Imposter Syndrome

I remember it like it was yesterday. 

I was just 5 years old and took Dad’s still-lit, white-tipped cigar out of the car ashtray and pretended to be him – putting the white tip to my mouth, taking it away, blowing out air like it was smoke.  (NOTE: this is not about pro- or anti-smoking opinions.) I thought I looked so cool.  Dad didn’t agree with me.  Watching me through the car window while fueling it up, he stood there shaking his head.  When he got back into the front seat, he drew me near to him and gently explained that smoking was not a smart choice.  “But Dad,” I said, “I want to be just like you!”  He smiled and said, “And I want you to be just like YOU!” 

Thirty years in corporate America, working with both good leaders and poor managers, taught me the truth of Dad’s statement.  YOU are who YOU need to be.  People who don’t yet grasp this truth often desire to be, or be like, someone else.  Or they feel that they don’t deserve what they have, in fact, worked so hard for.  This phenomenon is called Imposter Syndrome.

I’m focusing here on the facet of Imposter Syndrome felt by those who secretly fear being not good enough and/or undeserving of where they are in life.  The fear leads to us comparing ourselves to others in overwhelming ways.

Though I didn’t know my behavior had a name, I recognized early on that I was playing the constant comparison game.  I wanted to do what they did, act how they acted, speak how they spoke, and treat others the way they treated others.  Emulation is not all negative; you can (and I did) learn a lot just quietly watching someone else exhibit empathy, compassion, strong decision-making skills, excellent negotiation skills, and the like.  The problem arises when you think you’re not worthy of a promotion, a raise, being selected for a special project, or the lead on a new team. 

The worst impact of Imposter Syndrome is the havoc wreaked on good leaders.  Personal, unfounded, needless fears push them to work ever harder (to the point of burnout) trying to prove to themselves what everybody else already knows. 

So, what can you do to quell the feelings of comparison and Imposter Syndrome? Next time it happens, pause. Shush the negative self-talk.  And think it through:

  • Consider this: True imposters don’t suffer from Imposter Syndrome. Worrying that you didn’t earn the (fill in the blank) is a strong indicator that you absolutely did!
  • Consider the qualities you bring to the table and recognize the hard work, dedication, learning, and capabilities you have that are uniquely yours. (Write them down if it helps.) Embrace these differences and lean into your individuality.
  • Consider talking with a mentor or work with a coach who can help guide you on a journey of self-discovery, leading to greater self-confidence and self-acceptance.

Despite my Dad’s lesson about being okay with just being me, I struggled for years trying to be like others.  Their attributes were remarkable; my own capabilities were barely acceptable. Through those years, I’ve learned to step into my uniqueness with confidence, mixing in fun and humility along the way.

Are you sporting Imposter Syndrome? Have you acknowledged your distinctive characteristics?  Need a partner in your personal journey of continuous growth?  Let’s chat.


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My goal as an experienced Executive and Leadership Coach is to help you re-imagine your life and let go of thoughts and behaviors that undermine your success, so that a renewed and fulfilled you can emerge. My personal commitment is to provide you with accountability, understanding and support while accomplishing lasting growth. Click here and type “Tips” in the email Subject Line to receive tips and leadership advice to help you Discover Invisible Horizons.