Why Successful Women Might Feel Like A Fraud

How to Overcome the Imposter Syndrome

Have you ever felt like a fraud and were afraid you would be found out?

Have you ever felt like you weren’t expert enough at your job or in your business?

I wrote in a previous blog, about saving two years of my life by getting a PR director position two years sooner that I had planned by making a quantum leap. In my first year on the job, I experienced the imposter syndrome. I was sure that I didn’t know enough and that they would find that out. This fear drove my behavior, and I worked “hard” learning as much as I could about the work.  Even though I was one of five people out of 120 that received the highest performance evaluation in my first year, that didn’t help me with my feelings.  This caused me a great deal of stress in the first year of my job because I worked six days a week and was stressed too much of the time.

The impostor syndrome or the fraud syndrome is a real psychological syndrome where people are not able to internalize or own their accomplishments. It is a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true such as your success. You may not feel competent, smart enough or successful and are concerned you will be thought of as a fraud.

There Are Three Types of Impostor Feelings:

You feel like a fake and believe you don’t deserve success or the position you have.  You have this underlying feeling of being “exposed” or “found out.”  You generally feel as though you don’t know enough. If you are a high achieving and successful person, you are more likely to suffer from the imposter syndrome. Both men and women experience it.

You believe your success is a matter of luck.  You might think you got that job because you were lucky or that it was a matter of good timing and it has nothing to do with your skills.  You discount your own ability to get the job or achieve your own success.  You chalk it up to luck, connections or good timing. You secretly fear you may not be able to do it again.

You rationalize or downplay your success.  You tone down your own efforts and have a hard time accepting compliments.  You brush it off making light of your efforts.  You might be considered a success by external standards, yet on the inside you are worried that you will be out for not being expert enough or that you might blow it.

The imposter syndrome occurs more often during transition times.  If you are a solopreneur then you most likely have experienced this at one time.  Because we work online, it’s easy to look outside yourself at your colleagues in the same field or competitors and find yourself feeling lacking or not good enough in comparison.  Notice when you feel bad by comparing yourself and close out of that web page!

Some work environments are set up to have people compete.  Many of my friends are college professors.  They say the academic environment fosters a competitive workplace. According to book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, men in academic settings ranked highest on imposter syndrome.

If you believe you are not good enough to be doing what you are doing, your mind will find evidence to prove that belief true. The mind seeks evidence for anything it believes.

How to Overcome the Imposter Syndrome

If you have these feelings, the good news it doesn’t mean you will always have them.

Learn to observe your thoughts.  This is a key mindfulness practice to help you reduce stress.  Notice when you feel like a fraud or imposter.  If you are a feeling type like I am, feel into the stress place in your body where you hold tension.  Remind yourself that this thought has not been questioned and that it is not true – it is only a thought from your inner critic.  If you have a critic on overdrive at work, give him or her a name.  Ask him/her to sit down to tea and understand that she or he is trying to help but you aren’t going to listen.  Don’t resist this voice or it will persist.  Notice, breathe and let it go.  If you want to question a persist thought that causes you stress, go to Byron Katie’s site under find the “Do The Work” Helpline.  A trained facilitator can help you question that thought.

Create a Hall of Champions area in your desk – make a file or print out positive emails and create a place at home or in your office (if you have privacy) where you can post them.  I recommend putting them where you can see them if at all possible.

Sell yourself at work.  This is key if you are in a job.  Demonstrating your results is the key to getting ahead and it does not undermine your team efforts.  According to a report a 2012 report Accenture called “The Next Generation of Working Women” outlines that Gen Y women are less likely to speak up than men, less likely to ask for a raise and proactively manage their careers. Showing your accomplishments to your boss on a monthly basis – even an email with bullets – is key to getting ahead.

Stop comparing yourself to others. If you spend time on Facebook and find yourself comparing yourself to other people’s successes, this will fuel the feeling of not being good enough or not as good as he or she is. It’s your ego at work looking to see how you rank.  Your Soul is unique and your divine gifts are only yours.  Let your freak flag fly!  Your ego will want to tell you that you are better or not as good as team members or your competitors/peers.  Notice the ego and breathe.

