Dealing with Imposter Syndrome

Have you ever doubted your own abilities?

Perhaps that is just a Tuesday for you. Unsure of your capabilities to deal with the things that are right in front of you.

Or maybe a new project that was assigned to you. Something that you never done before. 

You are constantly thinking: “Oh my god. Where do I even begin? People are going to find out I’m a fraud.”


You are part of a club that includes a list of luminaries and celebrities. 

They include:

  • Michelle Obama – Admitted that her imposter syndrome “never goes away” during a discussion about her memoir “Becoming”.
  • Tom Hanks – Expressed concerns about delivering emotional goods in his acting and the fear of being caught faking it.
  • Tina Fey – Discussed her feelings of being a fraud and how she vacillates between egomania and feeling like an imposter.
  • Padma Lakshmi – Spoke about feeling like an imposter during her first season of “Top Chef”
  • Wolfgang Puck – Mentioned his fear of failure and imposter syndrome when opening new restaurants.
  • Sheryl Sandberg – Has often admitted to feeling like an imposter, as detailed in her book “Lean In”
  • Emma Watson – Publicly admitted to feeling like an imposter when receiving recognition for her acting
  • David Bowie – Covered his feelings of inadequacy with constant work and had low self-esteem
  • Serena Williams – Admitted to copying her older sister Venus and struggling to become her own person
  • Howard Schultz – Expressed feelings of being undeserving and insecure as the CEO of Starbucks
  • Albert Einstein – Felt like an involuntary swindler due to the exaggerated esteem for his work
  • Maya Angelou – Felt like a fraud despite having written numerous books
  • Barbara Corcoran – Felt like an absolute fraud even after selling her business for $66 million.
  • Lady Gaga – Has spoken about feeling like an imposter despite her success.
  • Awkwafina – Discussed feeling like an imposter and questioning why she was successful over others.

The list goes on.

This feeling came to me recently as I was selected as one of ETHRWorld Southeast Asia HR Influencers List 2024.

I wonder how much longer it would take for them to realise that I have not spend a single official minute as a HR.

Granted I did perform that function when I was running my own business. 

But I also perform toilet cleaning duties too because we don’t have money to outsource or hire someone else to do it.

Let’s get to the definition of Imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome, also known as impostor phenomenon or impostorism, is a psychological pattern where individuals doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” 

Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this syndrome do not believe they deserve their success, attributing it to luck, timing, or deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent than they perceive themselves to be. 

This syndrome can stem from and result in strained personal relationships and hinder individuals from achieving their full potential.

How Imposter Syndrome Affects People

Imposter syndrome can significantly impact an individual’s mental health and overall well-being. Some of the key effects include:

  • Anxiety and Inadequacy: Individuals may experience persistent feelings of anxiety regarding their ability to succeed, leading to a sense of inadequacy and incompetence.
  • Avoidance of Challenges: The fear of being exposed as a fraud may lead people to avoid challenges or opportunities for growth, limiting their personal and professional development.
  • Struggle with Self-Worth: People with imposter syndrome often undermine the worth of their achievements, resulting in a persistent sense of incompetency.
  • Difficulty Accepting Positive Feedback: Successes are often attributed to external factors beyond their control, such as luck or the contributions of others, rather than their own skills and efforts. I always cringe when I am on the receiving end of positive feedback.
  • Negative Impact on Relationships and Work: The syndrome can have a detrimental effect on relationships, work performance, job satisfaction, and life satisfaction. It can be particularly challenging for women and underrepresented groups.
  • Mental Health Issues: Corresponding mental health issues may include depression, low self-esteem, and perfectionism, which can further exacerbate the feelings of being an imposter.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Further research (which includes a single prompt in Perplexity) reveals that while imposter syndrome is not recognised as a formal mental disorder, there are strategies to overcome these feelings:

  • Awareness: Recognizing the signs of imposter syndrome is the first step towards addressing it.
  • Self-Compassion: Practicing self-compassion and valuing one’s self-worth can be powerful in combating feelings of inadequacy.
  • Seeking Support: Talking about feelings of imposter syndrome with mentors, peers, or a therapist can provide perspective and validation.
  • Reframing Thoughts: Challenging and reframing the negative thoughts that fuel imposter syndrome can help individuals recognize their achievements and worth.
  • Celebrating Successes: Actively acknowledging and celebrating successes can help in internalizing accomplishments.

Outside of speaking to a therapist, I am attempting these strategies. It may take more efforts to overcome decades of Imposter syndrome but it is a good start.

One thing I did was to examine the things I can do with ease now. E.g. public speaking, appearing on camera, hosting a podcast.

Years ago, my imposter syndrome would kicked in in my attempts of them.

Now it is just another weekday assignment.

Just like practising gratitude, it requires intentional reminder to oneselves.

Blend that into the facts that even Einstein can have imposter syndrome, it isn’t unique to some. 

Perhaps that is the sign of growth as we continue to traverse into the paths of unknowns.

And that is how we know we are growing and levelling up.

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