Imposter Syndrome


How many times have you been asked to do something, at work or otherwise that you feel you are just not qualified to do? My guess is a lot, and let me tell you, you’d be in excellent company! That sinking feeling that you just aren’t quite good enough and that any day now your employee or client, or even customer is going to find out, is more common than you’d think. In fact, it’s even got a name.

In the 1970’s, researchers Pauline Clance PhD, and Suzanne Imes PhD came up with a term to describe a set of behaviours that they had observed during their years of teaching. It seemed, to them that in spite of top grades and achievements, many of their students refused to take ownership of their success. Clance and Imes recognised that this behaviour was not limited to just graduate students and that in fact many people feel like frauds on a daily basis. Unable to take note of their worth and success, no matter how many accolades received or praise that is bestowed upon them, these groups of people constantly doubt themselves and their ability, and the phrase coined by Clance and Imes to define this phenomenon is ‘imposter syndrome’.

Research has linked imposter syndrome to issues surrounding low self-esteem, overachievement, and the need for unhealthy levels of perfectionism, and in essence defines it sufferers as obsessed with the idea that they will never be good enough. And sadly, it’s a term most used to define a certain set of females that diminish the significance of their achievements and instead attribute them to only luck rather than own hard work and intellect.

At a recent WeAreTheCity conference the order of the day was the topic of imposter syndrome and how we can learn to process it. It struck me as odd that a room full of successful, bright and seemingly fierce business women could all be facing the same challenge – the inability to believe in their own aptitude. Yet as they sat listening intently, nodding enthusiastically and eager to voice their stories I began to realise that all this time and many times before this sat next to me is a woman who on the outside looks to have it all together, but who is actually on the inside feeling, just like me, that perhaps she is a fraud. This revelation has allowed me to look at my own doubts objectively and re-evaluate them. Just listening to other women open up has allowed me to rationalise and understand that feeling unworthy is quite common, but that it says nothing about my actual ability and a lot more about the way I view myself.

I have learnt that everyone who’s successful owes some of their success to luck, yes, but for the most part they are successful because they deserve to be, and if we too want others to believe in us, we must first believe in ourselves. No one is immune to imposter syndrome and at some point, all of us will experience some doubt and that’s OK. Recognise that fear of failing but don’t allow it to consume you. Push on regardless and never let your anxieties of not being ‘enough’ stop you from moving forward and achieving, because really there is only one true failing in this life and that is the failure to even try.