Do You Secretly Feel Like an Imposter?

Written by on March 29, 2015 in Self Awareness with 36 Comments

Faking itImpostor Syndrome may be an unfamiliar term to you, but if you’ve ever questioned your own abilities,  wondered whether you know nearly as much as everyone gives you credit for, or harbored a secret fear that it’s just a matter of time before people find out you’ve been faking it all along, then you’ve experienced it firsthand.

While it’s not really uncommon to feel like an “imposter” from time to time, the irony of Imposter Syndrome is that it is the achievers and the perfectionists who are most likely to suffer from the extreme nagging doubts that someday the world will discover they’ve been faking it all along. Research also indicates that many more women than men experience these feelings; although I suspect that men aren’t necessarily immune, just less likely to admit it.

There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert. How do these people believe all this about me? I’m so much more aware of all the things I don’t know. ~Dr. Margaret Chan, Chief of the World Health Organization

Do any of these thoughts sound familiar?
  • You worry that others will find out that you’re not as capable as they think you are.
  • You sometimes shy away from challenges because of nagging self-doubt or fear that you will be exposed as a fake.
  • You often down play your accomplishments or attribute them to being a “fluke,” or “no big deal.”
  • You hate making a mistake so much you tend to over prepare in an effort to be perfect.
  • You feel crushed by any form of criticism.
  • You often compare yourself to others you view as smarter and more capable.

6 Steps to Stop Feeling Like an Imposter

As with most areas of personal growth, self awareness is the first step to overcoming Imposter Syndrome. Once you recognize these feelings for what they are, you can begin the work to reduce their affect on you.

Trust and Acknowledge Your Accomplishments

The obvious benefit of acknowledging your accomplishments is to increase confidence and provide proof that you are, in fact, not a fake. This can be done easily and painlessly by keeping a simple notebook or (my personal favorite) a journal, and while you’re at it be sure to acknowledge when you are doing something for the first time because as rewarding as beginning something new can be, it can also highlight those pesky feelings of inadequacy if you give in to the temptation to compare yourself to others. Finally, I also suggest keeping a file of compliments and positive feedback on your work that you receive from others.

While it may feel uncomfortable, even a bit egotistical, to think about keeping track of your achievements there are valuable lessons to be learned from all of your experiences. Also consider this … by discounting or ignoring your own work you’re much more likely to end up viewing the accomplishments of others as far greater than they actually are.

Break the Habit of Negative Self-Talk

A little self-criticism is not such a bad thing if it serves as a reality check to encourage growth. It becomes a problem when the criticism turns into a habit, and seeds of self-doubt begin to take on a life of their own. You’ll never be able to “reason” or ignore negative self-talk, all you can do is drown it out and reinforce your good work and positive attributes (another reason for keeping track of your accomplishments).

Whenever you begin thinking negatively about yourself, stop immediately and think about whether you would speak that way to a friend. Then take the time to write out your critical thoughts. Seeing your negative words on a piece of paper will make it more obvious how self-depreciating these thoughts really are, and why you deserve to treat yourself better.

Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Role models can be a blessing and a curse. They can surely inspire you with their accomplishments, but may also cause you to develop a case of creeping doubts if you make the mistake of comparing where you are at the beginning of your journey to where they are at the peak of theirs, conveniently skipping over the failures, detours and stumbling blocks they experienced along the way.

So when you find a role model you can relate to try to focus more on the lessons to be learned and how they overcame their challenges than on the rewards of their success. And never forget that your perspective and voice are unique in the entire world so it’s important to focus on valuing your distinctiveness.

Learn to Keep Criticism in Perspective

It’s rarely pleasant to be on the receiving end of criticism, even when it’s “constructive,” and delivered with kindness and empathy … worse yet, odds are that at one time or another you’ll be on the receiving end of harsh, even ego bruising criticism.

Sometimes it’s fair, sometimes it’s not. The most important thing is to learn to detach from your defensive feelings, and the assumption that the criticism is validation that you’ve been right all along about being an imposter. Give yourself some space to regain your center and calm nerves, try in earnest to see what you can learn from the experience, and then let the rest go.

Sometimes Faking It Really Works

Ironically, one way to work through Impostor Syndrome is actually faking it till you make it. Putting this in perspective, this is not about lying or doing anything unethical. It’s about taking a leap of faith relating to the value of your knowledge and expertise. One of the best explanations I’ve seen of “fake it” till you make it states that it is about predicting the outcome of a situation by behaving in a way that leads to that prediction coming true. Indicating, yet again, that the beliefs you hold have an impact on what happens to you.

