“Imposter Syndrome” is a phenomenon that has only recently become a common description of something one might struggle with. Personally, I worry that when a new discovery is made, it quickly becomes the “it” thing and people rush to identify with it. You are then in the danger zone of being mis-diagnosed or the malady being dismissed as “cliché” or “trendy.” Before this particular phrase falls into that trap, I’d like to break it down a little. So we will be spending the next few posts taking a deeper look at Imposter Syndrome. To begin, let’s look at the first (and most obvious) question.

What Is It?

“Good going, Captain Obvious,” you are probably thinking. Thank you. 🙂 The Harvard Business Review says that “imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence. They seem unable to internalize their accomplishments, however successful they are in their field.” Further, “Imposters believe they do not deserve success or professional accolades… This goes hand in hand with a fear of being “found out”, discovered, or “unmasked”. They believe they give the impression that they are more competent than they are and have deep feelings that they lack knowledge or expertise. Often they believe they don’t deserve a position or a promotion.” Generally, those with this syndrome questions whether or not they deserve any advancement they make, and those advances are a result of dumb luck instead of skill and hard work.

The American Psychology Association said, “First described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, impostor phenomenon occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.” When they first began exploring this phenomenon, Imes and Clance thought the syndrome was only present in women. Obviously, it has since been recognized in men as well. In fact, it is estimated that 70% of people experience it at least some of the time. People such as author John Steinbeck, actress Jodie Foster, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg have freely admitted they struggle with it.

“Hey, Captain Obvious,” you might be thinking. “What brought this subject to your mind and led you to write about it?” Well, it’s not necessarily obvious, but it is an easy question to answer. I am loaded down with imposter syndrome. When I accomplish something, my first thought is that it happened in spite of me more than because of me. My wife will tell you that I always question my accomplishments are deal with doubt that I will have any more accomplishments. There have been a few periods in life where there was more failure than success for me, and of course I latch on to those times more than the more successful ones.

What’s the toughest part of dealing with this? The vast majority of the time, it’s completely unwarranted. While it’s not a bad thing to be your own toughest critic, you certainly don’t want to invalidate your accomplishments or give yourself an emotional beating you did not earn.

We’ll keep this going in the next post.