I decided not to post this… but here we are. I told myself it wasn’t good enough. In actuality I was just scared. A reader saved it when she emailed about her own Impostor Syndrome. I sent her this post and she responded with this:

Well, here it goes…

[Update: Since posting this, there have been a ton of people commenting about their experiences with Impostor Syndrome, their stories might be even more helpful than the article itself. Definitely check them out.]

***

I’m a fraud and everyone is about to find out. I feel that every time I am about to share something. I feel that right now writing this: I don’t even have impostor syndrome. That’s how bad my impostor syndrome is. I even think I’m faking that. If it’s part of my life, it’s fake. What is impostor syndrome? It’s feeling like an impostor when you’re not. Like you’re a fraud and the whole world is going to find you out. This makes total sense for undercover agents and people selling snake oil. It doesn’t make so much sense for people who are trying to make the world a little better or to sell something they believe in.

The first step to feeling better about anything is to realize that famous people suffer the same thing. So here are some famous people with Impostor Syndrome:

bossypants-tina-fey“The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.” – Tina Fey

“There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert.  How do these people believe all this about me?  I’m so much aware of all the things I don’t know.” Dr. Chan, Chief of the World Health Organization

“I still think people will find out that I’m really not very talented.  I’m really not very good.  It’s all been a big sham.” – Michelle Pfeifer

“Sometimes I wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do this.  I’m a fraud.” – Kate Winslett

“I have written eleven 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.’ “ – Maya Angelou

Emma Watson, Sheryl Sandberg, and Sonia Sotomayor have also admitted to feeling like they’ll be found out for the frauds they are.

impostor lady

But wait, these are all women… Apparently this is mostly a problem for women. I don’t buy that though. I think that guys just won’t talk about it. Or at least that’s the story I’m going with. (I don’t want to be girly.) In searching for famous people with impostor syndrome I did find a couple males. Tom Hanks and Neil Gaiman (artists of course, but they’ll do):

“The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you. It’s Impostor Syndrome, something my wife Amanda christened the Fraud Police.” – Neil Gaiman

Seth Godin wrote in The Icarus Deception that after a dozen best sellers he still feels like a fraud all the time. (I have a sneaking suspicion that Tim Ferriss suffers from it too, just saying.) This problem is only getting worse as more of us rely on our online presences. We’re in this weird culture where you’ve got to sell yourself aggressively while remaining “authentic”. You think you need to be perfect but you also need to feel free to fail. You need to be yourself and more! It’s all set up to make you feel like a fraud. At the end of this post I’m going to issue a challenge. If you don’t feel like reading anything else, skip down and do the thing with me! Here are the ways I keep going when I feel like a fraud: i have no idea what im doing

21 Ways To Overcome Impostor Syndrome

1. Come off it. Usually I feel like a fraud when I think I’m more important than I am. When you feel like a fraud it’s in relation to some perfection that never actually existed. Letting go of some of your excess self-importance will go a long way in helping you feel less like a fake.

2. Accept that you have had some role in your successes. We feel like frauds because we are “unable to internalize our successes”. We were given an opportunity that others weren’t. And so nothing we achieve after that opportunity was actually deserved.

John D. Rockefellar’s oldest son suffered that bad. His entire life’s work was giving away money that his dad made. Can you imagine the intense impostor syndrome he must have felt? Holy moly.

There are plenty of people born with a silver spoon that still manage to f*#$ up. They were given every opportunity and never could take advantage of them. Opportunities come to those who expose themselves to them.

It’s not all “fair”, not at all. But you did do something to get where you are. You said yes when you could have said no (or, maybe more challenging, you said no when you could have said yes.)

