Yes, You Can Overcome Impostor's Syndrome — Here's How

© eldadcarin / Adobe Stock

Woman grimacing

© eldadcarin / Adobe Stock

Profile Picture
Miriam Grobman10
I still remember my first day in my college's "Intro to Computer Science" class. It felt like I was the only person in the room who hadn't started programming at the age of 12. I also couldn't understand the professor's "techie" jokes, while everyone around me seemed to be having such a great time. Despite struggling through my entire first semester, I kept on going and stuck it out. Thankfully, I can say that the story has a happy ending — I ended up graduating in the top 10 percent of my class.

I felt the same way during the analyst training for my first job on Wall Street, the first months of business school and for about a year as a strategy manager in Brazil. As an entrepreneur, I still get this feeling very often. 

In all cases, I found that persistence and resilience helped me overcome the initial learning curve and the naysayer comments. I (mostly) proved to myself that I was just as capable as everyone else thought — if not more — and that I deserved to be there

Later on in life, I learned that I had experienced a classic case of impostor's syndrome. What is impostor's syndrome?

"The false and sometimes crippling belief that one's successes are the product of luck or fraud rather than skill."

The term was coined by American psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, who published an article called "The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention" in the 1978 journal "Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice." In the article, they provide an extensive definition of impostor's syndrome:

"The term "impostor phenomenon" is used to designate an internal experience of intellectual phoniness that appears to be particularly prevalent and intense among a select sample of high achieving women…. Despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the impostor phenomenon persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise."

In the following years, additional research showed that the imposter syndrome was not unique to women; both sexes were equally likely to experience it. Men were just afraid to talk about it. 

Many of my students in the Master Influencer Boot Camp for Women report that they experience the impostor syndrome, so I want to offer some solutions.

According to resilience expert, former lawyer and my friend, Paula Davis-Laack, there are three things you could to do overcome the impostor's syndrome:
1. Get more social support by cultivating high-quality relationships at work.
Cultivate high-quality relationships at work. Whenever you doubt yourself or need a boost of positivity, your colleagues can remind you that you earned your success; you didn't just get lucky.
2. Prove to yourself that you're capable of achieving results by mastering tasks successfully, observing others whom you respect and admire, and listening to those who praise your abilities.
When you successfully complete a task, take a moment to acknowledge your success. When a colleague compliments your work, don't protest. When your boss offers tries to reward your work, don't say you don't deserve it. Learning to lean into your successes is key, so if you have trouble doing it by yourself, let the words of others do it for you.
3. Turn your inner-critic to your inner-coach by understanding and labeling these feelings and anxiety, and talking about them. Understand the root causes but also have some self-compassion. Know that this is a common thinking style that can be corrected with practice and self-awareness.
When that voice of self-doubt begins to get loud, take a moment to acknowledge where that voice is coming from. By learning to recognize your anxiety and label it appropriately, you'll be able to further your self-awareness and mindfulness skills.
If you know someone who may be suffering from impostor's syndrome, be a supportive ally. Give them perspective, highlight their past and present achievements and celebrate their successes with them. Finally, challenge them to strive higher.  
Miriam Grobman Consulting works with organizations that want to advance more talented women into leadership roles by breaking cultural barriers and giving them the right skills to be successful. Their approach is data-driven, global and collaborative. Contact them here if you’d like to discuss the right strategy for your organization. Learn more at and sign up for their newsletter.