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Imposter Syndrome – feeling like a fraud

June 2, 2010

Do you ever feel like a fraud…… that you’re not as good as others think you are, fear that you’ll get found out or put success down to luck or huge effort?   Feeling like a fraud and being a fraud are very different.    Feeling like a fraud is what is known as  Imposter syndrome and has been attracting attention in the public and academic press recently.   Dr Pauline Clance and Dr Susan Imes research in the late 70s and early 80s started out studying successful women, however research over the intervening years on successful males and females found that men can also experience ‘feeling like a fraud’.   

It was a relief for me when I first heard about imposter syndrome  having  experienced  the ‘I’m a fraud’  thoughts and feelings when I set paragliding World Records, putting it down to luck ‘I was just in the right place at the right time’, or  ‘if I can do it then lots of other people can too,’  or with my academic/professional qualifications ‘it was an easy exam paper’ or ‘I must have found the easy route’.    However once I start to challenge these ‘feeling like a fraud’ beliefs I soon realised that to have been successful, took me years of learning and practice to become expert enough to be successful.   Yes, you might get really, really lucky and set one world record through amazing luck, or get a really good grade in an exam through the right question.    However I can’t put three world records down to luck, or a number of professional qualifications down to ‘stumbling on an easy route’.   

If the idea of ‘being caught out’ or ‘feeling like a fraud’ hits a nerve with you a couple of techniques that might help overcome imposter syndrome are:

«  Challenge the irrational belief(s)

  • make a realistic and rational evidence based assessment of your success

«  Feed your successful beliefs through

  • keeping a success diary
  • accepting compliments and positive feedback

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