Many talented and creative people experience impostor or fraud feelings and beliefs about themselves, despite their accomplishments.
How can we change those feelings to be more confident and creative?
Lupita Nyong’o had not yet graduated from Yale Drama School when she was cast by Steve McQueen for his powerful movie 12 Years a Slave.
Nyong’o: “I was extremely excited and of course, extremely intimidated.
“I had impostor syndrome until the day I landed in Louisiana. I was certain that I was going to be fired.
“I was certain I was going to receive a call and they were going to say, ‘I’m sorry, we made a mistake.’ Every single day.
“And it wasn’t until the day I was flying to Louisiana that they made the announcement on Deadline that Patsey had been cast. So the whole time I was like [whispers], ‘Maybe they’re reconsidering. They must be reconsidering.’
“Luckily, I wasn’t fired. [Laughs.] My friends can definitely attest to that.”
Also see video: Oscars 2014 | Lupita Nyong’o: ‘Impostor’ to Ingénue by The New York Times, Feb 28, 2014.
“This year’s Oscar ingenue is Ms. Nyong’o of “12 Years a Slave.” She says it took encouragement to get over the feeling of being an outsider, a phenomenon she dubs “acute impostor syndrome.”
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Some more examples of impostor feelings and thinking:
“I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?” (Meryl Streep)
“I convince myself I’m fooling people.” (Jonathan Safran Foer)
“Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud.” (Emma Watson)
“I felt inadequate the entire time I was in graduate school.” (Rosalyn Lang, Ph.D.)
Valerie Young, Ed.D. is an expert on impostor syndrome and commented in an Entrepreneur magazine article:
“Millions of people, from entrepreneurs to celebrities, have a hard time internalizing their accomplishments.”
The article author notes “the impostor syndrome is especially common among people who become successful quickly or early, and among outsiders, such as women in male-dominated industries.”
Dr. Young adds, “They explain away their success as luck or timing. They feel this sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
From Fake It Until You Make It: How to Believe in Yourself When You Don’t Feel Worthy by Nadia Goodman.
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“The assumption that you have to know everything before you consider yourself competent is a big reason why you – and a lot of other people – walk around feeling like a clueless fraud.” ~ Dr. Valerie Young
Learn more about programs by Valerie Young including her informative webinar: “Instant Confidence” – visit her site:
She explains more in this video:
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Alicia Vikander talked about some of the consequences of impostor syndrome, such as chronic insecurity at some level.
She said in an interview, about her current fame and success as an actor:
”I suffer from a constant anxiety that what’s happening to me isn’t going to last forever. It’s a tough industry. Really tough.
“And I’m constantly preparing myself for it to go wrong.”
From article: Alicia Vikander wows in a pretty floral skirt for new shoot as she admits to ‘suffering anxiety’ about her success By Colette Fahy for MailOnline 30 July 2015.
Vikander is a 2016 Golden Globes nominee for Best Actress, Drama, in “The Danish Girl.”
The photo is from Interview: Alicia Vikander talks ‘The Danish Girl’.
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“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’” Maya Angelou
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The Impostor Syndrome … “can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true.
“It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence… is associated with highly achieving, highly successful people…” [From publication by Caltech.]
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For the tenth anniversary (in 1962) of her record-breaking play The Mousetrap, a party was held at the ultra posh Savoy hotel in London to honor her achievement.
She went to a private room where the party was to be held, but the doorman didn’t recognize her, and sent her away as a guest arriving too early.
In An Autobiography, the famously shy Christie (1890-1976) wrote:
“Like a coward, I accepted the rebuff, turned tail and wandered miserably round the corridors of the Savoy, trying to get up my courage to go back and say — in effect, like Margot Asquith — “I’m Me!”
Also in her Autobiography she commented on fraud feelings:
“I don’t know whether every author feels it, but I think quite a lot do — that I am pretending to be something I am not, because, even nowadays, I do not quite feel as though I am an author.”
In one of her Hercule Poirot stories – Mrs. McGinty’s Dead – she wrote: “Authors were shy, unsociable creatures, atoning for their lack of social aptitude by inventing their own companions and conversations.”
