Have you ever feared that you might be “found out”? “Unmasked”? Exposed as a “fraud” in an area of work, activity or performance? You may be surprised to know that feeling like an impostor is quite common. Many successful and famous people confess to feeling this way sometimes – in fact, it’s prevalent among high achievers. Research indicates that at least 70% of men and women admit to experiencing the Impostor Syndrome during their lives.

At Stanford Business School, first year students are asked, “How many of you feel that you are the one mistake that the admissions committee made?” Each year, two-thirds of the class raises their hands. Maya Angelou, the famous poet, once said, “I have written eleven 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.’”

The term “Impostor Syndrome” was coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Clance and Imes. Also known as “Impostor Phenomenon” or “Fraud Syndrome,” it’s a concept describing people who are unable to internalize their accomplishments and who have a persistent fear of being exposed as a phony. They have chronic self-doubt and believe they are not talented, smart nor successful despite evidence that the opposite is true. They feel inadequate and dismiss their success as luck or timing, and fear that they won’t be able to pull it off the next time.

Why is it important to recognize this Impostor Phenomenon in your life? Impostor feelings may stop you from setting ambitious goals, even New Year’s resolutions. Impostors often over-prepare for performances or they procrastinate which can make achieving goals challenging. Feeling like an Impostor can impact your desire to take risks and try new things. You may not look for promotion opportunities or your dream career, nor take advantage of meeting new people and learning new skills.


Stop your negative self-talk. Wear a rubber band on your wrist and snap it when you hear your inner voice tell you you’re a fraud or are not competent. Research indicates 77% of self-talk is negative. Tell your inner critic, “Thank you for your input, but I’m not interested!”

Become aware of your thoughts. Awareness is the beginning stage of dealing with the Impostor Syndrome. Become aware of your Impostor’s critical voice as “only thoughts,” not facts. Document when these thoughts and feelings occur and start to recognize they are not a reflection of your talents and skills. Feeling like an Impostor can keep you from reaching your potential because you are focusing on your fears and visualizing what you DON’T want to happen.

Celebrate your successes. When you suffer from the Impostor Syndrome, you tend to brush off achievements. Write down your accomplishments and review your list frequently.

Ask yourself “Why NOT me?” instead of “Why me?” When giving a presentation to a large audience, I’ve trained myself to think of reasons why I’m the one who should be speaking to this group. At the beginning of my speaking career, my Impostor would sometimes think, “Why me?” Now I think, “Why NOT me?” And then I focus on giving a great performance to share my research and knowledge with the audience.

Others are feeling it, too. It’s comforting and even humorous to acknowledge you are not alone in this feeling. It can be reassuring to realize that others may be feeling the same way you are during job interviews, auditions or presentations.

Limit your time on Facebook and social media. Feeling like you are an Impostor can be exaggerated when you spend extensive time on social media sites. It seems like everyone else is successful, popular, glamorous, enjoying life – and this can make your ordinary life seem insignificant. You may develop “FOMO,” or “fear of missing out.” Most people are struggling, and comparisons with your Facebook pals will only augment your sense of inadequacy.

Recruit positive, supportive, knowledgeable people for your personal Board of Directors. Remove any negative, sabotaging and discouraging voices from your inner circle of colleagues and friends. This may be tough to implement at first, but it’s critical to protect yourself and your self-esteem from demeaning and degrading critics. Including a mentor on your Board of Directors can add invaluable support against Impostor feelings and thoughts.

At Facebook headquarters, posters say, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Now that you know the Impostor Syndrome is prevalent in most successful people, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

Dr. Susan Murphy is a best-selling author, coach and speaker who specializes in relationships, conflict, leadership and goal achievement. Dr. Murphy can be reached at [email protected], or the LiveWell Clinic, (760) 771.5970.

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