3. Focus on providing value. I feel like a fraud when I’m concerned about myself. What will they think of me? If I fail they’ll shun me. I don’t know as much as that other guy, I have no right to say anything on the topic. Blah blah blah. The fastest way to get over feeling like a fraud is to genuinely try to help someone else

This is hard because what if they hate you for it? What if they make fun of you for trying to help? What if your sincerity is smashed under the laughter of others? Then OUCH! That hurts bad. Not nearly as bad as it hurts to feel like a shell of yourself though. I remember the first time I wrote vulnerably. I had gone through severe depression and had benefitted from reading about others being depressed. I felt obligated to share my story. I did. It’s a couple years later now and I still get emails telling me how helpful the letter was to them. Not one person made fun of me for that. At least to my face.   humility cs lewis 4. Keep a file of people saying nice things about you. I just started this earlier this year and it’s been amazing. Every time someone writes that I helped them online I take a screenshot and put it in my folder. When I feel like a fraud I can go look through the stories of people I have helped. There is a mom who’s 18 year old boy was shaken out of being stuck because of something I had written. There are a whole series of entrepreneurs who started businesses because of articles I’ve written. There are successful entrepreneurs that were reinvigorated by something I wrote. There are a whole slew of people at rock bottom who have found life worth living again because of something I wrote. Those things keep me putting stuff out there. Because, honestly, it’s easy to forget that writing can do any good. Collect your wins, testimonials, whatever and then visit them when you’re feeling like a fraud. impostor graph 5. Stop comparing yourself to that person. There’s no good reason for you to be reading what I’m writing. There are world class biographies of Warren Buffett, John D. Rockefeller, and Einstein. James Altucher has had more successes than me. Peter Thiel just wrote a book. Tim Ferriss, Paul Graham, Kevin Kelly… these guys blog! But still, I’m writing this because I think I have something to offer. Actually, when I look at my praise file I have proof that I have something to offer.

When I compare myself to these others it’s easy to fall into the trap of “my life sucks compared to that life”. You might as well not even do anything! Your life isn’t the best life! Emerson said, “Envy is ignorance…” and he was right on. You aren’t here to live the life of another person. You’re here to do whatever life you can. Turn Facebook off, get off Instagram, stop reading biographies of “successful” people and learn to respect your own experience. You’re not a fraud, you’re just you.

6. Expose yourself totally. Part of the twisted arrogance that causes impostor syndrome is the (usually unconscious) belief that you have extreme powers that the world couldn’t handle. Or maybe it’s just that you think you are a freak. You certainly have the ability to offer the world something that nobody else can… but really it’s not that wild! You are not nearly as much of a freak as you think you are. Again, come off it, you’re just not that special.

Do this: write for 30 minutes the most insane things about yourself. You will never show anybody this. Write your most ridiculous beliefs, your most terrible thoughts, your biggest fraud! Just write gibberish if you think that is crazy. Push into the deepest taboos you hold. Seeing these on paper doesn’t get rid of them but externalizing things puts them in a more sane perspective.

I have a gay friend. Everyone knew he was gay. He spent years not telling anyone. He spent a huge chunk of his life without expressing himself. If the world knew he was gay everything would be over. “So, I’m gay,” he told me. Big surprise. “Okay,” I told him. The next month I saw him he was living a totally different life. There was some kind of rusty wheel in him that was now spinning freely. His eyes shone with life. He was energetic and positive. All just from letting down his guard for a minute. science girl 7. Treat the thing as a business/experiment. Today there is a whole slew of artist-entrepreneurs. We call part of what we do “content creation”. There has never been a time in history where so many people have a “voice”. No wonder we’re all suffering from impostor syndrome.

Start treating even your art as a business. Not to the point that you start making crap because it’s what people like, but to the point that you are honestly serving the market. In a business, if a product doesn’t sell, you stop making it.

If nobody shares this post or leaves comments then I’ll assume that nobody wants to hear me talk about impostor syndrome—so I’ll stop. I won’t wallow in my failure and think the world hates me.

I’m running a test. Looking at it this way makes it easier to create the thing freely.

8.  Say “It’s Impostor Syndrome” and it immediately becomes a little less terrible.

9. Remember: being wrong doesn’t make you a fake. The best basketball players miss most of the shots they take. The best traders lose money on most trades. Presidents are wrong about stuff all the time. The best football teams inevitably lose.

Losing is just part of the game. Don’t glorify failure, but don’t let it make you feel like you’re not a real contender either.

10.  “Nobody Belongs Here More Than You” <<That’s the title of a book I haven’t read, but I agree with it. Why do we feel we don’t deserve to be in the game? Because we haven’t won it yet? We haven’t even tried! Break people down into what they are: expiring meat sacks.