The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you. It’s Impostor Syndrome and something my wife Amanda christened the Fraud Police. ~Neil Gaiman

Realize That When You Hold Back You’re Robbing the World

It can be very tempting to let creeping doubts hold you back in an effort to keep from being revealed as the imposter you believe you are, but this will not only prevent you from becoming all that you can be, but it also robs the world of your contribution. As a recovering perfectionist I am all too familiar with the little problem some of us have of striving for the unattainable – perfect results. I’m passionate about what I do and want whatever I’m working on to be as good as it can possibly be, but I have also come to understand that it will be impossible to make a difference in this world if what I create never gets birthed.

Ultimately working through Impostor Syndrome is about becoming more attached to your successes than your failures. When you’re always on guard and worrying about being exposed you’re naturally going to try and overcompensate and in the process create unnecessary stress. Relax and stop taking the test. You deserve to be where you are so start enjoying the journey!

Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.
About Marquita Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living  click here.


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  1. susan cooper

    I think everyone doubts themselves at times, it us human nature. (Although some people are really good at hiding it) can you imagine the ego on a person who never questioned themselves? Wow. We just need to do the best we can and try to push back the self doubt when it gets overwhelming, but really it’s normal.

    • Of course you are so right Susan when you say that everyone doubts themselves at some time, but when we allow these doubts to direct the course of our life it prevents us from growing or becoming all that we an be then it it’s neither normal or healthy. We each have a choice to make in life to either be the passenger or the driver. Thanks so much for taking the time to contribute to the conversation! :-)

  2. Your article throws the light on the fact that we are of worth already as long as you we start to believe in ourselves, and eventually others will probably someday. love quotes

  3. Meredith

    I love how you put that – when you hold back you’re robbing the world. I know I struggle with this, but I found it interesting that it’s usually the high achievers that have this problem. Maybe because we expect so much of ourselves? This was such an encouraging post, and the practical tips are so helpful!
    Meredith recently posted…Spring Green SmoothieMy Profile

    • So glad you enjoyed the article Meredith, and I tend to think you are right about high achievers holding equally high expectations. Goes along with those pesky perfectionist tendencies. :-)

  4. Pamela Chollet

    This is a great topic Marquita and such wonderful tips. You know I just read written a psychology professor from San Diego, who’s conducting studies on confidence with people born after 1970. She claims the parents of the children were part of a culture obsessed by self-esteem. The result of the “feel great about yourself” child rearing has produced an army of Narcissists. Interesting.
    Pamela Chollet recently posted…What Everyone Ought To Know About FearMy Profile

    • That is interesting Pamela. I must admit I’ve always been a bit of a rebel against such attempts to categories people, let alone entire generations. Still, there’s no question that these studies give one something to think about. Thanks!

  5. Beth Niebuhr

    I think it’s very rare for a person to never have these doubts. I don’t even want to know that person. A little humility is a good thing. So embrace it and then continue doing the best you can and relish the times when people express their appreciate for your capability.
    Beth Niebuhr recently posted…Women, Use Your Big Girl Voice!My Profile

    • Well said Beth. Years ago I recall how shocked I was to learn how terrified Barbara Streisand was of appearing before a life audience – of all people! But she’s overcome that and so too can anyone else with enough commitment and desire. Thanks for contributing to the conversation. :-)

  6. Irish Carter

    HI Marty,
    Great article and tips. I couldn’t agree with you more about how important it is to be yourself and be comfortable with who you are. It’s easy working online to get caught up in the whole imitating of others. It took me a while to get comfortable with my talking freely of my chronic pain syndrome. Now I have learned that I talk about it openly so that those who follow me understand that I don’t always go at the same full throttle speed that others working online do. Since I have done that, I am so much more capable of getting my goals met. I was putting the burden on my self when I thought I had to do all those things and they were expected of me.

    Thanks for a great read.

    Take care and have a great week.

    Irish Carter recently posted…Dedicated 2 Life’s Passionate People of 2015 Picks – Group Two!  Who Gets Your Vote!My Profile

  7. Mark

    Wow Marquita! Just reading this excellent post makes me realize what an incredibly sensitive subject this is!

    It’s the sort voices that when you’re hesitant and apprehensive about something, suddenly that chorus from doubtsville really starts to take over and totally dominate your thoughts. And after reading this truly thought provoking post, I’m not sure if maybe, it’s not so much if you’re afraid that the world will discover something as, you’re afraid you’re going to finally admit that what the voices are saying is really true!

