Wednesday, January 18, 2012


[via Threadless]

Do you ever feel like you're totally making things up as you go?  Like at any minute, your boss is going to realize that you have no idea what you're doing or talking about?  Like you should never have gotten into graduate school?  Like you're an impostor?

You are not the only one!  I spend half of my time wondering how I even got to where I am right now.  "How did I ever get into grad school?"  "Why did they even hire me?"  "Soon everyone's going to realize that I'm making this up and I have no business being here."

This is known as Impostor Syndrome.  Basically, someone experiencing impostor syndrome cannot internalize their own accomplishments.  They believe they are not capable of what they have accomplished, and have done so by sheer luck.  The term was coined by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in their 1978 paper, "The Impostor Phenomenon Among High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention" (PDF available here).

In an article on Science Careers, Lucas Laursen summarizes:
They gave this name to high-performing but inwardly anxious women who were among the professionals attending Clance's group-therapy sessions. "These women do not experience an internal sense of success," wrote Clance. "They consider themselves to be 'impostors'" despite scoring well on standardized tests, earning advanced degrees, and receiving professional awards. Early on, this phenomenon was associated with women, a belief that persists today. But subsequent studies, including another by Clance, have shown that men are affected in equal numbers.
So why does this happen?  There are many beliefs as to what causes this impostor syndrome.  This is often seen in individuals who were placed in remedial classes as children, who, in spite of their later success, still believe themselves to be underachievers.  It is also seen often in women and minorities, likely due to stereotypes of intelligence (e.g., "women aren't good at math" and "black students are not as smart as white students").

The author offers suggestions for overcoming your impostor syndrome.  These include keeping track of positive compliments you receive rather than blowing off praise, and simply talking to other people who feel the same way!

So read the articles, and let me know what you're doing to work on your impostor syndrome.  I personally am practicing the art of taking compliments sincerely, rather than blowing them off.  When someone compliments my work, in my head, I remind myself - "yes, I am AWESOME.  I deserve that compliment.  So thank you, friend.  Thank you."

[via Kevin]


  1. Awesome post! Didn't know there was a name for it :-) It is my experience only - but it just seems that I see this in women ALL THE TIME. I'm skeptical that men experience this in the same numbers...but that's only what I personally observe in my very non-scientific way. I guess why that is perceived is a whole other topic. Thanks!

  2. I agree with Kevin. I think that some men experience it, but definitely not in equal numbers to women.

    Worthy of study as to why so many women experience it... I think it is influenced by culture, for example women are expected/encouraged to be humble; girls are treated differently by teachers and parents (Reviving Ophelia explored some cases with extreme issues); and some races have pigeon-holed their women into specific roles. But I still think there is also something "genetic" at work too. I saw a study once where young girls and boys were put in similar situations and the boys immediately started competing..."no way, my mom is better than yours" whereas the girls tried to create equal ground..."wow, my mom is great too".

    Really interesting post! (And don't worry, we all have moments of feeling like an imposter especially at new jobs.)