Impostor – What If You Feel Like It’s You?

Imagine knowing that you are not the person that others seem to think you are. A true impostor. Like Ravi Desai, who persuaded Slate.com via e-mail that he was actually “Robert Klingler”, “North American head of BMW”. Slate published two articles by “Klingler” before alert readers pointed out that they could find no references to him after searching Google and Nexis[1].

This was not long after Desai had been asked to resign as CEO of a tech consulting company, a mere five days after getting the job. The company claimed that he had been falsifying contracts. “He didn’t really produce any numbers. He just created a hype … He’s a smooth talker, a real con man. He knows exactly how to play the cards.”[2]. In other words, a real imposter.

But what if you often feel like you are an impostor – and assuming of course that you are not a real con artist? You feel as if you haven’t really earned your position? As if you aren’t as smart or talented as your peers? As if, were the truth about you to be known, you’d be laughed out of the room?

Perhaps this description resonates a bit? That would not be surprising, because this feeling is prevalent enough to have a name – the “impostor phenomenon[3]”. Rest assured, it is a “phenomenon” specifically because it does not reflect reality! In fact, the “impostor phenomenon occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.[4]” (Emphasis added).

It is frequently associated with anxiety, and may occur more often in introverted persons. Contrary to the suggestions of the first research on the subject, it appears to be equally as prevalent in men as in women.

The impostor phenomenon is often associated with the IT business, but there doesn’t seem to be much real evidence that it is more prevalent in IT than in other professions. On the other hand, I have spent more than 30 years in IT, and almost everyone I have known who was willing to open up a bit has admitted to having felt like an impostor, at one time or another, and sometimes for the entire time that they were on a particular project or with a particular organization! This includes people at all levels, from entry level, to senior executives. It’s not hard to imagine a meeting where everyone in the room is looking around at everyone else, all having the same thought – “Wow, I’m really not qualified to be part of this group!”

So if you have had this feeling from time to time, or often, the first step is to recognize the feeling for what it is – an impostor! Don’t become a slave to a false emotion. Next – deal with it, through self-help, or by getting professional help.

If you are interested in a “self-test” to check your own tendency toward the impostor phenomenon, a clinical psychologist who specializes in treating it has created one, you can find a link to it here: http://paulineroseclance.com/impostor_phenomenon.html (This is not an endorsement, and please note that Dr. Clance publishes the test for personal use only).

Jim Tyson – Word to the Wise

I am an IT Senior Executive www.linkedin.com/in/jimtyson1/ with over 30+ years of experience. I have a passion for understanding human nature and Information Technology and the relationship that exists between these in order to create valuable environments where individuals and teams can excel.

I encourage you to share your comments and thoughts below and tweet them to @JimT_SMDI.




[3] Sometimes known as the “imposter syndrome”.

[4] Weir, K. (2013). Feel like a fraud? gradPSYCH Magazine, American Psychological Association, (11,4), 24. Published at http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx


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william perez

as a graduate student I attended a workshop where the topic was the impostor syndrome. one of the participants said something that resonated with me and, to this day, I remind myself of it whenever I become too self-critical. she said, “Logically, I know I must not be an impostor because I didn’t just magically end up in graduate school. It couldn’t possibly have been just a life-long series of lucky situations that got me here. I got me here!”


Love this article! I have noticed that I have felt more like an imposter when I was making more rapid progress than I was comfortable with. However, when the “stretch time” was over, I could reflect on what had occurred and it was only then that I could accept that I was actually a fine fit for that challenge.