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What is Imposter Syndrome?

Overcoming Imposter SyndromeThis is an extract from my ebook, Overcoming Imposter Syndrome.

When Pauline Clance was in graduate school, she was constantly worrying that she wasn’t good enough. She didn’t think her performance in exams was adequate. She dwelt on the information she didn’t know instead of what she did. Her friends grew tired of hearing her worries, so she stopped sharing them. She managed to get good grades in her exams, but was still worried that she wasn’t measuring up to the achievements of others.

Pauline didn’t know it at the time, but she had Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome is not a medical condition. It is a term for the feeling you have when you believe that you do not really know what you are doing. You attend a meeting where the discussion goes over your head and you suddenly feel like an idiot. You believe that you are in completely the wrong job and the wrong company and you are in no way worthy of holding your current position. Surely it is only a matter of time before someone notices that you are not up to the job and fires you?

In reality, lots of people feel that they don’t measure up. When you take on something new – a new project, a new responsibility – you might be surrounded with people who are subject matter experts or who have been in a similar role as yours for years. It feels as if they know everything, and you don’t know anything at all.

That’s how Imposter Syndrome manifests itself: it undermines your self-confidence. It can hit anyone, at any time.

Worry, concern, fear, shame, embarrassment, being overwhelmed: all these are reasons that keep people quiet about their Imposter feelings. If you are brave enough to ask your colleagues whether they have ever felt as if they are splashing around in the deep end while everyone else swims gracefully by, then you are breaking the silence around Imposter Syndrome.

Go on, ask someone.

When you tell the truth about how you feel, you will encourage other people to do the same. Your truth gives them permission to act in the same way. And that changes things for everyone.

Feeling like a fraud is (unfortunately) normal. There is a name for these feelings and by now you know that the name is Imposter Syndrome. You are not alone in feeling like this, and just knowing that can be a step towards overcoming Imposter Syndrome, regaining your self-confidence and feeling like you have all the skills you need to tackle life at work.

Find out more about the book.


About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.


  1. gypc_dave says

    I’m looking forward to reading your new book, Elizabeth!  Have you formatted it as a Kindle book yet?  There’s a big market over here in the States, and based on the Republican Presidential primary debates this year, a lot of people who have every reason to feel like frauds.

    • Elizabeth says

      Hello Dave, it should be available on Kindle shortly. For some reason I thought you were based in the UK. I haven’t been following the primaries but the US certainly doesn’t have the monopoly on ‘interesting’ political figures!

  2. Andrew Ball says

    Elizabeth, you are to be congratulated for raising this important issue and, believe me, it’s not confined to women. In fact I would argue it is at least as common if not more so in men (think about it, when did you last hear a man ask for directions). I for one recognise this trait and if anything it is harder for people who have had the same job or worked in the same place for an extended period of time. That panic of feeling like a fraud and failing to cope is all too common when people find themselves facing unexpected career changes. I for one will be sharing this with my own professional network – good job. KRs, Andrew

    • Elizabeth says

      Thanks, Andrew. While all the research that Dr Pauline Clance and her colleagues did was on women, I think it is broadly recognised now that this is not at all a ‘women’s issue’. When people lose jobs, change jobs, get unexpectedly given more responsibility because a colleage isn’t replaced or is made redundant, men and women alike can feel uncomfortable because their situation is different to how it was before. Suddenly they are expected to know something that they didn’t before, and that can create that panicky fraud-like feeling.
      Look out for the book launch on Monday!


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