Get the upper hand on impostor syndrome

Five ways to silence your inner faker and reframe your accomplishments

3.4 min read

Imposter syndrome

When you were in school or starting a job, did you feel like you were “faking it till ya made it?” Did thoughts of self-doubt, inadequacy or being a fraud, despite evidence to the contrary, undermine your belief in yourself?

That feeling is called impostor syndrome (IS), and it’s a real thing. Although not technically a syndrome and more a pattern of feelings, it was first observed in high-achieving women in the late 1970s by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. Since then, it has been seen as a challenge for both women and men moving into positions of greater responsibility and achievement.

An equal opportunity syndrome, IS affects people of all ages and is widely experienced, according to an article in the International Journal of Behavioral Science. The article cites research estimating that 70% of people experience the feelings of IS at least once.

Even our most accomplished idols have had extreme doubts about their abilities and struggled to see their accomplishments clearly. The late poet, novelist and activist Maya Angelou once said, “I have written 11 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.’”

“Who am I to have success?” 

Even University of Phoenix alumna Jennifer Maggiore (BS in Business Marketing, 2005), who has launched numerous successful businesses, acknowledges moments of self-doubt. Now, with her latest venture, Catalyst Branding and Business Consulting, she’s helping other women navigate the challenges of entrepreneurship, including feelings associated with IS.

“I work with women who are so incredibly talented, but they’ll still ask themselves, ‘Who am I to have success?’” she says. “But when I’m working with clients, I’ll often caution them, ‘You don’t have to question your ability to do something.’”


"I work with women who are so incredibly talented, but they’ll still ask themselves, 'Who am I to have success?' But when I’m working with clients, I’ll often caution them, 'You don’t have to question your ability to do something.'"

Jennifer Maggiore (BS in Business Marketing, 2005), University of Phoenix


Taking charge

Self-doubt can surface when we’re making life-altering changes or we’re out of our comfort zone, such as searching for a new job or going back to school.

Students and alumni making major or minor life changes are counseled by University of Phoenix career coaches to take a “factual accomplishment inventory” to silence their inner impostor. They also offer the following advice, which is based on cognitive behavioral therapy:

  1. Become aware of negative thoughts. Many times, our thoughts are on autopilot and outside of our awareness. By identifying negative thoughts and then challenging ourselves to adopt a different perspective, we can “name and reframe” such thoughts.
  2. Welcome praise. Resist the impulse to pooh-pooh praise or to create excuses for why it’s undeserved.
  3. Start journaling. Getting thoughts “on paper” can help develop an awareness of negative patterns.
  4. Assess the facts. A track record of success and good deeds can work wonders in countering feelings of being a “fraud” or that we just got “lucky.”
  5. Create a “feel good” folder. Keep compliments, positive testimonials and other successes close at hand as a reminder. P.S. — That’s not phony … it’s real!

Self-doubt is natural for some people. And “faking it till ya make it” may be the right impulse for some situations (a late-night karaoke serenade, perhaps). But that doesn’t mean we should accept feelings of inadequacy without a fight. Use these simple tips to fortify your defenses against impostor syndrome, and the next time a big project, high-profile presentation or a promotion awakens your inner faker, you’ll have the tools to stand up for yourself.

By Spring Eselgroth, Senior Writer, University of Phoenix