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How to Recognize and Overcome Imposter Syndrome

You’ve felt it right? That feeling deep in the pit of your stomach. 

You know the one. 

“They’re going to figure it out. I’m a fraud. I’m not supposed to be here.” 

It strikes at the worst of times. Usually as we come down from the high of a new accomplishment; a promotion, kudos in a meeting or an invitation to speak in front of an audience. That nagging fright: “is today the day they realise I’m not qualified enough, talented enough, smart enough…” and on it goes.

But, did you know this affects women and minority groups disproportionately? If you’re a woman working in male-dominated STEM, chances are you’re getting a double hit. In this blog post we’ll be looking at what imposter syndrome is and some actionable steps to overcome it. So, let’s jump in. 



What is Imposter Syndrome?

Coined in 1978 by American psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, the term imposter syndrome is the name given to that nagging feeling that you’re not good enough, that you’re a fake, that you don’t have the skills for the job, the ability to write the book you’ve been offered a deal for or the speaking gig you’ve been dreaming of. It is most common in high performers, creative people and those accomplishing “firsts.” Examples might include being the first person in the family to earn a Ph.D, the first college-educated person in the family or being the first woman named head of the department.

So, how common is this phenomena? 

It is difficult to measure, however research shows that about 70% of the U.S. population acknowledges having dealt with imposter syndrome, made easier to recognise with so many high profile entrepreneurs and creatives speaking publicly about their experiences. 

Think you’re alone? 

Take a look at some of these powerhouse women: 

I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ – Maya Angelou

‘You think, “Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?” ‘- Meryl Streep

‘Even though I had sold 70 million albums, there I was feeling like “I’m no good at this.”‘ – Jennifer Lopez

“The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.” -Tina Fey

Isn’t that a relief? That no level of success makes you impervious to self-scrutiny? Maybe not, but there is comfort in knowing we’re not alone. 

So, if there’s no escape from imposter syndrome, what can we do to overcome it so it doesn’t get control of us? 

10 Steps to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Some fears must be faced to be overcome and when it comes to imposter syndrome, this couldn’t be truer. Chances are the higher your climb and the greater your aspirations become, the more this nagging feeling will begin to creep in. So, let’s get a hold of it, shall we? 

Here are ten steps you can take right now to help overcome imposter syndrome: 

Stop the comparison game

We all do it. The mindless social media scroll after a long day. Somehow, everyone is doing so well! Sarah from college is in the Bahamas on her third holiday for the year with her perfect husband. Her private practice is flourishing and wait.. Yep.. she’s pregnant. She has it all and you could never possibly measure up. 



Whether you’re comparing yourself to someone from your past or who sits next to you in your department, constantly comparing yourself to others will not move you closer to your goals and will ensure that when you accomplish something big, it’s still not good enough. 

Break the silence

Do you have a trusted friend, family member or someone in your professional community who might understand what you’re up against? Spill it. Find someone you can confide in work together to understand the root cause. Knowing why you’re feeling this way is much easier to dissect with an objective eye. 

Separate emotions from reality

Work with your confidant to separate your feelings from the facts of the matter. Do you really not deserve to job? Really? No, but really? All those years of study, hard work and your innate intelligence couldn’t have played a small part? 

Develop a new relationship with failure

Does your imposter syndrome come from a fear of failure? Or a fear of success? Chances are, to reach where you have in life you’ve already failed many, many times. You’ve always picked yourself up, brushed yourself off and pushed on. But what about success? What if you got everything you wanted? Could you handle playing big? Being that visible? Stepping outside of every level of comfort? Ahh, there you go. Maybe failure isn’t a big deal after all.

“Nothing has transformed my life more than realizing that it’s a waste of time to evaluate my worthiness by weighing the reaction of the people in the stands.” – Brené Brown

Visualize success in advance

Take a moment and imagine how you’ll navigate this new opportunity. Take a mental rehearsal of what your success will look like. Are you giving a TED Talk? Look at everyone cheering! Did you write a book? I bet that book signing with the line around the block feels pretty amazing. Then move to the other side of the coin. Imagine the worst case scenario here.

Entertain the thought that you know what? Ok, you might be a fraud. So, what is the worst case outcome of you not being able to perform the task at hand. What would you do? If you forget your TED Talk, do you have notecards in your pocket? Too easy. If you struggle to finish the book would you reach out to your editor for some guidance? Perfect. Been handed a task in your new role that you just aren’t 100% sure on? Who would you ask for clarity and what would you need to know?

You are an intelligent woman who can handle herself in a crisis. Why would this situation be any different? 

Recognize situations where you will feel like this 

Know when it is completely likely that you are going to feel this way. Are you the first person in your family to go to college? Are you the first woman in your field to win an award? Guess what? Chances are, you’re going to feel like a fraud. We spoke in the beginning of this blog post about how women and minorities are disproportionately affected by imposter syndrome and this is why. You’re pushing boundaries. Keep pushing. 

Own your role in your success – it’s not luck

Unless you’ve walked off the street into the corner office of a trading firm having never opened a finance textbook, chances are you’ve contributed to your success. Try making a list of every sacrifice you have made, every weekend with family you missed, every compromise you made to achieve your goals. Own your role in where you are, good or bad. 

Celebrate your wins 

When was the last time you celebrated one of your achievements? Did you celebrate closing that client you were chasing for three months? Proving that theory you dedicated years to? How about the small things? Getting that grant approved? Getting personally invited to that exclusive industry event? We get so focused on what we want to accomplish next, we often forget to acknowledge the successes as we achieve them.  Celebrate every win, no matter how small.This will make it easier to remember them with imposter syndrome rears its ugly head and you’ve forgotten how you got where you are.  

Acknowledge the accomplishments of others

When was the last time someone praised you for your achievements? Remember how good that felt? Why not share the love a little with those around you. Rather than judging other’s success, join in celebrating it with them. Maybe you won’t feel so judged by your own success if you stopped judging other people’s. 

Understand that you are not alone

Find a community of people who understand your struggles and who support you in your goals and aspirations. Don’t have one? Why not join ours!

About Dr. Toni A. Haley

Toni A. Haley, MD is a bestselling author, speaker and certified executive coach for high performing women. She is also the founder of Soar to ExcellenceTM Coaching. Dr. Toni is sought after by clients for her 25 years of experience in healthcare, wellness and finance. Her proven strategies have helped hundreds of women break through personal and professional barriers, such as Martyr MindsetTM, Perfectionism, and Imposter Syndrome. Dr. Toni has committed her career to empowering others to achieve greater prosperity and fulfillment beyond success.

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1 Comment

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