    In which case, where and how do you deal with yourself going forward? Yea, during your really quiet time, maybe you’re totally afraid to admit to yourself that you’ve never had what it really takes! But you just temporary sold yourself an illusion and now the little voices are finally coming to collect a long overdue debt! And deep down your just terrified, because you all too well, that you can’t pay the bill!LOL!

    That’s some truly scare stuff M! And BTW, I love your awesome image of the three people holding the cards with zeroes on them!

    Thanks for sharing some mighty good stuff!
    Mark recently posted…So What Can Savvy Marketers Learn From One Of The NFL’s Oldest Plays?Part ThreeMy Profile

    • Great points Mark, and you are right in that when you think about how these feelings and emotions can prevent you from reaching your full potential it is truly scary stuff. Always value your thoughtful insights my friend! :-)

  8. I resonate with so much of what you have written. I most definitely question my abilities and can become anxious at ‘failing’. A part of me is ambitious and would like to make a huge difference in this world and the other part thinks “why do you think you have what it takes?” I will nonetheless continue to push forward and develop my confidence along the way. It is difficult to be successful without it!
    Phoenicia Oyeniyi recently posted…Is a woman’s work never done?My Profile

    • I’m so glad you found value in the article Phoenicia and I think you make an excellent point for the value of self motivation. You may have many supportive people encouraging you, but if you harbor doubts internally it’s pretty tough to move forward. You clearly have what it takes though so keep at it! :-)

  9. Lenie

    It’s funny, but I’ve always gone on the theory that you can do anything you put your mind to. I was actually called on that when my one son (the special olympics champion) believed that so strongly that he told me he could be a doctor if he wanted to be. Fortunately he didn’t want to be, but I had to do some backpedaling. Just the same, I may not have thought I was an impostor when it came to work but I certainly thought so many times when it came to parenting. That’s a really tough job.

    • I certainly won’t argue with your point about the challenges of being a parent Lenie. You also make a good point about the realistic side of goal setting. I had a gentleman in one of my workshops – 50ish, no political experience – say his goal was to be President of the US. Now I knew very well he was testing me, but it turned out that he really did harbor a desire to make a difference through politics. We worked on a few exercises and long story short he decided to begin by volunteering for his political party and submitting an application to serve on one of the mayor’s community councils. Once he got some experience under his belt he would then run for county council. So maybe running for President was unrealistic, but there were other ways he could fulfill his dream and I think ultimately that’s what it means to live a life of possibilities. Thanks so much for sharing and contributing to the conversation!

  10. Thank you so much for this post and for sharing it. What a wonderful advice! I have experienced some of these feelings before.

  11. Jeri

    This post brings to mind one of my favorite songs “Snow (Hey Oh)” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The best line goes, “The more I see, the less I know.” Then my brain links that song to my favorite quote from the French essayist Montaigne. He wore a medallion around his neck that read in French, “What do I know.” The term essai in French means “to try or attempt.” That’s all we can do in life is to try to learn as much as we can and do our best and not ever try to act like we know it all because someone will always know more than us. I used to really emphasize that in the classroom as one of the core tenets of my teaching practices and it would totally take students off guard to have a teacher point that out. I also always make a point of telling someone when I don’t know an answer, but you betcha that I am more than capable of finding whatever answer is needed.
    Jeri recently posted…#AuthorInterview: Beth TelihoMy Profile

    • Okay so you’ll laugh but before I replied to your comment I had to jump over to Amazon to listen to the song you mentioned by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I must admit it’s been awhile since I listened to much music but I do remember this song. Back to the topic at hand, great point Jeri about the importance of learning whatever we can in life. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and contributing to the conversation. :-)

  12. Erica M says:

    This is so interesting. A few weeks ago I took Gallup’s strengthfinder test. If you have never taken it, the results can be really fascinating. Well my number one talent or trait came up as achiever, meaning I’m always working really hard to achieve what I have set before me. I read the Gallup description of achiever to my husband and he laughed because it totally sounded like it was describing me. Anyway, I always worry about being found as a fake, especially when trying something new. And I’ve cancelled opportunities because the stress got the best of me. And other times I went after it, despite my fear of being found as a faker, usually with very good results. From now on I will step back, tell myself I am probably feeling fear because I am an achiever, and move forward with my plan that I am more than likely very qualified to execute.
    Erica M recently posted…A Behind the Scenes Look at Small Diet Changes That Yield Big ResultsMy Profile

    • That is interesting Erica, thanks for sharing. I’m so glad you found value in the article, especially if it gives you something to think about the next time you are tempted to pass on an opportunity! :-)

  13. andleeb

    I love this post about Imposter. I feel myself to fall in following category that you have mentioned;

    You often compare yourself to others you view as smarter and more capable.

