About the book
For the millions of professional women (and men!) who experience the confidence-zapping “Impostor Syndrome,” Valerie Young offers an empowering plan to overcome the needless self-doubt that keeps them from feeling as intelligent and competent as everyone else knows they are.
In her decades of in-the-trenches research on women’s self-limiting feelings and beliefs about themselves and their success, Valerie Young has uncovered the often surprising reasons why so many accomplished women feel as though they are “faking it” – impostors in their own lives and careers.
While the impostor syndrome is not unique to women, they are more likely to agonize over tiny mistakes and blame themselves for failure, see even constructive criticism as evidence of their shortcomings; and chalk up their accomplishments to luck rather than skill. When they do succeed, they think “Phew, I fooled ’em again.” Perpetually waiting to be “unmasked” doesn’t just drain a woman’s energy and confidence. It can make her more risk-averse and less self-promoting than her male peers, which can hurt her future success.
In The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, these women finally have a solution: Important insight into why fraud fears are more common in women combined with practical ways to banish the thought patterns that undermine their ability to feel — and act — as bright and capable as they truly are.
Can Men Benefit From This Book?
When psychologists first studied impostor phenomenon, they suspected it was experienced primarily by women.
However, it was quickly determined that a lot of men feel like impostors too.
In fact, it is one of the few psychological issues initially thought to affect primarily women that later was determined to relate to both genders.
It’s one of the many reasons why I hate the title of the book — a title I didn’t want and fought against, but clearly lost!
Over the years, I’ve met countless men who suffer terribly from their fraud fears.
Among them a member of the Canadian mounted police, an attorney who’d argued before the Supreme Court, a professor who won the McArthur “Genius” Award, and an entire team of aerospace engineers, one who spoke of the “sheer terror” he feels when handed a major assignment.
This of course begs the question, if men identify with the impostor syndrome too, why is my book aimed primarily at women?
It’s a legitimate question and frankly one I struggled with. Despite the horrible title, I did include a number of male voices.
At the same time, for reasons made clear in the book, women as a group continue to be both more susceptible to impostor feelings and held back by them more as well.
The next obvious question is:
Can men who experience the impostor syndrome benefit from a book called The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women?
In a word absolutely!
All the more so if you are a man of color, sprang from working-class roots, work alone, are in a creative field, medicine or technology, if you are an immigrant or are working or studying in another country, have an obvious disability or identify with any of the other “at-risk” groups I talk about in this book.
In fact, anyone who was raised by humans can gain from this book!
Whether you personally experience these feelings or not, male or female, if you lead, teach, mentor, manage or parent others, you need to understand impostor syndrome.
Early in my speaking career I spoke primarily to female audiences for one simple reason — that’s who invited me to speak.
Fast forward and today men attend my talks in nearly equal numbers, especially at universities.
I’ve addressed audiences of men and women at such diverse organizations as IBM, Microsoft, Boeing, Facebook, Intel, BP, Northwest Mutual Life Insurance, Alliaz, the Space Telescope Science Institute, and many more.
Partly the change in audience reflects an increased willingness of men to talk about impostor feelings.
But the main reason so many organizations bring me in has to do with the growing awareness that the behaviors associated with impostor syndrome are costly not only to individuals but to organizations as well
Praise for the Book
Career coach Young explores the “imposter syndrome”— why accomplished women are consumed with insecurity and the fear that they don’t deserve their success and that it’s just a matter of time before they’re found out. She cites Dr. Sheila Widnall, an MIT professor of aeronautics, who observes, “Treat a male student badly and he will think you’re a jerk. Treat a female student badly and she will think you have finally discovered that she doesn’t belong in engineering.” Though this is primarily female behavior, frequent quotes from celebrities of both genders provide a comforting counterpoint. It’s not, as the author wryly points out, all in our heads; men are able to go further by doing significantly less, and “striving while female” is still held to be a crime and female ambition frequently punished. How to triumph? Young presents the reasons why many women feel like impostors and how to get past these reasons; she also describes self-sabotaging behaviors and how to stop them in their tracks. Though there’s been much written on this difficult topic, Young’s extremely perceptive and action-oriented solutions shine; she urges women to focus on their actual, measurable achievements without editorializing (“just the facts, ma’am!”) and to take their cue from men and to fake it till they make it. A can’t-miss primer for businesswomen everywhere.
— Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)
The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women examines a common affliction and offers tools, insight, scientific evidence, and numerous examples that aim to banish the impostor for good. Valerie Young’s diligence, passion for the subject, and belief that anyone can overcome feelings of inadequacy, duplicity, and unworthiness rings loudly throughout The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women.
