Do you ever feel like you don’t quite deserve your success or aren’t fully qualified to do what you do? That common feeling is what psychologists call the “impostor syndrome,” a phenomenon where successful people feel like frauds waiting for someone to realize that they’re unfit for their leadership roles.
“Millions of people, from entrepreneurs to celebrities, have a hard time internalizing their accomplishments,” says Valerie Young, an expert on impostor syndrome and, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women (Crown Business, 2011).
The impostor syndrome is especially common among people who become successful quickly or early, and among outsiders, such as women in male-dominated industries. “They explain away their success as luck or timing,” Young says. “They feel this sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
That fear is stressful, and often leads people to hold back instead of pushing for bigger clients or more challenging opportunities.
Most of the people who feel like impostors are actually exceptionally capable. It’s their self-image that’s off. “Feeling like an impostor is different than being an impostor,” Young says. “Feelings aren’t facts.”