Is anyone surprised Viola Davis experiences impostor feelings?

1) She’s in a creative field which means like other actors, writers, artists her work is constantly being judged by objective standards by people whose job title is “professional critic.” Where you’re only as good as your last performance, your last book, your last painting and in so many ways you really are starting over each time.

2) Putting impostor syndrome in an even larger social context, as a black woman Ms. Davis belongs to not one but two groups for whom there are stereotypes about competence.

A sense of belonging fosters confidence. Conversely, the fewer people who look like you… on the set, in the boardroom, at a meeting… the less confident you may feel.

And it’s not just race or gender. Deep down we know that when we are the youngest person on a team or the oldest…if we have a regional or other accent that doesn’t “sound intelligent”… or are in any situation where we have to represent our entire group — all of these things make us more susceptible to impostor feelings.

In the interview they stated that one reason more women may feel like frauds is because we’re more likely to attribute our success to luck than skill. True. But the fact is, studies find that others — both men AND other women — are more likely to see female accomplishments as luck and male accomplishments as skill.

I love that Ms. Davis said she’s come to see that “self-deprivation is not the answer to humility.” It’s why I no longer believe that there’s a plus side to impostor syndrome.

Happy too to see more psychologists using the language of reframing — something I’ve been advocating for decades.

I’m not convinced, however, that “Yes I can” inner pep talks is the answer. After all — what if you really can’t?

Like the director of a large medical center – a physician – who told me she feels like an impostor because “everyone on the executive team is brilliantly articulate, and I’m not.”

There was a time I would have replied — “Oh I’m sure you’re brilliantly articulate.”

Now I know that wouldn’t have served her.

So instead I said — “Well maybe you’re not? And that’s OKAY!”

Bottom Line– People who don’t feel like impostors are no more intelligent and capable than the rest of us. The only difference between them and us, is they think different thoughts.

If you want to stop feeling like an impostor, you have to stop thinking like an impostor.

To include — turns out I actually can’t — so what am I going to do about it, learn from it, go from here?

About Valerie Young

One Response to “Oscar Winner Viola Davis on Impostor Syndrome”

  1. Patricia A. patton

    Taking your and Viola’s comments together I understand the above to say; Everyone feels the imposter syndrome at some point or on some days. The difference is we can choose to recognize the thought, give ourselves a little credit, choose to think a different thought, and move on


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