Squash Imposter Syndrome


I want to talk about the proverbial Impostor Syndrome.

Or more like, I want to take a different look at Impostor Syndrome and hopefully squash it once and for all to kick-ass and 10x your business.

I can’t tell you how many people I have heard this comment come from lately.

In this very crowded online world with bright shiny objects, and new versions of how to do anything from marketing, to scrubbing your toilet, it’s essential to figure out where you fit and how to you embrace being the specialist you are.

Being a specialist, or an expert if you like to call yourself that, is not about being a guru. It’s about knowing your craft so well that you can share how you do it with others.

You have a valuable skill and you’ve created processes that have helped you grow your business, but still the feeling creeps in…if they found out the truth about me they won’t hire me again.

The Imposter Syndrome

Here’s a definition from muse.com that I think does a good job …

Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

This is a good definition, where did it originate? It came out of a therapy session by Dr. Pauline Clance and one of her patients.

Clinical psychologist Pauline Clance and colleague Suzanne Imes coined the term “impostor phenomenon” in a 1978 paper in Psychotherapy Theory, Research and Practice. They gave this name to high-performing but inwardly anxious women who were among the professionals attending Clance’s group-therapy sessions.1

According to Pauline Rose Clance PhD, early on, this phenomenon was associated with women, a belief that persists today. But subsequent studies, including another by Clance, have shown that men are affected in equal numbers.2

The thing is, hats off to you guys, men have been brought up to be able to puff out their chests and say “hey look what I’ve done”

Where us gals, women, were taught differently, to keep our accomplishments to ourselves, “don’t brag” or “keep it to yourself.” Its our job to take care of things behind the scenes without asking for accolades?

It is estimated that 70% of people will experience at least one episode of this Impostor Phenomenon in their lives (Gravois, 2007). Harvey (1981) asserted that anyone can view themselves as an impostor if they fail to internalise their success and this experience is not limited to people who are highly successful.34

We need to change the old thinking

I love that there are more girls in tech and science than ever before. This is not only helping boost confidence but also the data driven results that girls are seeing from their efforts.

Female students’ achievement in mathematics and science is on par with their male peers and female students participate in high level mathematics and science courses at similar rates as their male peers, with the exception of computer science and engineering (NSF, Science & Engineering Indicators, 2016).5

As a former teacher, my friend Stacia Guzzo and her NASA Engineer husband, created a company called  Handcrafted Honeybee, that is helping girls and boys to feel good about their accomplishments starting at a very young age.

Startups like HHB are creating awareness around nurturing the success and accomplishments of young boys and girls, and teaching them that it’s okay to succeed and be proud!

Let’s redefine Imposter Syndrome

I use the term myself. There are times when I certainly don’t feel like the most qualified person to talk about the subject at hand.

How can you not feel like a fraud in that situation?

My thoughts around this are, when we try to explain a subject or topic that’s new, or haven’t taken the scholarly deep dive into knowing more, we feel like we are “making it up”.

It’s the feeling of making it up that triggers different emotions and behaviors which makes us think we’re being fraudulent.

It’s all in our head!

“People aren’t very accurate at identifying how well or how poorly they’re doing,” says social psychology professor David Dunning of Cornell University. But accuracy in self-assessment can mean the difference between gracefully carrying on after an unusually poor performance and skulking away from future challenges.6

Let’s turn that around and instead of feeling like an imposter or a fraud, which you’re most likely not even if you feel this way, let’s just say you’re on a learning curve.

You’re not an imposter, you’re on a learning curve

When we learn something new there is always a learning curve.

Noel Burch, an employee with Gordon Training International, developed the Conscious Competence Ladder in the 1970s. It helps us understand our thoughts and emotions during the sometimes-dispiriting learning process.7

Eugene Schwartz, iconic advertising copywriter, identified five distinct levels of customer awareness in his book Breathrough Advertising, which I find helpful in more areas than copywriting.

When in the buying journey, people fall into 5 categories.

  • Unaware – don’t realize they have a problem and don’t know a better way exists.
  • Problem/Pain Aware – know they have a problem but don’t know there are possible solutions.
  • Solution Aware – know there are solutions available, but they don’t know a specific product or service that will help them.
  • Product Aware – knows there is a specific product that will help them.
  • Most Aware – knows a specific product as their solution, is enthusiastic about it and tells other people.

Can you see how this applies to more areas than just copywriting and marketing?


At the unaware level of awareness, we are at the level of unconscious incompetence meaning, we don’t know that we don’t know.

Then there’s the conscious incompetence stage meaning, oh sh*t now I really know that I don’t know.

Then we move into unconscious competence which is the point at which, I believe, Imposter Syndrome hits hard. This is the point at which we actually know something but feel we don’t know enough.

And then of course there’s the conscious competence which is when we absolutely know what we’re talking about.

In unconscious competence we notice a learning curve. There are new thoughts, beliefs, and feelings that trigger BS alarms to go off, all while we’re trying to keep it all together.

An article in The Atlantic cited a study by Cornell psychologist David Dunning and the Washington State University psychologist Joyce Ehrlinger.

The Dunning-Kruger effect: the tendency for some people to substantially overestimate their abilities. The less competent people are, the more they overestimate their abilities—which makes a strange kind of sense.8

“We wanted to see whether your general perception of Am I good in science? shapes your impression of something that should be separate: Did I get this question right?,”9

To show the real-world impact of self-perception, the students were then invited—having no knowledge of how they’d performed—to participate in a science competition for prizes. The women were much more likely to turn down the opportunity: only 49 percent of them signed up for the competition, compared with 71 percent of the men.10

In studies, men overestimate their abilities and performance, and women underestimate both. Their performances do not differ in quality.11 

Get rid of the negative self-talk

We have 50,000 to 60,000 thought that run through our minds on a daily basis.

Amazingly, 95 percent are the same thoughts repeated every day. On average, 80 percent of those habitual thoughts are negative. Unfortunately, our brains are hardwired to pay more attention to negative experiences than to positive ones.12

Instead – STOP yourself and challenge negative self-talk.

Disputing your self-talk means challenging the negative or unhelpful aspects. Doing this enables you to feel better and to respond to situations in a more helpful way.Learning to dispute negative thoughts might take time and practice, but is worth the effort. Once you start looking at it, you’ll probably be surprised by how much of your thinking is inaccurate, exaggerated, or focused on the negatives of the situation.13 

We all have experienced feelings of incompetence, self-doubt, and frustration at our own level of competence, whether working on a business project or talking to friends about a new hobby.

Many of us are all to quick to call out the Imposter Syndrome label on ourselves without even giving credit to where we are in a learning phase of a project – or life for that matter.

“We can’t peer into the minds of others and see that, ‘Wait a minute, everyone else is also just as mystified!’ ” says Kruger, so people need to make the effort to discuss their performance with their peers. When you discover that the people you admire (or fear) sometimes worry about their own achievements, it can give you perspective on your own anxieties.” As Kruger puts it, “nobody wants to entertain the possibility that they’re the only one who doesn’t get it.”14

Catch yourself when you feel “Impostor Syndrome” coming on. Tell yourself that you’re on a learning curve. And don’t compare yourself to others because, well, they probably feel it too.