The photo is from article (with podcast): Episode 48: Agatha Christie by The History Chicks.
There are many other shy writers and other artists – see articles:
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“You think, ‘Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?’” Meryl Streep
Above quotes are from the Overcome the Impostor Syndrome site.
Go to the site to learn about the “Instant Confidence” webinars by Dr. Valerie Young:
* “Why the impostor syndrome is not “just low self-esteem”
* “Creative ways “impostors” discount or minimize their success
* “Learn practical strategies for interrupting the Impostor Syndrome that you can start using immediately”
[Read more about Dr. Young and see video near the bottom of this article.]
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Actor Emma Watson has commented about its impact for her:
“It’s almost like the better I do, the more my feeling of inadequacy actually increases, because I’m just going, Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud, and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved.
“I can’t possibly live up to what everyone thinks I am and what everyone’s expectations of me are.”
She added, “After Harry Potter I didn’t feel very confident in myself as an actor. It’s lucky that I’ve improved that now, but back then I needed someone to believe in me, and Stephen really did.”
[Referring to ‘The Perks Of Being A Wallflower’ director Stephen Chbosky.]
[Quotes from DailyMail 29 May 2013.]
In a 2015 article, she expresses more perspectives:
“Emma Watson exudes confidence onscreen, particularly as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter film franchise. Appearances can be deceiving as the 25-year-old movie star admits to Vogue U.K. she isn’t always so sure of her acting abilities.
“Asked whether acting comes naturally, Watson—who graduated from Brown University last year—isn’t sure.
“It’s something I’ve really wrestled with. I’ve gone back and I’ve quizzed my parents. When I was younger, I just did it. I just acted. It was just there. So now when I receive recognition for my acting, I feel incredibly uncomfortable.
“I tend to turn in on myself,” she admits. “I feel like an imposter.”
From Emma Watson Feels Like an Imposter, Not an Actress by Zach Johnson Aug 3, 2015.
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“Sometimes I wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do this; I’m a fraud. They’re going to fire me — all these things. I’m fat; I’m ugly…”
Kate Winslet – even after her Academy Award nominations for Titanic (1997) and Sense and Sensibility (1995).
> Read more in article The impostor phenomenon – Feeling like a fraud.
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Jonathan Safran Foer commented about his novel Everything Is Illuminated, which made The New York Times best-seller list:
“I can be very hard on myself. I convince myself that I’m fooling people. Or, I convince myself that people like the book for the wrong reasons.”
He also said, “The writing itself is no big deal. The editing, and even more than that, the self-doubt, is excruciatingly impossible.
“Profound, bottomless self-doubt: it has no value, what’s the point? In a way, that takes up as much time as anything else.”
“People are going to realize that I’m a great fraud and [my career] will end, so I better make sure this is a good show because it’ll be my last. Part of me feels that way every day.”
From post: Rachel Maddow Gets Depressed by David Dobbs, Wired mag. – quoting from Fresh Air interview with Terri Gross.
[Photo: Rachel Maddow with her dog, Poppy. From www.rachelmaddow.com.]
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Do you relate to those ideas and feelings? Or these:
* Do you secretly worry that others will find out that you’re not as bright and capable as they think you are?
* Do you tend to chalk your accomplishments up to being a “fluke,” “no big deal” or the fact that people just “like” you?
* Do you hate making a mistake, being less than fully prepared or not doing things perfectly?
* Do you tend to feel crushed by even constructive criticism, seeing it as evidence of your “ineptness?”
These questions are from the longer Impostor Syndrome Quiz on the site for the Overcome the Impostor Syndrome program by Dr. Young.
One of the quotes on the site:
“Women have always had a more layered definition of success, which means it’s just as likely that your anxiety could be signaling a mismatch between the social definition of success and what matters most to you.”
[Photo from post: Creating money: The inner and outer work of financial goals By Molly Gordon.]
Valerie Young is also author of “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It.”
Dr. Young notes on her site that this is not an issue for only one gender.
“Men are attending my seminars in increasing numbers, and among graduate students the male-female ratio is roughly fifty-fifty.
