Imagine a scenario where you’ve accomplished more in the past year than most people do in three years. You’re becoming well-known in your area of expertise and are beginning to reap the rewards of your talents and hard work. Sounds great, but something just doesn’t feel right. 

You can’t seem to shake the feeling that your clients, peers, and others will ‘figure you out’ and realize that you’ve ‘faked it’ this entire time. Essentially, you have a fear that you somehow fooled them into thinking you had the expertise and prowess to become one of the best in the business. 

The problem? Imposter syndrome.

Psychologists have a term for these unfounded feelings of incompetence and self-doubt and it’s imposter syndrome. Identified and named by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, the phenomenon commonly occurs in high achieving people as their success grows. According to Imes and Clance, these people — often women — do not feel they deserve the status they have achieved. They harbor feelings that they somehow tricked others into believing they possess higher levels of competence and intelligence than they actually do.

Dealing with imposter syndrome

Everyone has self-doubts and feels clueless at some point, especially entrepreneurs, but these feelings usually dissipate rather quickly. It’s different with imposter syndrome. If you feel like an imposter, you’re definitely not alone, but there are ways to cope with it. The fear of failure, or that you’re ‘faking it,’ can occur at every level of success. Whether you just got started and people are beginning to notice you, or you’ve enjoyed a rapid rise to the top, this troubling syndrome may attack your confidence and cloud your ability to clearly see your accomplishments.

Overcoming imposter syndrome requires a shift in the way you view your expertise and natural talents. It’s crucial to honestly acknowledge your abilities and achievements. Try keeping a daily notebook in which you record the accomplishments for that day, regardless of how small and seemingly insignificant. Each quarter, take a look over the past three months and record how each of these, together, helped you achieve one or more bigger goals. Doing this will remind you that you’ve worked hard to earn your success, whether that’s in a business or academic setting. 

Imes and Clance found that failing to combat feelings of imposter syndrome can paralyze the potential for growth and meaning in life. This leads to a kind of soft depression, possibly stopping people from pursuing new opportunities, or fully accessing their abilities for continued success. According to their research and that of others, most people do not judge their own abilities and performances accurately — either over- or under- stating performance outcome predictions. But some internal conflict about personal ability can be healthy and allow space for better decision making and a stronger drive to rise above. It’s when they conflict gets out of control that they it becomes detrimental.

Final takeaways

Overcoming imposter syndrome takes time and consistent effort. Daily work on the following will help:

  • Reflect on and record concrete, measurable achievements
  • Share your concerns with a trusted mentor or loved one outside of your professional setting
  • Understand that mistakes are inevitable, especially at the beginning of a new endeavor
  • Read about others whom you admire in your profession who have overcome hardships and setbacks

You can overcome the troubling, nagging feelings associated with imposter syndrome. Identifying the problem is the first step.


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