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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 Publishing) now available in five languages. Valerie has delivered her highly solution-oriented and surprisingly upbeat message in the US, Canada, Japan, and Europe to such diverse organizations as IBM, Merck, Boeing, Procter & Gamble, Microsoft, Intel, Chrysler, Facebook, BP, Ernst & Young, McDonald's, The Space Science Telescope Institute, Society of Women Engineers, Women in Commercial Real Estate, Cornell University's Men of Color in STEM Symposium, Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, and over 85 other colleges and universities. Her career-related advice has been featured in business and popular media outlets on five continents including The BBC, Yahoo Finance, Newsweek, Time, O magazine, Fast Company, Science, Inc. and many more. Valerie was one of 11 people chosen to deliver a six-minute talk at TED HQ as part of TED/NYC Idea Search 2017. Valerie was the founding coordinator of the Social Justice Education program at the University of Massachusetts where she earned her doctorate.

12 Responses to “Share Your Story”

  1. Terri Forehand

    I so relate to this. I always feel like I am not enough of an expert, there are smarter people than me. I dream of writing a series of books for kids on first aid, and another one on sharing your state, and a series for kids on childhood diseases that their peers may have and that might frighten them. But where to start while you are earning your paycheck. I want to design fabric too for the projects I use in the books for kids…. too far fetched. Not sure. I think I may have to call for a consult.

    • Valerie Young

      Hi Terri,

      You start where everyone does… pick an idea, write an outline — which will change as you go along — then carve out 45 minutes a day to chip away at it realizing that you’ll toss out half of what you write because its all in the editing.

      More importanly I encourage you to think about the good you could be doing for others — good that no one will get to benefit from because you’re too afraid or tired to try.

      Will there always be others who are “smarter” (hate that word) or know more than you? Yup. Same for all of us. Who cares? No one is going to write your book the way you do.

      On the fabric…. check out This is the annual event in NYC where artists and manufacturers come together to forge licensing agreements. Some of these artists are fabric designers. Where do you think all those designs on wall paper, fabric, upholstery, etc. comes from. Often the artist gets 20 percent. But you can learn more about art licensing at

      Also at that same link is a review I did of a children’s book writing program where you work 1-1 with an instructor. Having accountability is another great way to get yourself to follow through when you’re working full time.

      Hope this helps Terri!


  2. Alaina

    Hi Valerie,

    I just heard your archived interview with Kellie Gardner on her Blog Talk Radio show, I’m 40 years old and I feel like I just exhaled for the first time. To know there’s a “‘name” for this feeling and beliefs I’ve been harboring for years is, well, comforting.

    I have two degrees but I’ve never allowed myself to do the work I’ve long felt called to do because I didn’t want to be exploited as the fake I’ve always thought of myself as.

    When I was younger I was a violinist and was a natural at it. I kept hearing that and as I got older, my talent slipped further and further until I quit playing altogether. But what happened is I allowed myself to be seduced by the term “natural talent”. Naturals didn’t have to practice… but I was, and I did… because I didn’t, it turned out to prove the self fulfilling prophecy where I believed I wasn’t all that to begin with.

    I see how I let that seep into to so many other aspects of my life. I was naturally smart too. What ended up happening is I turned into a relative inactive. Being a natural at so much left me with very little “to do”.

    I’ve been feeling a pull to take back MY personal interests without the need for the peanut gallery’s support. I want to support other Christian women in their efforts to do so as well.

    Your work is powerful and so necessary. Thank you for sharing and helping to shape my understanding around what in the world happened to the me I might have been. There’s still time… there’s still a me for me to work with.

    • Valerie Young

      First thanks for your kind and insightful post Alaina. Yes this notion of the Natural Genius does indeed hamper many people. We come to see true competence as all about ease and speed. So if something becomes difficult or takes concerted effort or practice, then we deem ourselves inept.

      We all have gifts. But even the most talented people on the planet continue to work at their craft. I’m not sure if you have had a chance to read the book yet, but if not I strongly recommend Chapter 6: The Competence Rulebook for Mere Mortals. It offers concrete advice for not only the Natural Genius, but the Perfectionist, The Expert, The Rugged Individualist/Soloist, and the Super Woman/Man/Student as well.

      Thanks again for sharing your story here. In doing so, you too are helping to change lives!