“I’ve heard from or worked with countless men who suffer terribly from their fraud fears, including a member of the Canadian mounted police, an attorney who’d argued before the Supreme Court, a corporate CEO, and an entire team of aerospace engineers, one of whom spoke of the ‘sheer terror’ he feels when handed a major assignment.”
Referring to her book, she says “Despite the title you will find male voices reflected in the book. Once you read the book it will be clear why, in the end, there were more reasons than not to focus more so on women.”
[Quotes from post: Talented and insecure.]
“I still believe that at any time the no-talent police will come and arrest me.” Mike Myers [imdb.com] — He is an actor, comedian, screenwriter, soundtrack composer, film producer, and he paints, writes haikus, makes short videos and more.
“That’s all I want to do, is just make stuff…It connects me to creativity, which is to me the greatest gift my family gave me: saying that being an artist is a noble profession. At the end of the day I’m an artist. Sometimes it’s in the comedy arts.”
From Mike Myers’s Comeback is Groovy, Baby By Chris Heath.
Meryl Streep has said, “I have varying degrees of confidence and self-loathing….
“You can have a perfectly horrible day where you doubt your talent… Or that you’re boring and they’re going to find out that you don’t know what you’re doing.”
This is not an isolated feeling or an issue for only a few talented people.
Over the many years of researching creative people and reading many interviews with high ability people, I have seen quotes like Streep’s showing up often.
Read more in my High Ability site post ‘I’m a Fraud’: Gifted and talented with insecurity.
[Photo: Colin Firth and Meryl Streep – from post: We Need Healthy Self Respect to Be More Creative.]
Also see related quotes by Taylor Swift, Will Smith, John Lennon and others in article: Talented and Insecure.
The Psychology Today article, Field Guide to The Self-Doubter: Extra Credit, by Susan Pinker, excerpted below, brings insight into the thoughts and feelings many people have about being frauds, incompetent or impostors:
Not giving herself credit
“Rosalyn Lang has a Ph.D. in molecular biology, has just completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Duke University, and recently launched her own consulting firm.
“In other words, she’s a walking advertisement for what it takes to be successful in science: smarts, opportunity, and perseverance.
“Yet when she looks back, she takes little credit for her successes.”
“I felt inadequate the entire time I was in graduate school. If I got a nice compliment, I just felt, ‘What? They’re trying to pull my leg! I can get kicked out at any minute.”
“Lang now realizes she wasn’t really an impostor. She just felt like one. Like many highly accomplished women, Lang suffered from ‘impostor syndrome.’ On the outside, she was a star and a role model. Secretly, though, she chalked up her successes to powers beyond her control, and meanwhile felt personally responsible for any failures—a feeling shared by 93 percent of African-American female college students, according to one study.”
External success. Internal agony
“According to recent studies of medical, dental, and nursing students with impostor feelings, the phenomenon is linked to perfectionism, burnout, and depression. This was true for Rosalyn Lang, whose impostor feelings drove her to work harder.”
“The work ethic was great. That’s the kind of focus you need to get everything done in graduate school,” she said.
“But ‘internal agony’ was how she described her psychological state.”
Actor Tilda Swinton
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Related book on dealing with these feelings and self-criticism: The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, by Dr. Valerie Young.
video: Valerie Young: Overcoming the Impostor Syndrome
From The University of Pennsylvania Career Services office
Learn more about her program:
Six steps for matching perceptions to reality.
- Separate your self-assessments from objective evaluations of your skills. Group-based evaluations, promotions, and letters of reference are less biased than the world seen through “impostor”-colored glasses.
- Give yourself opportunities to compete. Don’t let your self-judgment prevent you demonstrating what you know.
- Reduce your isolation. Talk about your feelings with trusted friends and colleagues. Seek out a mentor or advocate in your organization who believes in you.
- Enjoy your successes and acknowledge praise when it comes your way.
- Resist the impulse to deny and deflect compliments.
- Remember that those who project an air of confidence may not know more than you do. Research shows that most people overestimate their abilities.
See the site Overcome the Impostor Syndrome for more.
More resources for overcoming impostor feelings and limiting beliefs
See the Impostor syndrome page for quotes, articles, books etc.
The Impostor Syndrome – Finding a Name for the Feelings, by Dr. Valerie Young.
