Do you dismiss your accomplishments as “no big deal” or “If I can do it, anybody can”?

Do you agonize over even the smallest flaws in your work or beat yourself up when you make a mistake?

Do you feel crushed by even constructive criticism, seeing it as evidence of your “ineptness?” When you do succeed, do you think, “Phew, I fooled ‘em this time but I may not be so lucky next time.”

If so join the club.

What you’ve just seen is the “Impostor Syndrome” in action. Despite clear evidence to the contrary, you feel inadequate to do the work you’re fully capable of performing. Instead you believe they are somehow “fooling” other people into thinking you’re brighter and more capable than you “know” yourself to be. Deep down you feel like an impostor, fake, and fraud.

The fact is you’re pretty smart. I don’t necessary mean “book smart,” although there’s a good chance that you have at least one degree. In fact you may have two or even three. Some might consider you a high achiever, although it’s unlikely you see yourself that way.

You’re the kind of person who likes to know everything you possibly can about the subject at hand before stepping out there. After all you’re not about to risk speaking up in front of others, going after that plum assignment, or selling yourself as some kind of expert unless you’re totally prepared. I’m not talking here about doing your home work. I’m talking about needing to know 150 percent.

And when you do make a mistake you have a really hard time forgiving yourself. After all, in your mind it’s your failures that really count… so you avoid them at all costs.

Which means you’re probably somewhat of a perfectionist. Not only do you like to get everything just right, but you like to do it right the first time. No first drafts or dry runs for you. You’ve got to nail it right out of the gate. Of course you also have to make it look easy.

That’s not to say that you’re a stranger to hard work. Just the opposite.

You’re probably prone to over-preparing and you may even be a bit of a workaholic. But when it comes to buckling down to tackle the things that really matter – finishing your thesis, starting the big project, acting on that great business idea – you are a master procrastinator.

After all what if you pour yourself into it only to find out you’re not up to the task? Or, worse, what if you actually manage to pull it off… the more you achieve the more they’ll expect it. And if you don’t know how it you did it the first time, how can you possibly repeat your success?

Sure you’ve done pretty well so far. Some may even see you as quite accomplished. But then again you can probably explain all that right? “The stars were right.” “It was a small candidate pool.” “I just had good connections.” No wonder you often feel like you’ve managed to somehow fly under the radar screen undetected and it’s just a matter of time before you’re “found out.”

Am I close?

If so I’d love you to share your own impostor story here.

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.

7 Responses to ““Sure I’m Successful. But I Can Explain All That””

  1. Lauren Woodard

    Dear Valerie,

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    By the time I got to page 247 I was squirming to keep reading instead of writing to you.

    Then, lo and behold you mention horses. Now, you’ve done it.

    While this isn’t the first book I’ve read on this subject, it’s certainly the best. I breezed into the library for a few murder mysteries and it was perched on the “NEW” shelves. I rushed on by by a couple of feet and had to turn around and grab it.

    Not even half way thru, I emailed a business coach I worked with a year ago and told her she needed to get it post haste. In addition, I’ve ordered one for myself (gotta keep it on hand) and one for my daughter.

    My business is called Exceptional Horsemanship. Toughest thing I’ve ever done in my life is to call it that! I struggle with it every day. I was talking to my financial guy one day and told him that and he looked at me like I was nuts and said, “Gee Lauren, who’s going to want to go to someone that calls her business “Mediocre Horsemanship”? What a laugh, eh?

    In my work I specialize in “rogues, renegades, spooks and knuckleheads” – meaning, horses other trainers have for the most part ruined some of which turned into killers and were bound for the Alpo can.

    At 54 I’ve only realized in the last few years that not only not every one CAN do this as I previously believed, but it turns out that only a few can.

    Again, thank you.

    Onward!

    Reply
  2. Valerie Young

    Hi Lauren,

    Glad you now see that indeed not everyone can do what you do — being able to tame an enormous animal with a mind of its own is truly a gift.

    Having said that, I was to flag for anyone reading this that let’s say for the record that a lot of people can do what you do — some not as well and some better. The question is: So What?

    The way out of the impostor mindset is to realize we don’t have to be the only or the best to be a) competent and b) proud of our accomplishments. As my young nephew said when his uncle jokingly told him to join the human race — “who says it has to be a race?

    As Will Rogers said, “Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects.” When we stop obsessing on how much we know (or don’t know) and enjoy the process of focusing on the joy of knowing how much there is always to learn, impostor feelings will become a thing of the past.

    Also I hope you got in chapter 8 that one reason why you may have resisted calling your business “exceptional” is that being a woman, at least on an unconscious level, you’re aware that success can separate us from others. In this case, in addition to self-doubt, you may wonder if people will think you’re “showing off.” Modesty, for women, brings us closer to other people.

    Something to think about.

    So glad you enjoyed the book!
    Valerie

    Reply
  3. Dustin Rustick

    Deal Valerie,

    I am a recent college graduate with a degree in Business Management. During my final semester of college I had to create a leadership journey line. When I got the grade back the professor had said that she thinks I suffer from Impostor Syndrome. I immediately grabbed the computer and headed for Google. After reading many articles on the syndrome I’m 99% certain that I suffer from it. Now that I’m done with college I’m in a massive job search but I don’t think I can perform any of the jobs because I don’t think highly of myself. I also think I got lucky to graduate college therefore I won’t be able to handle a job that requires me to have a college degree. I press through and apply for jobs but I blow the interviews by being very nervous that the interviewer can see through me. Any advice would be great.

    Reply
  4. Dustin Rustick

    Dear Valerie,

    I am a recent college graduate with a degree in Business Management. During my final semester of college I had to create a leadership journey line. When I got the grade back the professor had said that she thinks I suffer from Impostor Syndrome. I immediately grabbed the computer and headed for Google. After reading many articles on the syndrome i’m 99% certain that I suffer from it. Now that I’m done with college i’m in a massive job search but I don’t think I can perform any of the jobs because I don’t think highly of myself. I also think I got lucky to graduate college therefore I won’t be able to handle a job that requires me to have a college degree. I press through and apply for jobs but I blow the interviews by being very nervous that the interviewer can see through me. Any advice would be great.

    Reply
    • Valerie Young

      Hi Dustin,

      Biggest piece of advice is to recognize that 70 percent of people have these fraud feelings at one time or another. One of the chapters in my book is called 10 Perfectly Good Reasons Why You Might Feel Like a Fraud.

      In your case being a student is one — you’re being tested literally on a daily basis!

      Now you’re in a job search — more evaluating you and what you have to offer.

      My advice is to go into the interview imagining you are a confident person who can add value to the organization. If you have to pretend you’re someone else (how would George Clooney or Denzel Washington handle the interview) then do it!

      I’ve hired a lot of people in my time and know from experience that one of the most important things they want to see is a real person who they can picture themselves spending 40 hour a week around.

      Try to be personable, charming, relaxed and interesting. You may have to fake it in the beginning — we all do. But sooner or later you will see what everyone else sees – a perfectly capable person who is open to continuous learning.

      Valerie

      Reply
  5. Elize

    Dear Valerie,

    Thank you!!!

    Thank you for putting in words exactly how I feel. I had a similar conversation with a co-worker last week. I feel like a fraud everytime I do well. My first excuse is “But everyone does it like this, don’t they?”

    I am looking forward to reading your book.

    Kind regards
    Elize

    Reply

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