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Why You Earned the Right to Have Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is a sign of success, not failure.

Key points

  • Imposter syndrome is triggered by an achievement and is experienced by as much as 70% of the workforce.
  • Imposter syndrome, however, should be viewed as a recognition of your success.
  • The recognition is new, thought, and so imposter syndrome could be a defense mechanism to protect you from this foreign feeling.
Noah Naf/Unsplash
Imposter syndrome should be reimagined as a point of success, not fraud.
Source: Noah Naf/Unsplash

The weight of imposter syndrome can be soul-crushing. The overshadowing worry that you are perceived as a fraud or not worthy is real. The good news is that this feeling of self-doubt is transient and often accompanies a new role or an achievement such as a promotion or award.

Suffering from imposter syndrome makes you part of a not-so-exclusive club. CEOs, Olympic athletes, and presidential nominees have all experienced imposter syndrome. In fact, up to 70 percent of the workforce suffers from this, including former First Lady Michelle Obama, Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and tennis great Serena Williams. If Oscar and Grand Slam winners can experience imposter syndrome, does that not give the rest of us the right to feel it as well?

What if we looked at imposter syndrome from a different angle? Instead of viewing it as a trigger for insecurity, anxiety, and inadequacies, what if you get imposter syndrome because you care and are motivated to succeed? What if this feeling was intertwined with your laser-focused mission to improve and advance in your career? If you are feeling imposter syndrome, it is not because you are a fraud. It is because you are putting in the time and effort, and someone is finally paying attention.

In other words, you earned your imposter syndrome. You worked hard, put in the time, and experienced untold numbers of rejections and failures. Finally, after a long road of bumps and hurdles, you succeeded. Success at this level is new and unfamiliar. Perhaps the syndrome is the body’s defense mechanism as you learn to cope with your latest win.

First coined nearly half a century ago, imposter syndrome disproportionately impacts high achievers and women. If you let the feeling of being labeled as a phony or fraud take control, you will subconsciously alter your goals to protect yourself, minimizing your accomplishments and potentially sabotaging future success.

While you may chalk up your latest success to luck, recognize that luck is earned. Look at the data. Consider your years of hard work, perseverance, tenacity, and resilience. Your new role or recognition recognizes your years of working diligently, taking work stress home with you, and possibly sleepless nights. Your feeling of imposter syndrome is a celebration of your achievement, not a concession of your inadequacies.

If you did not care about your work, you would not be rattled by performance anxiety. You want to achieve more and take pride in your career. Being paralyzed by imposter syndrome will prevent you from continuing to do more, achieve more, learn more.

There are enough people in the world who will put you down. Do not let imposter syndrome do the job for them. The admissions committee did not make a mistake, nor did the awards selection committee. Do not underestimate their ability to spot a winner or someone with enormous potential. They see something in you that you may have yet to recognize in yourself. Overcome self-deprecating behaviors and realize that your imposter syndrome is well earned; it is a win.