If you feel you “lucked” into the job or situation or that you don’t deserve what you have, then you are most likely not taking ownership of your accomplishments. You create your life and you create what we call luck – results.  Make sure to take time to absorb compliments and your achievements.

Are you a perfectionist?  Is the bar held so high that you never are enough – even for yourself.  You have to work “harder” and longer than anyone else?  I grew up with a dad who wanted all of us to go to college.  Dad had an impressive job and had an MBA.  He was a personnel director for Union Carbide and recruited brilliant people with PhD’s and nuclear physicists.  He told me the key to getting ahead was work “hard.”  Naturally I have worked “hard” all of my career except now.  I know how to question that belief and that hard work makes you stressed out and cranky.  I don’t want to be like that any more.

Marianne Williamson’s famous quote speaks so eloquently about this.  I hope it will inspire you to shine your light brightly no matter what you do.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.’ We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

This passage is from her book, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principals of “A Course in Miracles.”  Marianne is offering a course based on this book beginning September 25 and it runs for four week.  You can check it out here. I’ve signed up and love her work!

Have you ever had the feeling of being an imposter?  I’d love to hear from you and as always I love to have your comments so that I know that this blog topic helped you.

If you enjoyed reading this blog, please post it on social sites using the buttons below or pass it along to a friend.

Related Posts:

Permission Slip to Be Free

Stop Comparing Yourself and Let Your Freak Flag Fly!

How to Tap Into Your Wise Inner Mentor









  1. Thanks for this, Sherold. These are things I struggle with in many aspects of my life: the publishing, my selection and involvement in a new spirituality program (The Living School for Action & Contemplation) to name two. It’s so easy to see myself as a fraud, and so good to be reminded that our negative thoughts are just thoughts; they don’t define who we are, our worthiness, unless we let them. We can choose to believe them or just acknowledge them as you suggest and then let them go and move on. Getting our egos less and less involved, getting more into our deeper, true self as God sees us and following the purpose we find there is hard work but ultimately I think it’s the only real work we have to accomplish. Thanks for all you do to help us remember to question our thoughts!!

  2. Maureen – thank you for reading this blog. We ALL go through this and some won’t admit it. And you are in a transition time so it will naturally rear it’s head now.
    You are so right that these thoughts and even our old stories don’t define us. Where I learned self-love and self-compassion was in The Institute of The Work. If you look back over your top 10 defining moments (good and bad) in your life and question what you made that story mean, you will see how your thoughts hurt you and that you did the best you could but believed something not true because it wasn’t questioned. So remember to keep anything positive you hear and if it’s verbal write in on an index card and put a cork board near your desk. The mind remembers negative (there’s a real negativity bias) and not so much the positive. The world needs you, Maureen. You are deeply wise and spiritual and most of all compassionate. These are your divine gifts God made you to share.

  3. I love that you’re addressing this issue, Sherold. And it applies equally to men as women. A photographer buddy and I used to say, “Is this the day they find out we don’t know what the hell we’re talking about?” almost as a mantra before each big photo shoot we collaborated on. Obviously, we said it before the client arrived and almost like a spell to diffuse tension and ward off evil spirits, kind of like an actor says, “break a leg”…but we were really only half joking. And the amazing thing is, even after more than 20 years of gaining focus, insight, and expertise, I still feel this way more frequently than I like to admit. It’s almost like the more successful and expert you become, the more worry is there. I love that you acknowledge and validate this as a real psychological syndrome, the whys, and your pointers to combat it. In fact, I like it so much I’ve shared this out via Twitter, LinkedIn and the Gist Brands Facebook page!

  4. Hi Jason – I was surprised by how it mostly affect successful people and what the research shows is that the higher you go or the more money you make, the more you will feel it. There was more about parental expectations too. What I found interesting was that it impacts solopreneurs. I see that in my work with people. Most of the biggest issues in starting a business or running a business are playing small, hiding out, inner critic and they all have to do with feeling not “good enough” or having “enough experience” or enough of __________. This is why being the observer of your thoughts is key and having a way to track the positives so your mind can see them easily is important. I have my own “Hall of Champions” board above my desk. It helps to look there when my inner critic tells me I’m not enough of whatever. Thank you for writing, reading and reposting my friend!

Comments are closed.