Have you ever felt like your clients or colleagues are going to discover you’re a fraud? If so, you’re in good company. These feelings are known as impostor syndrome. According to the International Journal of Behavioral Science (https://so06.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/IJBS/article/view/521), an estimated 70% of people experience impostor syndrome at some point in their lives.
You Are Not Alone
Some of the most successful people today often feel like frauds in light of their own achievements.
Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, said when speaking of her time at Harvard:
“Every time I took a test, I was sure that it had gone badly. And every time I didn’t embarrass myself – or even excelled – I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day soon, the jig would be up.”
In her book, “Lean In”, she said:
“There are still days when I wake up feeling like a fraud, and not sure I should be where I am.”
Howard Schultz of Starbucks once told the New Your Times in an interview that:
“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 CEO. They’re not going to tell you that, but it’s true.”
Actress and comedian Tina Fey also admits to a certain amount of doubt at her good fortunes. In an interview with the Independent, she said:
“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!”
Arianna Huffington, author, syndicated columnist, and businesswoman, has also admitted to feelings of self-doubt. In an interview with FastCompany, she shared what holds her back:
“The greatest obstacle for me has been the voice in my head that I call my obnoxious roommate. I wish someone would invent a tape recorder that we could attach to our brains to record everything we tell ourselves. We would realize how important it is to stop this negative self-talk. It means pushing back against our obnoxious roommate with a dose of wisdom.”
Concerning women, in particular, she added:
“What makes our liberation from these voices harder is that so much of the news and information directed at women these days seems determined to reinforce our obnoxious roommates and make us feel that our lives are somehow lacking. We are constantly made to feel that we should be prettier, thinner, sexier, more successful, make more money, be better moms, better wives, better lovers, et cetera,”
In Lady Gaga’s HBO documentary, she is sitting at her dressing room mirror while talking about some of her deepest insecurities and fears. She said:
“I still sometimes feel like a loser kid in high school, I gotta pick myself up and I have to tell myself I’m a superstar every morning so that I can get through this day and be for my fans what they need me to be.”
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor told the New York Times:
“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.”
Tom Hanks, despite having won two Academy Awards and appearing in more than 70 films and TV shows, still finds himself doubting his own abilities, as told in a radio interview with NPR.
“It’s a high-wire act that we all walk. 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?”
In the A&E documentary “The Road I’m On”, Garth Brooks shares that when he left Oklahoma to move to Nashville, he didn’t last 24 hours before he returned home thinking he was not good enough.
5 Types of Impostor Syndrome
Impostor syndrome is the idea that you’ve only succeeded due to luck, and not because of your talent or qualifications. Research has shown that both men and women experience impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome applies to anyone who isn’t able to internalize and own their successes.
In her book, “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women”, Valerie Young describes five types of people who experience impostor. Do you recognize yourself in any of them?
Perfectionists set high expectations for themselves. Even if they meet 99% of their goals, they feel like a failure. Any small mistake will make them question their own competence.
How to know you are a Perfectionist:
Experts feel the need to know every piece of information before they start a project. They constantly look for certifications and training to improve their skills. Experts are hesitant to ask a question in any public setting because they’re afraid of looking stupid if they don’t already know the answer.
How to know you are an Expert:
When the natural genius struggles to accomplish something, they think this means they aren’t good enough. They are used to skills coming easily to them and when they have to put in the effort, their brain tells them that’s proof they’re an impostor.
How to know you are a Natural Genius:
The soloist feels that they have to accomplish tasks on their own. If they need help, they think that means they are a failure or a fraud.
How to know you are a Soloist:
Supermen or Superwomen push themselves to work harder than those around them to prove that they’re not impostors. They feel the need to succeed in all aspects of life and feel stressed out when they are not accomplishing something.
How to know you are a Superman or Superwoman:
The Impostor Syndrome Cure
If you recognize yourself in any of the descriptions above, here are five ways to consider to take steps to overcome your impostor syndrome:
Almost every entrepreneur I have ever spoken to has experienced impostor syndrome in one form or another. It is important to know that you are not alone. Feeling like you are a fraud has propelled you to work harder and achieve many of the good things you have in your life. While impostor syndrome feeds your self-doubt, you can learn to control it.
How will you overcome your impostor syndrome?