    You are true when you said,’but it also robs the world of your contribution.’ You are right when we suppress our qualities and feel our self not worthy of something we will not contribute. I love, love the point. I will try to avoid being of the kind in Future, God willing as I came to know how bad it is for personal development.
    I tell you an example from my life. In my work place all the time we have some other responsibilities apart from teaching. We were given around 400 responses of students to analyse within few days. I hardly analysed 60 and was hands up after that. I returned and requested if more members can be added to help as I do not feel like completing within dead line. My friend did not return and today after a week of end of dead line she completed 140 surveys, when she send email I feel and started comparing myself to her that she did not panic and the dead line was also extended later and she did a lot.
    I was sad from the time I got her email but now after reading thins, I am taking my action with positive thoughts like; I feel that she did what she was capable of and I did was also in best interest, if the deadline may not have extended than there can be any in convenience.
    Thank you for a great post that teach me a great lesson.
    Sorry for a long story.

    • Thank you SO much for sharing your story Andleeb – beautifully said! I’m so happy to learn that you found inspiration and value in my article and truly appreciate your thoughtful insights. :-)

  14. Dave

    Check, check, and check – answers to your questions about whether any of your initial thoughts sound familiar.

    I almost never take any credit or feel outwardly proud of accomplishments that perhaps should be worthy of personal pride. I really do put a cap on my emotions when it comes to feeling like what I do has any meaningful effect on the world around me.

    And I am a little scared by your abilities Marty 😉 The thought about over-preparing for something so that it can be “perfect” is eerily similar to my thought processes.

    Each of your recommendations to help fight this obsession with the impostor effect really ended with a thought that helped me think differently about things, so thank you.

    The one that really resonated with me the most was :

    “I’m passionate about what I do and want whatever I’m working on to be as good as it can possibly be, but I have also come to understand that it will be impossible to make a difference in this world if what I create never gets birthed.”

    I have held my cards so close to the vest that I often never get some of the things I have dreamed about out into the world. Your articles and words always seem to nudge me along closer to the actionable steps that I so need to take. Thanks Marty, once again, for your motivating inspiration!
    Dave recently posted…Thorn bushMy Profile

    • Yes we do often find ourselves on the same wave length huh Dave? I will be honest with you that moving beyond that point of ‘letting go’ has been the biggest challenge for me as a solopreneur. When you work for someone else you deal with mandatory deadlines, when you work for yourself it’s all too easy to keep ‘adjusting’ deadlines, but then eventually it becomes all too clear that you’re busyness is neither producing results nor earnings. You either learn to adjust or decide to call it a hobby. :-)

  15. Leora Wenger

    I grew up sensitive to all the criticism around me. As an adult, I think you are so right – I work at communicating all my successes and think of what I don’t know as what I need to learn next. Or work with others that have a complementary expertise.
    Leora Wenger recently posted…Boring Backups: Backup WordPress or ElseMy Profile

  16. Sabrina Q.

    This is wonderful advice. Being self-employed, I and so many of my self-employed clients have this issue from time to time. I plan on sharing this with them. Thank you so much for sharing.
    Sabrina Q. recently posted…Cleaning Supplies Area OrganizedMy Profile

  17. Tim

    I have had some of these feeling before and have even asked myself out loud when they will find me out and my world will change. It never happened because I adopted an adaptability mode. If ever I was found out, for whatever it was, then I would adapt and everything would work out ok.
    Tim recently posted…Scottish TelevisionMy Profile

  18. I think I started feeling this back when I started managing a bar at age 17! I was underage, though my employer did know that! But the people working for me didn’t. I was going on gut instinct but somehow I was more right than wrong in the decisions I made. Putting myself through college (night school) I often felt the same, but years went by before imposter syndrome finally started to fade. But it has reared its ugly head in my third chapter of life…as a writer:) I fight it every day. Negative self-talk is something I need to work harder to overcome, I think. I will!
    Jacqueline Gum recently posted…Afterglow… Where’s The Justice?My Profile

    • You have lived such an interesting life Jacequline! I think it’s perfectly normal to experience some “imposter” feelings when we head in a new direction which is why I suggested keeping track of things we’re doing for the first time because there are bound to be unknowns and things will take longer so there’s always a chance of becoming hypercritical. Ah, ain’t life grand. :-)

  19. I spoke with someone about “don’t hoard your greatness” from the world.

    Your article is just a reminder that we are of worth already as long as you continue to believe, others will.

    Love the post!
    Mahal Hudson recently posted…Is this YOU?!My Profile

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