Getting over imposter syndrome

ImageI failed my first grad school assignment.

Not a major paper. It was worth ten points, but it was an ‘F’ nonetheless. While it encouraged me to take my professor up on his offer to review  papers before final submission (I did), it also exacerbated the idea that I wasn’t sure if I belonged in the first place.

I had an advantage. My master’s degree is from my original alma mater (Go Rebels!), but here I was in the same classrooms I got A’s and B’s in just a year and a half prior, wondering if I was cut out for graduate level education. Several of my classmates had the same irrational fear.

We suffered from imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is “a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”

Outside of incompetence, this may be the biggest career killer ever. According to a 2008 New York Times article:

Researchers have found, as expected, that people who score highly on such scales tend to be less confident, more moody and rattled by performance anxieties than those who score lower.

As you can see, this is not a recipe for career success.

The bigger issue is how do we get over imposter syndrome? The good news: If you’re afraid of being found out, you’re already doing something right, as this Forbes article points out:

Impostor Syndrome is the domain of the high achiever. Those who set the bar low are rarely it’s victim.  So if you are relating to what I’m sharing, then pat yourself on the back because it’s a sure sign that you aren’t ready to settled into the ranks of mediocrity. Rather, you’re likely to be a person who aims high and is committed to giving your very best to whatever endeavour you set your sights upon.   A noble aim to be sure.

But giving your best is not the same as being the best. Likewise, there’s a distinct difference between trying to better yourself and being better than every one else.  Overcoming the Imposter Syndrome requires self-acceptance:  you don’t have to attain perfection or mastery to be worthy of the success you’ve achieved and any accolades you earn along the way.  It’s not about lowering the bar, it’s about resetting it to a realistic level that doesn’t leave you forever striving and feeling inadequate. You don’t have to be Einstein to be a valuable asset to your organization and to those around you.  Nor do you have to attain perfection to share something with the world that enriches people’s lives in some way.


The entire piece is worth a read.

This Huffington Post blog says positive affirmations are a key to getting over imposter syndrome:

Come up with a positive affirmation to combat the statements of self-doubt that pop into your head. So, if the thought, “What if they find out I’m an imposter and I don’t deserve this?” creeps into your head, then write down affirmations such as: I am worthy; I am enough; I am talented; I deserve this. Find what most directly combats your thoughts of self-doubt. Write it down and read it countless times each day.


It took me years to kick imposter syndrome and I’m not quite sure how I did it — there  was no silver bullet. I took stock in my accomplishments and the positive accolades I earned from colleagues. But the most important thing: I started being kind to myself. You will never win every game or complete every assignment with perfection. In fact, failure is often the greatest lesson. I realized that not  getting everything right, every time, didn’t mean I was a failure, even if my task wasn’t a resounding success (I still try to win more than I lose).

At the end of the day, I belong in every space I inhabit. My resume proves it.

It just took me a while to believe it.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s