We are all going to die, we just take different routes to get there. One of the most attractive qualities in a person is acceptance.

Acceptance of themselves and acceptance of you.

Not in the surrendering kind of way, in the “seeing clearly” kind of way. If you can admit that nobody belongs here more than you (while maintaining the belief that you don’t belong here any more than anyone else) you will find yourself making connections with people in powerful ways. imposter heart 11. Realize that when you hold back you’re robbing the world. If you walk around feeling that you should be someone else or that you don’t deserve to be here then all your crappy vibes rub off on other people. Your stunted expression means that you can’t be there for people who need you.

Everyone has doubts, the best gift you can give the world is to move forward regardless of the doubts—because it gives us the permission to move forward as well.

12. You’re going to die. Do you want to be on your deathbed regretting that you spent your entire life stopping yourself because you felt like a fraud? Maybe you can’t shake the feeling that you’re a fraud. You can force yourself to move forward despite the feeling.

13.  Stream-of-conscious writing. I suggested something similar in #1. This is aimless though. Do this: write for 30+ minutes nonstop. You can’t put your pen down. If there is no thought in your head then write “I can’t think of anything” until you do. This will constantly put you in touch with what’s going on inside yourself.

It will show you how silly the impostor syndrome is. It’s awesome.

14. Say what you can. We are often put in the position of “expert”. When this happens people look at you like you should know everything about a topic. We can’t know everything about anything though. If I’m in a situation where there is potential to actually be a fraud—ie bullshit about things I don’t know—I just say what I can instead. People respect this much more. Admit that you don’t yet have the answer but you’ll find it.

Admit that you haven’t found the perfect solution but you’ve come close enough.

i have no idea what im doing

the second time for good measure!

15. Realize that nobody knows what they’re doing. Most startups fail. Even the ones that you hear about raising millions of dollars fail all the time. Nobody knows exactly what’s going on. There are a ton of people who will tell you they know the answers. These people are liars.

The world we live in is the result of a lot of brave people tinkering, failing, and succeeding once in a while. Nobody knows what’s next: some are willing to play ball in the face of uncertainty and some aren’t. You’re not an impostor for trying something that might not work. You’re a hero.

16. Take action. Impostor Syndrome lives in abstraction. It’s not about stopping being lazy, it’s about massive amounts of action.  It is impossible for it to survive when you’re taking action. Taking action proves that you’re not a fraud. It tests your mettle in the real world.

Impostor Syndrome cannot do damage to the person who consistently takes action. (You still might feel it every once in a while but you won’t let it stop you.)

17. Realize that you are never you. You’re constantly changing. You’re constantly becoming a new person. Your opinions change with new information (I hope). You spend 6 months eating donuts and then you spend 6 months at the gym. Last year you were obsessed with Call of Duty, now you don’t understand video games. Maybe you were in a terrible mood this morning. Maybe you’re a bit brighter now.

“There is as much difference between us an ourselves as there is between us and others.” – Michel de Montaigne

You are growing into something different. You are getting better. How? By trying to do something better than you actually can. That’s not a lie, that’s valor. authenticity hoax18. Authenticity is a hoax. What is being authentic? I’m not going to write to my grandma using the same words as I use to write to my sister. I’m not even going to emphasize the same interests I have.

If I’m selling security systems, I’m not going to pitch a Mormon the way I pitch a rock star. It just wouldn’t make sense. There is no person you can be other than you. Ever. The impostor syndrome will have you believe that you are being inauthentic. That you are a liar. If that’s true then where is your true self!?

The impostor syndrome doesn’t give an answer because it doesn’t have one. Tell it to eff off.

19. See credentials for what they are. They don’t mean much. “Expert” means someone decided to call them that. “PhD” doesn’t mean someone knows more than you, it means they spent more time in school about you. (And actually do know way more than you about some uselessly specific topic.)

“As seen in The Wall Street Journal” means they knew how to use HARO. Don’t measure yourself by credentials. It takes the focus away from actually doing good things. And it won’t shut up the impostor syndrome for long either.

20. Find one person you can say, “I feel like a fraud” to. Being able to say that out loud to another person can be a huge help. Especially when they laugh at you for it.

