this faulty thinking, remind them of their accomplishments. A few writer friends encouraged me to keep a “brag file” with praises from editors and readers who have enjoyed my work.
International executive coach and speaker, Jen Coken helps women overcome imposter syndrome and empower them to be the “badass boss ladies they were born to be.” She disagrees with Dr. Young’s perspective and maintains that thinking our way out of Imposter Syndrome might help for a bit, but the work that needs to be done is to get to the original incident and disrupt that brain pattern.
Her approach starts with first acknowledging you have Imposter Syndrome, then identifying what type of Imposter Syndrome you have and how you came by it (not the nature part but the nurture part). This can be done by completing her free quiz.
After a clear understanding of your type of Imposter Syndrome, you’ll need to develop a personalized roadmap to managing it. This means getting to the bottom of what’s causing Imposter Syndrome in the first place, known as the “originating incident.”
Jen helps her clients identify the brain pattern, disrupt it, and create a new neural pathway that truly represents who they are in just 3 coaching sessions. She states, “the bottom line: it’s time to limit your Imposter Syndrome’s impact on your life and leadership.” Learn more about Jen’s imposter syndrome program, designed to help women overcome their self-doubts that steal their success.