Maybe you know the feeling: You were given your position by mistake — you’re not qualitied or you don't believe you hold the necessary leadership qualities, and every day you wonder when people will figure it out. It’s been called “impostor syndrome,” and you’re in good company.
Among those reported to suffer from it are successful people like writer Neil Gaiman, power-exec Sheryl Sandberg, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, actress Emma Watson, and even Albert Einstein, of all people. In a way, it simply means you’ve made it.
OK, It’s Not Really a Disease
The phrase “impostor syndrome” is actually a misnomer, according to Pauline Rose Glance, who, with Suzanne Imes, first used the term in an article published in 1978. Glance now wishes she’d called it the “impostor phenomenon,” since it’s not really a disease with a cure as suggested by its popular name.
It’s Not Just for Women
At first, imposter phenomenon, which we’ll abbreviate as IP, was thought to be primarily a women’s problem. It was viewed as a kind of internalized sexism, since “success for women is contraindicated by societal expectations and their own internalized self-evaluations.” More recent studies such as the one done by the University of South Florida, have shown it’s not gender-specific after all.
It happens in lots of career types too, according Harvard social psychologist Amy Cuddy in her book Presence, having been found in “dozens of demographic groups.”
Even so, IP is still often discussed as a primarily female issue. Cuddy suspects that that is because men reveal feelings of inadequacy less freely and also because women’s “chronic self-doubt tends to hold them back more.”
“Most high-IP people that I have worked with are liked and respected and they’re competent,” Glance told L. V. Anderson of Slaterecently. “The humility that IP people have can be appealing.”
The best way to lessen the impact of IP is to realize how widespread it is among successful people who obviously do belong in their positions. After all, to some extent, even the most accomplished people feel like they’re bluffing at times. Acclaimed actress Jodie Foster even thought they were coming to take back her Oscar.