Imposter Syndrome: Overcoming the “Fake It ’Til You Make It” Mantra

Maybe you started a new job or just got a promotion, and you’re questioning if you’re qualified. Or maybe you got an assignment you feel woefully inadequate to complete. Where does this unwarranted sense of insecurity come from? Those feelings of fraudulence have a name and need to be called out.

Nearly 70% of the U.S. population experiences imposter syndrome, and that energy can either fuel or cripple you.

What is imposter syndrome?

  • A collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.
  • Chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence, which override any feeling of success or external proof of competence.

There is no cure, but here is a way to manage it.

At a recent NextGen training summit, Michelle Rosa, former President of Young Government Leaders and a program manager at a federal agency, developed an approach to help us identify and respond to the imposter feelings we face.

“Fake it ’til you make it” carries this connotation that you’re going to be found out and that you got lucky, Rosa said. The “work it ’til you make it” mentality says, “I deserve success, and I worked hard to get here.”

How you can rewrite your narrative

Rosa developed an approach to help us T.A.M.E. the imposter syndrome.

Talk about it.

We can’t talk ourselves out of imposter syndrome. But we can give it a name, remove shame attached to it and be intentional about managing it.

  • Identify the problem by giving your feelings a name: imposter syndrome.
  • Give yourself permission to be vulnerable by sharing. Asking for help is not a weakness.
  • Don’t feel like you have to suffer in silence.

Accentuate the positive.

Imposter syndrome is not all negative. There are some good things about it.

  • Those with imposter syndrome usually hold themselves to high standards.
  • They strive for excellence in most things.
  • They typically seek challenging opportunities, which often fuels imposter feelings.

Magnify the facts.

In other words, separate feelings from facts. Much of imposter syndrome is rooted in the way we feel, not in actual fact.

  • Be intentional about separating the two.
  • Probe your feelings by identifying and listing them.

Establish a healthy response to failure.

This is easier said than done.

  • Learn to embrace failure.
  • Learn to not make failure personal, even when you’re owning mistakes.

Quick Exercise: Take two minutes to identify someone you can talk to about imposter syndrome. Write two or three lines of how you might start that conversation. In the next two days, reach out to this person and start that conversation.

“No matter what you do for a living, you are going to fail. And the sooner you embrace that, the sooner you accept that failure is a part of your job, the better positioned you will be to react in a healthy way whenever it happens.”

— Michelle Rosa, federal program manager

Rosa shared a liberating mantra that she often says to herself when failure or doubt come knocking: I am capable. I deserve success. I know more than I think I do.

A version of this article originally appeared on January 31, 2022.

Photo by Mapbox on Unsplash

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