Feel Like You're Going to Be Found Out? What Is Impostor Syndrome and How Do You Deal With It?


Have you ever felt like your accomplishments or accolades aren’t warranted? Or do you ever worry that people will figure out you’re not as smart, skilled, and competent as they currently think you are? That you’ll be “found out”? The odds are that you have, and if these feelings are common to you, you may have “impostor syndrome” (also referred to as impostor phenomenon).  

Impostor syndrome was first defined by psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanna A. Imes in their 1978 study as an “internal experience of intellectual phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” In other words, those who have impostor syndrome possess a pervasive feeling of doubt and inadequacy. They believe they are where they are because of luck (which you’ll recall I don’t believe in) or chance, and not because of talent, qualifications, or hard work they’ve put in to achieve their successes.

Dr. Clance’s work also reveals that those who feel like impostors fear that others might discover their lack of ability and they’ll be exposed as a “fraud.” As I discussed in my book, despite many wins, so many of us are racked with negative narratives that reflect insecurities and fears. Everyone gets caught up in this negative loop of self-doubt, which we often mask in order to appear stronger, in the hope that our vulnerabilities will not be seen — and we won’t be discovered as a fake.

If you do sometimes feel this way, rest assured that you are not alone. In fact, impostor syndrome is an extremely common psychological phenomenon that research says approximately 70 percent of people experience at some point in their lives. If you’re unsure whether you suffer from impostor syndrome, I recommend you do the test designed by Dr. Clance to help determine if you possess the common traits and to what extent. You can access the assessment here.

While impostor syndrome can affect anyone, researchers believe that it is more prevalent in women and people belonging to diverse groups. The studies by Dr. Clance and Dr. Imes and many after them have identified that this is because these feelings of inadequacy are closely linked to discrimination. Dr. Valerie Young, an expert on the phenomenon, adds that even though there is no definitive reason why impostor syndrome exists, there are multiple external factors, such as a person’s environment or institutionalized discrimination, that can contribute to them feeling like a fraud. With a clear lack of representation of women and diverse communities as leaders in society, and in mainstream media, it is no wonder that so many experience such inhibiting feelings of unworthiness and a sense of not belonging.

So, the big question is, how do you deal with impostor syndrome and learn not to disregard your own experiences and credibility? The good news is that there are ways to address it, and here are some practical tips.

Acknowledge and Challenge the Negative Thoughts

Most of the time, when we feel like a fraud, it is usually in relation to our idea of perfection, which does not actually exist. Failing is a difficult but normal part of life that needs to be embraced for the important lessons we can learn in the process. Simply by observing and acknowledging our limitations and the ensuing negative thoughts we have about our abilities, we can put them into perspective and question where they come from, and whether they hinder or help us. Being aware of our self-doubt also allows us to be critical of it, and to replace our negative self-talk with positive narratives.


Use Mantras and Positive Truths

Craft positive affirmations to reinforce and remind yourself that you have achieved your successes because of the efforts you put in. Whenever I doubt myself, my mantra is, “I am great. I am loved. I am worthy.” I use these affirmations in combination with positive truths, facts that help to reinforce these feelings and perceptions of ability. For example, if I am presenting in front of a big crowd and my negative narrative starts to show up, I beef up my mantra by adding evidence of my worthiness like, “I am qualified to be on this stage, I know this gig better than most! I’ve got this.” This not only helps boost my confidence but also energizes me!

Write Down Accomplishments

Collect wins! Keep a list of positive feedback, compliments, and nice things people have said in a notebook and pull it out when the feelings of being an impostor start to overwhelm. This is an easy but extremely helpful way to remind yourself of all the hard work you have put in to accomplish your goals.

If you feel like a pretender sometimes, you are not alone. Many people suffer from impostor syndrome — from our peers, to our leaders, and even famous high-powered people (both Maya Angelou and Tina Fey have openly admitted to feeling like frauds). As I have mentioned before in my blogs, sharing is where the magic happens. By opening the dialogue for conversation and sharing our experiences with one another, we can build meaningful, supportive relationships that help to lift us up and reinforce positive feelings about ourselves. One way to do this is to find a safe space by joining affinity groups, or online forums, or even interest groups on social media.


The next time you’re confronted with negative self-talk or self-limiting beliefs that make you question your ability or accomplishments, don’t brush them aside. I invite you to do some work, explore and challenge them.

Ask yourself: Is this true? What is a positive, more accurate narrative that I can tell myself?

Have a look at other aspects of the business such as diversity speaking.