Visitors to have the opportunity to sign up to receive Impostor Buster Words of the Week.

This week’s email came from something I wrote in a chapter in The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women called “Is it ‘Fear of Success’ or Something Else?”

The quote read:

“If the work you were doing and the environment in which you were doing it reflected your gifts and priorities, would you still question your competence to the same degree?”

That prompted K to write with a question:

“I would like to better understand what this quotation is trying to help me see… I want to say “yes,” which indicates I have Imposter Syndrome. But what is it helping me to see, to get beyond the syndrome?”


I see now that without some context, it’s unclear what the take away is. So let me explain…

One thing that has become abundantly clear over the last decade is that generally speaking, women want more than the money/power/status success model traditionally associated with men. For women success includes quality of life and satisfaction.

Whether you embrace the money/power/status model or not, it is no coincidence that situations where these elements are in play — salary negotiations or being singled out for recognition in your field or being tapped for a promotion — are the very times when you wonder, Do I really deserve it? or Can I really handle it?

You assume it’s the self- doubt talking.

And maybe it is.

However, it’s also true that because women do have a more layered definition of success, it’s just as likely that your anxiety could be signaling a mismatch between the social definition of success and what matters most to you.

So that when faced with the opportunity to achieve greater levels of success – to grow your small business into an empire, to go after tenure, to accept the major promotion — ambivalence or reluctance can easily be confused with self-doubt when in reality there are any number of non-confidence-related factors that can make you reluctant to move ahead, including a mismatch between your definition of success and what is expected, the additional demands that come with success, and your relationship with money.

Once you’re aware of these things you can sort out for yourself, are you anxious about success because you don’t think you CAN do it, or do you just not want IT?

Chances are it’s not a simple either/or, but from situation to situation it’s probably more one than the other. Hence, the Impostor Buster question:

“If the work you were doing and the environment in which you were doing it reflected your gifts and priorities, would you still question your competence to the same degree?”

One way to tell the difference is to imagine yourself as the confident, fully capable person you would like to be (and in fact really are). If the supremely competent you was faced with the exact same decision, how would she feel?

If you’re still averse, then you know something other than confidence or lack thereof is at play, and you have an opportunity to explore what it is.

Once you clarify what success means to you, it’s just possible that old fears about whether you’re “smart enough” or “good enough” or, for that matter, “successful enough” will be cast in an entirely different light. You may find that what up until now you’ve thought of as your fear of success and impostorism may instead be a healthy reluctance to succeed on someone else’s terms.

As writer Anna Quindlen says, “If your success is not on your own terms, if it looks good to the world but does not feel good in your heart, it is not success at all.”

What do you think about fear of success? Love to hear your thoughts…

Valerie Young

About Valerie Young

Valerie Young, Ed.D. is an internationally-recognized expert on impostor syndrome and author of the award-winning book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It (Crown Business/Random House) now available in five languages.Valerie has delivered her solution-oriented message to over 80,000 men and women at such diverse organizations as IBM, Merck, Boeing, Intel, Chrysler, Facebook, BP, Ernst & Young, McDonalds, Stanford, Harvard, MIT, and many more and her career-related advice has been featured in major business and popular media on five continents.

3 Responses to “Are You REALLY Afraid of Success?”

  1. Laura Carlson

    I keep finding myself in hostile workplaces. I don’t understand why I keep ending up in these positions. Is it me or is it that I am putting myself in jobs that are not aligned with my passion and skills?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *