Impostor syndrome is a natural consequence of growth.

Growth creates a gap, between who you are now, and who you used to be. We often interpret this gap, internally, as impostor syndrome.

Image from iStock

The only qualified experts in any subject are those who have collected a volume of failures in their field. That’s how you earn expertise – by learning all of the possible ways that you can fail.

The Irony of Expertise is that positive feedback is easy to ignore. Others may say they are impressed by your expertise, but you don’t believe them, because you know all the ways you have failed.

The only difference between a master and a novice, the old saying goes, is that the master has failed 10,000 times more than the novice has ever tried. If the master remembers all 10,000 failures, it’s easy to feel like an impostor.

dr adams imposter syndrome
Found on Pinterest

Impostor syndrome is fine if it’s temporary, but it’s crippling if it’s not.

Those who experience impostor syndrome find it hard to accept recognition for their success, because it validates something they don’t believe. The most high achieving individuals can experience persistent self-doubt, and ignore evidence of their own achievement.

Impostor syndrome is not (yet) recognized as a psychiatric disorder. In 2019, Brava, et al published a meta-analysis of 62 studies, and found it is often reported in tandem with symptoms like depression and anxiety.

In 1985 psychologist PR Clance published ‘The Impostor Phenomenon.’ He described the Impostor Cycle, and it was depicted in the following chart in 2011 by Skulk & Alexander. See if this progression feels familiar:

the imposter phenomenon

Found in The Impostor Phenomenon

While one half of all scientific papers on the topic have been published in the past seven years, the first mention of impostor syndrome in a psychiatric paper was in 1978. It started as an investigation into gender bias. At Georgia State University, Drs Pauline Clance & Suzanne Imes studied 150 Successful women who shared a disavowal of positive aptitude.

Impostor syndrome is like a party crasher, showing up uninvited, to tell you about everything that’s going wrong, when you could just be having a good time. Impostor syndrome affects men too, but is found with disproportionate frequency among minorities and academics.

70% of people report feeling it at least once in their lifetime.


Found on Reddit

If you feel impostor syndrome, you’re in good company.

“I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people.”
– John Steinbeck

“I have written 11 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 think people will find out that I’m really not very talented. I’m really not very good. It’s all been a sham.”
– Michelle Pfeiffer

“I still think the no-talent police are going to send me to jail.”
– Mike Myers

“The exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.”
– Albert Einstein

Would you rather feel like an impostor, or stay nobody?

Feeling like you’re fake long enough will keep you from trying anything new. The person that impostor syndrome hurts the most is you.

If you’re feeling impostor syndrome, I have good news for you: real impostors do not feel this feeling.

“Impostor syndrome is a signpost indicating the presence of self awareness.”
– Col Fink

Your identity is stuck in the past, with your memories, and all the things you have done and accomplished and failed.

If you want to grow, you are going to fail along the way, which means you need to deal with impostor syndrome.

Imagine being out of shape and overweight, and trying to do your first push-up. You have to get into position, and push, and fail, if you are ever to have any hope of doing your first push-up.

man doing push ups

Image from iStock

Expertise is only earned by the fakers.

I frequently feel impostor syndrome when I have a coaching call scheduled. I don’t have any plans for the upcoming call. Unlike my speaking and training events, I don’t have an outline, or an agenda, or any of the neat video tricks on deck that dazzle my audiences.

For coaching, I just show up, hold the space, and ask great questions.

Inevitably, at three or four points in the conversation, my coaching client will say, ‘that’s a really good idea.’ They bend their head down, and start furiously scribbling notes for themselves.

And then I remember: this is why people hire me for coaching. To hold the space for them to have the right ideas, and make the right decisions.

Knowing that doesn’t make the impostor syndrome go away, it just clarifies it as an unwelcome companion.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.”
– Marianne Williamson

How great could you be, if you truly believed in yourself?

Don’t let your fear of your own greatness keep you small. You will always be the harshest critic of yourself, so you know the baseline – everyone else thinks better of you than you do.

The next time you feel impostor syndrome, say to yourself, “I am faking my way into being a better me.”

Here’s an exercise: Write down 3 times when you felt impostor syndrome. Is there a common theme? What kind of person would not feel impostor syndrome in those situations?

Could you be that person? Do you want to be? Confidence is your choice.