Dr. Valerie Young
Imposter Syndrome Expert
Linus, the young and gifted character in Peanuts, once said, “I am burdened by a great potential.” And so are you.
You’ve spent years explaining away your success . . . convinced that you’re really not as successful or as competent as everyone else knows you are . . . waiting for the other shoe to drop.
But there is another truth:
YOUR FEAR OF BEING INADEQUATE PALES COMPARED WITH YOUR FEAR OF BEING EXTRAORDINARY
Consciously you’re afraid that people will find out you’re inept. But deep down you know you’re “smart”—or at least smart enough. As Marianne Williamson famously observed, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”
Buried under all the debris of fear and self-doubt is the certain knowledge that you are infinitely capable. You’ll probably even smile when I tell you that leadership expert Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries considers the impostor syndrome to be “the flip side of giftedness.”
If you don’t believe me, then consider the findings by Wake Forest University psychologists that some people who say they feel like frauds are secretly more confident than they let on. The conclusion was that such people are in effect “phony phonies.”
I respectfully disagree.
I believe what these researchers really revealed is the other side of impostorism. The side of you that, however small and inconsistent, secretly knows you are accomplished and competent and that you really can do it.
As clichéd as it may sound, you really can do anything you put your mind to. Think about it…
Why Barbara Stegemann, or Kelsey Ramsden, or Eleanor Beaton . . . and not you? Why Suze Orman, or Sue Grafton, or Samantha Bee . . . and not you? Why Anita Roddick, or Kathy Dunderdale, or Jane Goodall . . . and not you?
For that matter, why Richard Branson, Rick Steves, Stephen King, Bill Gates, Justin Trudeau, or any man who has achieved his goals and not you? I could go on, of course, but the point is: not one of these amazing women or men is necessarily smarter, better, luckier, or more amazing than you are. True, they’ve acquired certain knowledge, skills, and experience. But the operative word here is acquired.
An improbable television phenomenon like Julia Child did not come out of the womb being “Julia Child, cooking legend.” She became Julia Child—at forty-nine years old. Playwright Wendy Wasserstein’s turning point came in her early thirties when a friend told her that “the way to be taken seriously is to take yourself seriously.”
Oprah Winfrey had none of the advantages of economic class or a stable family life. She spent the first six years of her life being raised by her grandmother in Mississippi before being shuttled north to live with her mother. At thirteen the scars of abuse and molestation drove her to run away from home and subsequently be sent to a juvenile detention facility, only to be denied admission because all the beds were filled. Nothing in Oprah’s background would have portended success, never mind mega-stardom.
Yet Oprah was remarkably undaunted. Even after being fired from her television reporter’s job and told, “You’re not fit for TV,” she remained undaunted and was later said to remark, “I always knew I was destined for greatness.” And so are you.
You can be powerful beyond measure without becoming a household name. In fact, it takes just as much courage to walk away from what everyone else considers a “dream job” to follow your own road. It takes not one more ounce of courage or energy to dream big than it does to settle. And you’ve got a lot more to gain by shooting high than by shooting low.