Am I a fraud? Learn more about imposter syndrome

Written By Kimberlee Joi

I have always been an extremely driven person.  Once I set a goal for myself and I reach it, I am subconsciously pondering a new endeavour, a future challenge: the thing I want to conquer next.  While I’ve accomplished most of my goals, my success hasn’t come without its pains along the way. Despite my ambitious nature, I struggle with self-confidence at times. Continuously, I operate within a state of anxiety, questioning in the back of my mind whether I’m good enough to make my dreams come true; ironically when those dreams do come to fruition, I begin to question if I deserve it.    

This sort of intellectual self-doubt is not an anomaly among women like me. In fact it is a phenomenon that has been around for decades.  In the late 1970s Drs. Suzanne Imes, PhD and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD noticed a trend among high achieving women who were unable to internalize and accept their own success.  Dr. Imes and Dr. Clance found that women who constantly doubted their own talents and abilities, and the fruit and successes of those talents and abilities, were likely suffering from “imposter syndrome.”

Imposter syndrome leads a person to believe their accomplishments are not a result of their own inherent ability, but rather an upshot of external factors such as timing, outside help, or even some fortuitous happenstance such as luck. Because those who suffer from imposter syndrome do not believe that they are capable, there is an underlying fear that they will be “outed” as a fraud for not actually being as intelligent or talented or competent as other people may perceive they are.

 Although anyone can suffer from imposter syndrome, the syndrome affects women and minorities more greatly than other groups of people. 

 Considering that women are expected to underperform in the professional world when compared to their male counterparts, it’s no surprise that the phenomenon of women underselling themselves abounds just about everywhere. The effects of impostor syndrome often show up in the workforce from the time a woman applies for a job up until the point she must negotiate her salary.   A recent experiment in 2014 revealed that women in the workforce negotiate for salaries that are an average of $7,000 less than the men. Studies have also shown that women are much less likely to apply for a position unless they are certain they meet 100 percent of the prerequisite qualifications. Whereas, men tend to send in their resumes if the possess only 60 percent of the job qualifications. 

Minorities suffer similar experiences. A 2013 study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin surveyed ethnic-minority college students and found that Asian-Americans were the most likely to experience imposter syndrome among all the ethnic groups surveyed.

 Although research has found that suffering from imposter syndrome is usually rooted in family relationships and the messaging we receive from our parents as children, there is also evidence that women and minorities seem to experience impostor syndrome more frequently and more acutely than men because of pre-existing sexist and racist stereotypes.

For minorities and women, for instance, suffering from impostor syndrome may be rooted in pre-existing negative stereotypes about their social groups, such as the stereotypes that women are bad in certain fields like science and math, or that black people are less intelligent and/or less hardworking. That is, women and minorities may already be battling with outside voices telling them they are not competent. They make an agreement with these negative stereotypes and begin to believe that they lack the inherent ability to be successful. 

 These women and minorities begin to exhibit typical symptoms of imposter syndrome: anxiety, depression, lack of self- confidence, perfectionism, and the frustration associated with the inability to meet these self-induced standards of perfection.

 One would assume that those who have the greatest doubts about their own abilities must be the least able. But, that hasn’t proven true. Imposter syndrome is most common among high-achievers. There is psychological evidence suggesting that those who are extremely confident sometimes lack self-awareness and thus are unable to realize how competent they truly are. Conversely, those who question their ability are self-aware enough to know they may not be able.  In a study performed by Justin Kruger and David Dunning, results demonstrated that those who performed the worst were also the worst at estimating their own aptitude.

Whenever I am facing a new endeavor I always seem to let those uncertainties about my ability creep in. Once I begin to put my talents to use, and I take an objective look at what I am able to achieve, I realize how irrational my fears were all along.  Of course it is okay to experience fear and uncertainty, those are average human emotions, but do not let your self-doubts keep you from attaining your next goal; walk through these fears and uncertainties anyway. You’ll find that once you push through, you’re just as capable or even more so than many others.

Learn to move forward despite your inner voice telling you that you’re not good enough or that you might fail. Even if you set a goal and do not meet it, do not let that failure define you; remember, that bump in the road is a huge opportunity for growth. Do not view failure as a reflection of your ability or lack thereof.

Suggested Reading:  The Empress Has No Clothes: Conquering Self-Doubt to Embrace Success by Joyce Roche


Kimberlee Joi is currently a part-time blogger/freelance writer and litigation attorney with more than 12 years of experience in the field of labor and employment law.  Her blog, scrivenista, is her passion made visible through writing.  Kimberlee Joi is a political enthusiast, passionate foodie, and recovering coffee-addict. In her free time she enjoys traveling, reading, and binge-watching “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.”

[1] http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2014/04/08/300290240/why-women-dont-ask-for-more-money

[2] https://hbr.org/2014/08/why-women-dont-apply-for-jobs-unless-theyre-100-qualified

[3] http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx

[4] http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36082469