7 Signs You Suffer From The Imposter Syndrome

“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

“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

“I still doubt myself every single day. What people believe is my self-confidence is actually my reaction to fear.”—Will Smith

 “Despite being high achievers, even experts in their fields, women can’t seem to shake the sense that it is only a matter of time until they are found out for who they really are–impostors with limited skills or abilities.”  -–Sheryl Sandberg

If you’ve ever felt like this, then welcome to the club — the Impostor Syndrome Club. Obviously, you’re in good company.

The impostor syndrome is known to afflict not only the rich and famous but many successful executives as well. Primarily career-based and achievement-driven, it is a phenomenon where people are unable to own their accomplishments or value, despite evidence to the contrary.

The sufferer has a nagging fear of being found out as a fake and a phony, as if they’ve fooled everyone into believing that they are competent. Any and all success feels completely undeserved and dismissed as luck, timing, or something other than talent, intelligence, hard work, and perseverance. Many professionals have a respect that they feel is not earned, and a title that they feel they don’t live up to.

Some experts say it’s cultural; some say it’s psychological. This expert (and sufferer) says, “Who cares?” It’s painful and chronic. It’s the most awful, sinking feeling that is the height — and depth — of insecurity.

Although everyone feels doubt and anxiety at times, this syndrome causes a constant cycle of shame and embarrassment, and manifests in self-defeating thoughts that amount to one thing: “I am not worthy.”

And yes, the biggest deceiver in all of this really is us: Not in how we believe we lie to others, but in how we lie to ourselves. You see, impostors tend to mistake feelings for facts. But, feelings, unlike facts, lie—and they lie often.

Understanding this an important step in letting go. By recognizing the lies we tell ourselves and challenging them, we gain perspective, clarity, and confidence.

So–How do we lie to ourselves?

1.   You tend to focus on the one thing that’s wrong rather than what’s right.

When I was hired to lead operations for a technology startup, I was brought onboard for my leadership and operations skills: my ability to structure and unify a team, point them in the right direction, and execute strategy. Yet, my focus was my abysmal lack of technology skill. I was beating myself up constantly over this one point. The fact that I had a long, successful career was lost on me. I was too busy feeling defective.

We are drawn to and focus on the negative instead of the positive. Anxiety and fear just seem to feel more natural to us, and often, become habit. Whatever we focus on only intensifies, so try focusing on the good.

2.   You think it’s too easy — that anyone could do it.

I have a friend who is terrific at technology. He can write code, design websites, repair computers, and do a million other techie things. I think he’s amazing. He thinks a monkey could do it. When you know what you’re doing, it seems effortless. And it is — to you. What you may think is nothing is really something to someone else.

We don’t understand that certain things come more naturally for us, and not for others, and so we devalue our gifts. Never assume that your own unique talents are easily duplicated.

Does this sound like you?

Look for the next 5 signs in upcoming posts……..

Copyright 2013 Michelle Kerrigan



  1. Reply

    I saw this on the “Business Insider” website – just used it as an illustration in the message I gave this past Sunday. Thanks so much for the insights.

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