Impostor Syndrome

The lack of ability to internalize personal accomplishments and the constant fear of being exposed as a "fraud"

What is Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor syndrome, or impostor experience, is the lack of ability to internalize personal accomplishments and the constant fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” The term was first used in 1978 by psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. People with impostor syndrome dismiss success as luck, timing, or as a result of tricking others into thinking that they are more intelligent and competent than they really are.


Impostor Syndrome


Understanding Impostor Syndrome

The imposter syndrome is commonly found among high achievers or those in high-pressure environments. Individuals who suffer from the impostor syndrome possess a strong belief that they are not intelligent and that they are fooling anyone who thinks otherwise. The impostor syndrome has been acknowledged by psychologists as a specific form of intellectual self-doubt.

Pauline Clance developed the Clance IP Scale to help people determine if their feelings are related to the impostor syndrome. In the Clance IP Scale, indicators include:

  1. I often succeeded in a test or task even though I was afraid that I would not do well before I undertook the task.
  2. I can give the impression that I’m more competent than I really am.
  3. I avoid evaluations if possible and have a dread of others evaluating me.
  4. When people praise me for something I’ve accomplished, I’m afraid I won’t be able to live up to their expectations of me in the future.


For all the indicators, refer to the Clance IP Scale.


Impact of Impostor Syndrome

The imposter syndrome can adversely affect an individual. Notably, here are some risks for those dealing with impostor syndrome:


1. The impostor syndrome may impede career growth

Individuals with impostor syndrome may hesitate to even consider applying for certain jobs for fear that they are not good enough.


2. The impostor syndrome hinders leadership skills

Impostor syndrome is common among high achievers – they are hard on themselves and are their own worst critics. Therefore, it affects their leadership ability as they try to follow the crowd for fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”


3. The impostor syndrome instills self-doubt

People who deal with impostor syndrome will likely downplay their accomplishments. It fills the individual’s mind with self-doubt and a belief that their accomplishments are due to sheer luck.  


Ways to Combat Impostor Syndrome

Here are some suggestions on how to combat the impostor syndrome:


1. Accept uncertainty

Steer away from the “what-if” situations and only focus on the present.


2. Stop striving to be perfect

Perfectionism and striving to be flawless provide unnecessary stress and anxiety. Recognize that nothing and no one is perfect and that problems will inevitably exist.


3. Accept help from others

Chances are, those around you feel like an impostor as well. Reach out for help, discuss how you feel with those close to you, and recognize that you are not the only person with this feeling.


4. Listen to and acknowledge compliments

Do not get fixated on negative feedback, embrace positive feedback, and internalize compliments by others.


5. Do not attribute successes to luck

Attributing successes to luck undermines your abilities and your approach to life. Be grateful for your successes and take ownership of your accomplishments.


6. Believe that you are unique

Do not compare yourself to others, respect your own experiences, and understand that you are just you.


The impostor syndrome cannot be fully eliminated, but there are ways to minimize the feeling of being an impostor. In a TEDx Talk by Lou Solomon, a CEO, author, and communications expert, he provides a very insightful talk on the impostor syndrome.


Examples of Impostor Syndrome

Here are some examples of how a person who suffers from the imposter syndrome may feel or react:

  • Jonathan, an 18-year-old, graduated high school at the top of his class and is headed off to attend Stanford University. Jonathan feels terrified and convinced that the admissions department at Stanford has made a mistake and that he does not deserve to go to the prestigious university.
  • Sara is a leading researcher in the field of corporate finance and frequently travels around the world to conferences and workshops. Recently, Sara attended a big conference. As introductions were taking place, Sara noticed other highly accomplished researchers. Despite being a prominent researcher in the field, she feels that she doesn’t belong and that she may be called out by others as a fraud.
  • Matt recently joined a boutique investment company as an analyst. Over the past couple of months, Matt has been receiving high praise from executive partners and the managing director. In fact, Matt had recently received a bonus for helping lead a cross-border mergers and acquisitions deal. When asked by colleagues regarding his success in the company, Matt attributes it to sheer luck.


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