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Article: How to build confidence by belief change educator and coach Morty Lefkoe.
In another article (“Are you really an imposter?” on his site mortylefkoe.com), he quotes Joyce M. Roche, author of the book The Empress Has No Clothes: Conquering Self-Doubt to Embrace Success:
“Impostor syndrome is the fear and self-doubt that causes people to question their abilities—even in the face of success—and to constantly search for external validation. Simply put, it makes it difficult to recognize and celebrate one’s strengths and accomplishments.”
Lefkoe writes about some of the underlying beliefs and ideas:
“One belief that could explain the doubts experienced by successful people is I’m a fake, a fraud and a phony. Sometimes this belief is formed in childhood when parents or other significant adults acknowledge you frequently for things when you don’t think you deserve the praise.
“An example could be parents who say: ‘This is a beautiful picture you drew,’ when you don’t think it is beautiful at all.
“Or: ‘You are such a good boy,’ when you know you did things that would make them angry if they knew.
“This belief can also be formed as an adult after you have become successful if you have a number of negative self-esteem beliefs and feel you couldn’t possible deserve your success given your negative opinion of yourself.”
He adds, “Another belief that could cause the imposter syndrome is I’m not deserving. This belief is almost always formed in childhood when parents say: ‘You don’t deserve to have [something you want] because you didn’t do what you were told.’
“Or: ‘You should be ashamed of yourself.’ Or: ‘Your sister deserves the present because she was good and you weren’t.’ You then conclude: If I’m bad or if I did something wrong, I don’t deserve to have what I want. I guess I’m just not deserving.”
To experience The Lefkoe Method program for FREE to overcome a self-limiting belief like those above, go to his site ReCreate Your Life.
Also see his Natural Confidence Program : “Morty’s got a technique that works like magic.” Jack Canfield, New York Times Best-Selling author.
Another supporter of The Lefkoe Method: Chris Attwood:
Books on the topic:
“The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It” by Dr. Valerie Young.
“The Impostor Syndrome: How to Replace Self-Doubt with Self-Confidence and Train Your Brain for Success by John Graden.
Beating the Impostor Syndrome
by Portia Mount, Susan Tardanico, Center for Creative Leadership.
Executive coaches Portia Mount and Susan Tardanico explore a dynamic that has affected world-class leaders and artists from Lean In author and Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg and creative genius Maya Angelou to actors Meryl Streep, Will Smith and Tina Fey.
Mount and Tardanico estimate that two-thirds of the more than 100 executives they have coached struggle with Impostor Syndrome, which occurs when successful and intelligent professionals feel they have faked their way to success.
“Impostor Syndrome causes negative stress, fear, anxiety and loss of confidence,” says Mount, senior vice president of marketing and chief of staff at CCL. “It can knock careers off track and also harm team morale and organizational performance through micromanagement, slow decision making and perfectionism.”
Flawed personal beliefs about success, failure and self-worth lie at the root of the problem. Beating the Impostor Syndrome takes readers through a four-step process for overcoming this debilitating mode of thinking.
“It takes emotional honesty, introspection and feedback from others to achieve the self-awareness and self-acceptance needed to combat Impostor Syndrome,” says Tardanico, CEO of the Authentic Leadership Alliance and executive in residence at CCL. “But the time and energy invested produce substantial dividends in terms of health, outlook and performance.”
Based on CCL research and extensive experience with clients, the four steps Mount and Tardanico recommend for battling Impostor Syndrome include:
Focus on the Facts: Look back over your career and objectively assess your achievements, specifying the challenges you faced, the accomplishments you experienced and the skills, capabilities and qualities that helped you succeed.
Challenge Your Limiting Beliefs: Examine your deep-seated beliefs about criteria for success. Then, look for facts or examples to test whether these criteria are actually valid, and how they might hold you back.
Get Clear on Your Strengths: Instead of focusing on your weaknesses, make an inventory of your strengths, listing at least 10 things you do well and reflecting on how to leverage them more fully.
Talk About It: Have conversations with trusted friends, advisers and executive coaches about your self-perceptions that reinforce the positive changes you are making.
[From the Center for Creative Leadership www.ccl.org.]