Impostor Syndrome: Getting Real About Feeling Fake

“What right do I have to speak up?”

“Why would anyone want to listen to me?”

“That was just luck, or the right place at the right time.”

“Everyone must already know that. I have anything new to add.”

If you’ve experienced negative self-talk that sounds like this, you too have felt impostor syndrome rear its ugly head.

Negative self-talk can be motivated by impostor syndrome. / CDN

What is impostor syndrome?

Impostor syndrome, common but often overlooked, is a type of “phoniness” we feel when we “believe that [we] are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement,” writes Carl Richards for The New York Times.

While “highly motivated to achieve,” many of us suffering from impostor syndrome “live in fear of being found out or exposed as frauds.”

Sometimes, impostor syndrome is incorrectly perceived as a way of fishing for false praise. Other times, we do not take the layers of identity and our upbringings fully into account when exploring the topic.

While impostor syndrome can look different for everyone, it occurs most often when we are trying something new. Ironically, trying new things is necessary for those of us highly motivated to achieve, creating a sort of double bind.

Screenshot 2019-03-11 at 11.40.30 AM
Impostor syndrome can make you feel like a fraud, or the least intelligent person in the room. / David Whitaker @rundavidrun

My lifelong experience with impostor syndrome

I have spent much of my life exploring impostor syndrome, both formally and informally.

Until quite recently, I was not be able to fully own my own power or intellect.

On one hand, I am extremely confident of all I have to offer. On the other, I struggle to imagine or share what I could possibly bring to the table.

Of course there are many reasons for this: my upbringing, a tendency towards perfectionism, my value set, and more.  

For example, I was taught to remain humble at all costs and to equate most forms of confidence with arrogance. But now I also realize healthy self-assurance is necessary for success too.

Impostor syndrome creates dichotomies or dueling thoughts in the mind. / Buzzfeed

Finding your own “real deal”

When I was growing up, my mom used to ask me about my anxiety: “How is that serving you? If it weren’t serving you, you wouldn’t hold onto it.”

To a certain extent, she was right.  I was holding onto it for a reason. Because my anxiety was and still can be very productive.

Still, the first time she asked me, it really pissed me off. All of our pieces are complex. Therefore, I do not aim to minimize the very real feelings of impostor syndrome or any other pain.

I simply realize: As I continue in my own work, and utilizing my peers as mirrors and windows, that perhaps I don’t need the impostor syndrome story anymore. (Not to say it will not creep out for years to come–just hopefully less and less.)

Impostor syndrome has served me and served me well, but the time for playing small is over.

It’s time to upgrade one brand of fear to another. The kind that comes when we own our power, risk bigger; fail better.

One of my mentors, Barb Blake Williams, taught me that the knowing comes in the doing.

So, what if we “do” knowing instead of impostor-ing?

Won’t we in the act, become the real deal?


Still confused? Or want to talk this through a bit more? I’d love to; this stuff is my specialty.

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