— New York Journal of Books
The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women may look like an ordinary self-help book, but there’s nothing ordinary about it. Valerie Young has given us a power tool to enrich and expand our lives in ways we may never dared to imagine. Although I’ve been vaguely aware of the impostor syndrome for years, now I not only understand it, but believe this book could inspire a new crusade to stamp out this insidious disorder that has caused so much unhappiness and wasted so much talent. I think The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women is as important as The Feminine Mystique. Quite simply, if you are a woman—or love one—this book belongs in your library.
–Barbara J. Winter Author of Making a Living Without a Job
A calm, measured book that quells that nagging inner voice that says you’re not good enough, smart enough, or prepared enough to succeed. Women who second-guess themselves need to hear Valerie Young’s message.
— Susan Pinker Psychologist, Author of The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women and the Real Gender Gap
Self-doubt is common, but when it impedes you from attaining your goals it’s time to take action. This book shows you how to move beyond feeling like an imposter so that you can achieve your full personal and professional potential.
— Lois P. Frankel, Ph.D., author of Nice Girls Just Don’t Get It and Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office
Valerie Young introduces us to the “Impostor Syndrome,” a fascinating pattern of thinking that many successful women feel today. If you, in any way, feel you don’t deserve your success, this is the book that will help you embrace the richness of the person you truly are.
–Susan Jeffers, Ph. D., author of Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway® and Embracing Uncertainty
Valerie Young’s The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women is going to help a lot of talented women break free of self-doubt. The book is profound and practical, full of insights that will show you who you really are. You’ll like what you see.
–Barbara Sher, NY Times bestselling author of I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was
This is an important book to read for just about every woman I know, because however competent and accomplished they are, women can still feel they are faking it. Valerie Young guides women with depth and awareness of this impostor syndrome, coaching them with valuable tools on how to let go of these self-limiting beliefs and embrace their own success with authenticity.
–Iris J. Newalu, [now former] Director, Smith College Executive Education for Women
In her broad and comprehensive analysis of the impostor syndrome Dr. Young has accomplished the essence of the message on my favorite bumper sticker: “Less Judgment, More Curiosity.” She is a mapmaker, providing guidelines for discovering our individual penchants for making unsound judgments about our competence and for dealing with inevitable failures, mistakes, and criticisms. Overcoming her own impostor feelings to bring this book to fruition is a gift to millions who want to replace fear and suffering with excitement and joy in their achievements. This work is a major contribution to the impostor syndrome literature. I am recommending this book to all my clients and students who suffer with impostor feelings.
— Dr. Suzanne Imes, Co-Coiner of the Impostor Phenomenon
Valerie Young’s book provides important insights into the Impostor Experience of very competent women. She provides important knowledge that can help women begin to truly appreciate and acclaim their success.
— Pauline Rose Clance, Ph.D., ABPP, Co-Coiner of the Impostor Phenomenon
Valerie Young will transform the lives of professional women with Secret Thoughts, a book that provides life-changing insight on how to overpower limiting thoughts and behaviors. It was so empowering to realize that I am not unique in feeling like a fraud and that countless successful women like me also experience the Impostor Syndrome.
— Betty Shanahan, [Former] Executive Director & CEO, Society of Women Engineers
I wish I could have read Dr. Young’s book twenty-five years ago when I was convinced that my acceptance into a prestigious college was a mistake; or 18 years ago when, as a new lawyer, I was naively under the impression that I could compete effectively within a department dominated by men simply by waiting to be noticed for my hard work without self-promoting; or even 12 years ago when I felt like an incompetent fraud after being promoted into my dream job. The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women is a critical resource full of practical solutions for the impostor feelings that plague successful women.
— Ellen J. Duffy, VP and Deputy General Counsel, Genworth Financial
When self-doubt prevented Young from starting on her doctoral dissertation, she came across a study of the “impostor phenomenon” in successful women—the feeling some women have that they have not truly earned their achievements. Inspired by the relevance of this concept to her own situation and that of many colleagues, Young began her dissertation research along similar lines. This book draws upon her research, her experience as a workshop leader and speaker, and her seven years as marketing director of a Fortune 500 company. Rather than explaining how to become successful, the author teaches readers how to recognize that they already are. She focuses on why women are especially prone to this sort of negative thinking and shows how to overcome it to enjoy triumphs and gain confidence. Her advice is practical and insightful, with simple exercises and action steps en route. Verdict Given how prevalent the research shows this issue to be among successful women, the market for this book should be quite large. And the author acknowledges that men can also benefit from her book, though its focus is on the ways in which women experience the impostor syndrome.
— Library Journal, Carol J. Elsen, Univ. of Wisconsin-Whitewater