      Valerie Young

  3. Ric

    10 years ago I graduated from nursing school. I changed careers at 38, and went into nursing because it was a relatively short time spent in school, still giving me the time to make good money and catch up on my retirement. Don’t get me wrong, Loved nursing because of the positive effect I could have in people’s lives. But, ever since my first day of work, I started to feel that I wasn’t smart enough to be a nurse, and sooner or later, I would be found out and fired. My annual evaluations were excellent, and my patients truly appreciated my gifts. I have switched jobs in nursing every 2 years and the feelings just grew and became more intense. Being a man, opening up to mentor, I feel I would be considered weak. So here I am 1 1/2 years in to a new job, and I am going through the same self defeating cycle. I am constantly afraid that tomorrow when I arrive for work, I will be fired for being inept. I don’t know what to do.

  4. Keith

    Wow! After all these years I have a name for what I have been doing to myself, or at least a part of what the many layered mess I find myself in is. I just hope this is not a club reserved for females, as it would seem almost everything out there looks at Imposter Syndrome as a female thing.

    I have had 52 years (ok, let’s say 40 years) of feeling <than, couching my precieved ineptitude in self deprecation, avoidance and outright hostility toward myself. No, there has been no self harm, at least on the outside, as this would have exposed the charade, but 40 years of refusal to take credit for my abilities without downplaying them as luck or the deeds of others has left me a shell if a person as I roll into the last third of my life.

    I like to think I came by my situation honestly. I started life as not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I was seen as the "special" kid in the neighborhood. The pedagogical term for the likes of me back in the day was "dumb as a sack of hammers" and although deep down I knew and my parents believed I wasnt, I wore the moniker of being the "big dumb kid" as my truth all through my grade school years.

    Even though everyone around me thought I was dumb, I kept at it. I graduated from highschool, and eventually University and at the ripe old age of 52 hold a masters degree in education and am a respected member of my education community, but the self doubt continues. Inspite of colleagues, family and strangers outwardly expressing their admiration and respect for my abilities, I live in fear of being found out as a dummy a fraud an imposter.

    Todat, my entire persona is based on self deprication. I actively lower peoples expectations of me through self deprecating humour in an effort to deflect from my precieved ineptitude and while people laugh, I can escape into my world of self doubt and solitude.

    Pretty messed up eh.


    • Valerie Young

      Thanks for taking the time to share your story Keith. I am sure it will resonate with a lot of people.

      First things first, for a host of reasons, impostor syndrome is often more common among women — but it is hardly unique to women. Howard Shultz founder and CEO of Starbucks, Tom Hanks, and MANY other men have spoken publically about their own impostor feelings.

      I’ve spoken at scores of major organizations from Google to Boeing to NASA and I can tell you, many of the men attending my talks definitely identify as well.

      There are many perfectly good reasons why perfectly intelligent, capable, qualified people feel like frauds. As you know, one of them is childhood expectations and messages. Most often these come from parents and/or teachers. But in your case it seems to have come from peers.

      Your story breaks my heart. It had to have left such a horrible scar to be mistakenly labeled this way.

      All the more so since there are SO many different ways to be “smart” (whatever the hell that means), beyond so-called book-smart.

      The wonderful thing about you is that you did keep at it. And effort will always, always, always trump being so-called smart. Look through any yearbook — including your own — and you’ll find plenty of kids who got good grades or had incredible connections based on social class and yet failed to rise to their potential because they lacked effort and perseverance.

      Smart is a trap.

      There will always be someone who is “smarter” than us and “less smart.” But so what?

      In reality, some people are just better at certain subjects or skills. I sucked at math and French. Turns out people for whom math and science come more easily, tend to pick up languages easier. I realize now that I’m highly visual. Not being able to picture math or language made it that much harder for me. But I excelled at art and loved to read. Others did not.

      Self-deprecation is indeed a coping mechanism designed to protect you.

      You might ask yourself some questions from an exercise in my book:

      How does this pattern help you avoid? Maybe humiliation, rejection, increased expectations you worry you can’t meet?
      What does this pattern protect you from? Being seen as less than humble, being exposed as a “fraud” (which you are not)
      What does this pattern help you get? More support and compliments from the people who express admiration only to have it rejected?

      Our pattern is there to help us. Unconsciously you are trying to do the very best you can under the circumstances. So in that respect, we should all appreciate our patterns.

