“At any time I still expect that the no-talent police will come and arrest me.” Actor, writer, director Mike Myers
Many talented and creative people experience impostor feelings and beliefs about themselves, despite their accomplishments.
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.
One example is actor Emma Watson, who 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.”
“Have I ever thought I was a fraud? Maybe 18 hours a day. Do I spend more time damning myself than promoting myself? Absolutely.” Actor Gerard Butler (“Phantom of the Opera” and other movies), in my post Impostor phenomenon: Gerard Butler.
Tilda Swinton won an Academy Award for her acting in the outstanding movie “Michael Clayton,” but on the Charlie Rose Show she admitted, “I certainly never set out to be an actor, and I still find it embarrassing when I hear myself referred to as an actor. I expect real actors to stand up and protest: She’s a fraud.”
That kind of self-doubt also impacted Jodie Foster years ago, who said that before her Oscar-winning performance in “The Accused” she felt “like an impostor, faking it, that someday they’d find out I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t. I still don’t.” [From my article Gifted Women: Identity and Expression.]
This kind of insecurity isn’t limited to actors, of course.
Jonathan Safran Foer, author of “Everything Is Illuminated,” which made The New York Times best-seller list, once commented, “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.”
Read more quotes related to impostor feelings by Taylor Swift, Will Smith, John Lennon, Emily Mortimer, Alison Pill, Meryl Streep and others in my article: Talented and insecure.
With this sort of insecurity, fear and self-criticism, people who feel like impostors will often “play it safe” by avoiding exposure through competitiveness and challenge, maybe not even attempting a creative project, out of a self-limiting belief of being incompetent.
Feeling like a fraud is clearly not based on a real lack of talent or achievement – and the Impostor Syndrome goes beyond lack of confidence.
In his book Toxic Criticism, Eric Maisel, PhD talks about how “criticism and self-criticism interfere with our ability to find our life purpose and live as strongly, passionately, and effectively as we would like to live.”
See more in his article: Silencing Self-Criticism.
Valerie Young, who has studied this for years, says that for impostors self-doubt is chronic, but can be changed. She refers to the book by Carol Dweck, Mindset, and says, “Our perceptions of what it takes to be competent, has a powerful impact on how you measure yourself and therefore how you approach achievement itself.”
She has developed a program to help: Overcome the Impostor Syndrome – which lists:
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 Overcome the Impostor Syndrome for more.
More resources for overcoming impostor feelings and limiting beliefs
Articles: The Impostor Syndrome – Finding a Name for the Feelings, by Dr. Valerie Young.
Belief change expert Morty Lefkoe, psychologist and creativity coach Eric Maisel and others address how limiting beliefs (which may fuel impostor feelings) can be challenged. – See my article (with video) Changing Our Thinking and Beliefs.
Also see his Natural Confidence Program : “Morty’s got a technique that works like magic.” Jack Canfield, New York Times Best-Selling author.
[This article updated from one originally published June 23, 2010]