Do You Feel Like an Imposter

If you’ve experienced imposter syndrome, take heart. You are not alone. Some of the world’s most successful people have famously suffered from this often debilitating emotional malady.  

F Is For Fake” is the title of an acclaimed documentary by Orson Welles. The film is about an art forger, a literary fraudster, and himself, Orson Welles, as a magician dedicated to pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes.  (It’s interesting to note that Welles was indeed a lifelong amateur magician!) 

In fact, the profoundly talented and seemingly supremely self-confident Welles never fully believed in his talents or accomplishments and often considered himself an imposter. This from a man who revolutionized early-20th century American theatre and made what is arguably the best film of all time, “Citizen Kane,” when he was only twenty-four years old. (Yes, you read that correctly: He was 24.) 

Welles battled imposter syndrome throughout his career – that particular sense that one is really a fraud, an imposter, and totally out of one’s depth.

Many successful people regularly feel like frauds. Albert Einstein reported that he felt like an imposter and so did Maya Angelou. It’s clear that this feeling doesn’t go away with achievement and fame. So, if you often or even sometimes feel this way, welcome to the club….the proverbial rabbit hole.

Check out this article on many other famous people who regularly experience the feeling of being an imposter:

Don’t worry If you feel, at times, like a fraud – it’s not a mental aberration. More than 70% of highly successful people report feeling as if they are imposters just waiting to be found out, and women outnumber men. This means that if you feel like an imposter, the people you fear are going to find you out probably also feel like imposters.  And ad infinitum.

Imposter syndrome is not a fear of failure and it’s not having insufficient knowledge or skills for the job.  It’s more a sensation of getting away with something.  A fear that you don’t belong wherever you are.  A fear of being discovered and that, at anytime, someone is going to figure out that you are, indeed, a fraud. One of the dangers of feeling like an imposter is that it can lead to severe procrastination and disengagement. (For tips on dealing with procrastination, see this:

The key to combatting imposter syndrome is to reframe your defeating thoughts as they arise.  

If you have reached the doctoral level, you have already jumped countless hurdles and accomplished a great deal, more than most members of educated society.  Remind yourself of the many academic challenges you have faced and conquered: if necessary, list them in detailed form for yourself. 

The key is to acknowledge that you are experiencing imposter syndrome and name it for what it is: a probable illusion.  Try to separate your feelings from the facts of what you have already accomplished. Recognize that your self doubt might be a normal response to social stereotypes about competence and ability. Give yourself a break as you would any good friend. Continue to take risks, move forward and engage with your doctoral project. Celebrate and mark your accomplishments. And remind yourself, if imposter syndrome continues to occasionally come up….well then, you’re only human.