      At the same time though, we always pay a price for whatever protection we’re getting. To understand the cost ask youself:

      What will happen if I never change this pattern? You will never feel well-earned pride in your accomplishments; never get to realize your full potential
      What price will I pay? It keeps you from fully benefiting from constructive feedback that we all need to continue to grow and improve. People may turn off from supporting you because their praise is always rebuffed.
      What opportunities and experiences might I miss out on? This pattern robs you of the joy and satisfaction of a job well done. Sooner or later they may lower their own expectations of you which could result in costs to your career and your finances.

      Clearly you can answer these questions far better than me.

      The point is, you have to ask yourself if you are willing to continue to pay the price for your protection. If not, then you need to experiment with making a change. For example, the next time you feel the urge to put yourself down in front of others, pause and ask if it’s really helpful or necessary.

      I hope this is helpful Keith.

      p.s. Despite the horrible title Random House gave my book… there is a lot in there that can benefit men as well.

      p.s.s I don’t have time to proof this. But I’ve also come to see that we all make mistakes… proofing and otherwise, and guess what? We live.

  5. Cassey

    I attended your SWE webinar on “Why Smart People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It” and found it very enlightening. Many of your words were quotes from my own conversations with my best friend, the only person I have openly admitted my fraud to. For as long as I can remember, going back even to grade school, I have felt like an impostor and I fear that it has been going on so long that it cant be reversed. All through school I was placed in the advanced classes, I got my degree in Chemical Engineering and I now have a career in consulting. But I am overwhelmed by the fear that I didn’t gain the skills and knowledge I needed along the way, and am about to hit a roadblock. From the beginning I felt like I didn’t belong, that I was not actually smart enough to do the work. Because of this my coping mechanism was to procrastinate (because I knew I was not capable of doing it on my own) then to rush through it with someone else. I labeled myself as the stupid kid in the smart classes. I went all the way through college like this, never trusting myself to figure it out on my own because I knew I would fail. And now here I am, I have a million goals and I’m not sure I can accomplish them. I’m not sure I ever gave myself the chance to learn. I’m not sure what to do next? I decided I want to pursue my PE license (to prove to myself I deserve my degree), but it will require me to be tested on my engineering knowledge. I feel like the only way to pass is to relearn (or learn for the first time) all of engineering. At this point I’m not sure if this is the impostor syndrome talking or if I have really turned myself into a fraud?

  6. Mchaela

    Hi There,
    My name is Nora and my nickname is “Mchaela”. I am right now in a very exciting transition. Here in my apartment with my friend’s laptop, I am on employment insurance, my car just required $400 of repairs, no retirement money, no money in the bank and I am 61. I sang professionally for 13 years as well as all my life in various venues. I also did office work for 30 years and temped during the singing. Every ounce of my being is rebelling against going back to an office job and yet, unless I do something quick, the loans will be necessary. Yikes. Plus ….. I haven’t had a vacation in 12 years for more than a one or two day trip. As well, I have a 35 hour ESL teaching certificate and have taught english as a second language for 7 years part time and once at a learning centre full time. So, my question is: where do I begin? Gratefully I have several very close friends, a nice apartment and a car and health. No complaints. Not just sure though, how I can stand to wait 6 months for a vacation and my mind seems to be going around in circles with all the many options. Plus …. there are no stings whatsoever. I am completely free. What would be your first 5 “next right things to find some clear direction in this scenario??. Thanks sooooooooo much. Mchaela

  7. Valerie Young

    Hi Cassey,

    I missed your post before – glad to catch it this time.

    To answer your question is this the impostor syndrome talking or have you turned yourself into one — the answer is YES on both counts. Meaning…

    No one likes to fail. But people with the impostor syndrome experience shame. There’s also a tremendous amount of energy put into being “smart.” Here is where your impostor feelings are talking.

    And because you’ve felt this way I think you have turned yourself into a sort of impostor. By this I don’t mean a fake — but rather that you’ve convinced yourself that you’re an impostor to the extent that you’ve lost your way.

    Should you take the test? Only if you think it would benefit yourself and your career. But don’t take it just to prove you deserve something. You know more than you think you do. Which, for the record does not mean you’re supposed to have retained everything you ever learned — not possible.

    Naturally I think you could benefit from reading The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women – especially the chapter called The Competence Rulebook for Mere Mortals and the ones on failure and playing big.

    I also recommend Carol Dweck’s book Mindset to help you move past the single-minded focus on being “smart.”

    Also FYI I’ve offered to do a follow up Q&A for Society of Women Engineer members on Jan 9th at 4pm. Hope you can join us.



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