Impostor Syndrome is destructive because everyone who suffers from it thinks they are unique in feeling the way they do, and that everyone else is more carefree and confident. I wrote this article to show how common Impostor Syndrome is.
Impostor Syndrome is a description (originally called Impostor Phenomenon) first identified by Dr. Pauline Rose Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes in the 1970s. Imposter Syndrome is a persistent belief you are a fraud.
You may have Impostor Syndrome if you believe your accomplishments happened because you are lucky or some other random factor, but not because you are talented or deserving. Another symptom of Impostor Syndrome is that you are afraid everyone will figure out your successes are a fluke.
If you suffer from Impostor Syndrome, you are in good company. Here are famous people describing their fears, followed by their accomplishments.
Paul McCartney – “Just like anyone else you have insecurities; no matter how high and great and wonderful you get, there’s always something that makes you worried.” (Source: Interview with 60 Minutes)
Accomplishments – Net worth of $1.2 billion; induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for successes with The Beatles and individually; 18 Grammy awards.
Barbara Corcoran – “When I sold my business for $66 million and I had made it from scratch out of nothing and the whole world applauded me…Do you know what I thought (after) six months? That the whole thing was a fluke.” Source: Inc.)
Accomplishments – Net worth estimated at $100 million; built the largest residential real estate firm in NYC; celebrity on Shark Tank; motivational speaker.
Tina Fey – “The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!'” (Source: Forbes)
Accomplishments – Recipient of nine Emmy awards, five Screen Actors Guild awards, seven Writers Guild of America awards, and three Golden Globe awards.
Tom Hanks – “No matter what we’ve done, there comes a point where you think, ‘How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?” (Source: NPR)
Accomplishments – Actor; filmmaker; recipient of two Academy awards and seven Emmy awards; credited with films grossing $9 billion worldwide.
Michelle Obama – “I still have Impostor Syndrome. It never goes away.” (Source: BBC)
Accomplishments – Former First Lady of the United States; attorney; bestselling author.
Maya Angelou – “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.” (Source: BBC)
Accomplishments – Poet; author; activist; actor; United States Poet Laureate; recipient of National Medal of Arts awards, Presidential Medal of Freedom award, Pulitzer Prize nomination, and three Grammy awards.
Meryl Streep – “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?” (Source: Marie Claire)
Accomplishments – 21 Academy Award nominations with three wins; 32 Golden Globe nominations with nine wins.
Jennifer Lopez – “The biggest insecurity I had was my singing. Even though I had sold 70 million records, there was this feeling like, I’m not good at this.” (Source: Cosmopolitan)
Accomplishments – Net worth of 400 million; actor; singer; dancer; activist.
One of my favorite stories is on the blog of beloved author Neil Gaiman. Gaiman met astronaut Neil Armstrong, and Armstrong confessed to Gaiman that he didn’t feel like he belonged in the room filled with successful people. Gaiman said to Armstrong, “But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”
Gaiman said if Neil Armstrong felt like an impostor, maybe everyone did.
If impostor syndrome is troubling you, one thing to know is that psychologist Basima Tewfik studies Impostor Syndrome, and she found that the fear caused by Impostor Syndrome has one upside: it can cause people to work harder at interpersonal relations.
For example, doctors-in-training with Impostor Syndrome performed similarly in diagnosis and treatment planning, but also engaged in more active listening behaviors. They mirrored their patients’ body language, asked more questions, and offered more explanations.
Dr. Tewfik also found in business settings, when people worry about their competence, they are more likely to help others in cooperative and encouraging ways.
In my coaching practice, I have found two strategies are helpful in reducing Impostor Syndrome:
- Build skills in the areas that worry you (although, as the above examples show, even the most talented people grapple with Impostor Syndrome).
- Get more support because struggling alone makes Impostor Syndrome worse. Admitting it and talking to other people often normalizes the worries and reduces their negative impact.