Are You Feeling Like an Impostor?

By Eva Szekeres, MA, PCC

Are you listening to an endless tape in your head about not being good enough? Have you ever felt that you don’t belong? Do you always over prepare and still dread failing?  Are you reluctant to ask for help, fearing you will be considered incompetent if you don’t do it all? Do you worry that they will soon realize that you are just a fraud? Do you often doubt yourself — in spite of your evident successes? Do you attribute your success to luck or effort versus your ability?

If you are a high achieving woman, chances are you can relate to many of the above. Whether you are the:

  • Expert who believes you should know everything and feel ashamed when you don’t, or the 
  • Soloist, who believes that you need to do everything alone, otherwise you don’t deserve any credit for it, or a 
  • Natural Genius who has to handle everything with ease, otherwise it doesn’t qualify as achievement, or a 
  • Superwoman who can do it all whatever role you are, or a
  • Perfectionist who has to deliver a perfect performance all the time.

These are all just different flavors of the same overwhelming internal dialogue which is sabotaging your success. You are also experiencing the debilitating feelings of anxiety, frustration, second guessing, overwork, lack of self-confidence, and holding back — all associated with Impostor Syndrome.

Impostor Syndrome is a phenomenon identified by Pauline Rose and Clance Imes, psychologists in the ‘70s studying high achieving women. Ever since, it has been a regular topic in many Women Leadership Programs. In a recent KPMG study — out of 750 high performing women, 75% admitted of experiencing Impostor Syndrome at some point during their career.

Unfortunately, many very successful women still doubt themselves, unable to internalize their successes, feeling that they don’t deserve it, and believing that it is just a question of time before others will detect that they are cheating and will be discovered as a fraud. They attribute their success to luck or effort but not their innate ability. They also often downplay their results. It is a too high price to pay for being successful.

What Can You Do?

  1. Self awareness: Learn to recognize your Impostor thoughts — identify the triggers, catch yourself in the moment, make a mental note, then move on, reminding yourself that these are just thoughts, not the truth.
  1. Make a list of your accomplishments, pointing out what your specific actions were that contributed to your success. 
  1. Practice a growth mindset. Remind yourself that mistakes, or even lack of skills or knowledge, are all opportunities for learning and improvement — not a shameful thing that you must avoid at all cost.
  1. Don’t forget: nobody is perfect and you are not alone! Share your feelings with your trusted peers and mentors. 
  1. Promote a workplace culture which fosters a variety of leadership styles, based on authenticity, deep conversations, awareness, and committed to eliminating biases.

It might take a deeper dive with the help of a professional coach, to really understand the nature of your own Impostor family- or environmental- origins, and create a reframe that you can practice on a daily basis until you can permanently get rid of it, but you can take the above first steps and start to notice when your Impostor appears right away. 

While it is important to work on our internal thinking — taking a very active role in our own personal development — we also have to be aware of the deeper reasons why women experience this phenomenon more often than men. It can not only be explained by their own personal attributes, but more by deep rooted societal expectations and cultural biases.

I can not agree more with a recent Harvard Business Review article, referenced below, which states that instead of “fixing women,” we need to transform our workplaces, creating a culture of honest dialogue, where more and more women with different backgrounds, styles, and preferences can become role models for others, and create a culture where we can all belong — without feeling like a fraud. For me, the first step is always awareness.

For more about expanding your self-awareness, overcoming Imposter Syndrome, and strengthening your leadership skills, schedule a consultation with Eva.

Clance, Pauline Rose, and Imes, Suzanne A. “The impostor phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention.” Psychotherapy: Theory, research and practice (1978): 241-247.
Tulshyan, Ruchika, and  Burey, Jodi-Ann. “ Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome.” Harvard Business Review (2021) February 11.