21. Faking things actually does work. Sometimes faking it doesn’t make you a fraud. If you smile your body will be more generous with happy chemicals and actually make you happier. Neuroplasticity means that you can shape your brain by pretending.

When you were a baby you tried to walk and fell down every time. Were you a walking impostor? Who are you to walk!? You can’t even do it! It’s absurd!

Silicon Valley has been built by people trying to do things that probably weren’t going to work. We need them to keep trying. We need you to keep trying. We need you. Whether you feel like an impostor or not. impostor syndrome cartoon

Impostor Syndrome: The Challenge

You have the opportunity right this very instant to overcome your impostor syndrome. This is what we’re going to do. A Blog Confessional of sorts.

Write in the comments one thing you’ve avoided because you feel like a fraud. (If this is too much, you can email me… commenting will be more powerful though.) You can even stay anonymous if you want. Maybe you haven’t started that blog because you feel that you couldn’t do it as well as the people already blogging about a topic. Maybe you haven’t started your business because you don’t think you’re an “entrepreneur”. Maybe you haven’t talked to that pretty girl/guy. I don’t know. There are all sorts of thing. I’ll give you mine in a second.

**BONUS ROUND** Do something about it! If you don’t know what to do, I’ll give you a suggestion. The comment itself will be a huge step for sure. It’ll be even more huge to take the thing head on. grad school impostor

If you’re looking for a guide to take action I put together this awesome course on taking action!

Check out The Action Course – Learning the Art of Doing

Overthinker's guide to taking action

Author

Kyle Eschenroeder

Thanks for taking the time to read this! Let me know what you think - the good, the bad, the ugly - in the comments below.

I'm an entrepreneur (more in the StartupBros About Page) in St. Petersburg, FL

  • Andy says:

    I’ve never wrote a comment ever before anywhere because I feel like no one cares anyway but why not do it now.

    I always bought I had anxiety but it was only when I started new jobs, yes jobs because I’ve quit to many because of feeling like an imposter :/

    Recently I got a job which I have 3 days in and I feel super underqualified because I have no experience what so ever from what I believe. I know I could do it but I am a perfectionist and want to learn everything already when it’s only my first week, I feel like I could learn but I tell myself discouraging words that I won’t be able to and will be judged for how dumb I am. Deep down I know I could do it but at the same time I tell myself I can’t just like all the other jobs I’ve quit because of severe anxiety where I wouldn’t even sleep for 24 hrs just thinking how to quit. For some reason this job feels like I could learn a lot but how do I encourage myself when there is always that voice telling me it’s to hard and to run from the problems that will or will not show up in the future.
    Why can’t I brush this feeling off and why do I always justify my discouraging words instead of the positive ones.

    Learning that this feeling is labeled makes me feel so much better however because it tells me that what I’m feeling is real and normal. I’m not the only one who feels this way when I thought I was the only one feeling like a crybaby.

    I’m scared of self growth because of the responsibility and hard work that comes with it, i just want to breeze my life but I know that’s not how it works so I have to fake it till I make it for the meantime. Hope I can get this feeling off soon because it sucks!

  • Jessica says:

    I feel like an imposter when it comes to romantic relationships. I have the guts to ask out people but I always feel like I’m presenting myself better than I am. I’m also way different than I used to be both physically and mentally (lost a ton of weight in a healthy way and beat back anxiety and depression) so sometimes I struggle with still seeing myself as that person. This article helped though, thank you for writing.

  • phen says:

    Is it good to tell imposter syndrome as a weakness to someone?

  • Laura says:

    My new boss recently told me she thinks I have imposter syndrome. I’m still trying to figure out if that’s true. Apparently I have a habit of trying to quit jobs and volunteer work because I genuinely believe I’m not the best person for the job. I don’t quit, but I talk to my supervisors and suggest they find someone more suitable because I don’t feel like my best is good enough.
    I don’t know where this started. It might have started when I began working in the sustainability education field with no prior training on the subject. Four years later I admit I have learned a lot, but I still feel like I don’t fit in.
    I also feel like the things I want in life aren’t normal and I need to get a “real” career. I’m 37 and applying for grad school in fine arts because it’s the thing I love most. However, I’m constantly telling myself I’m not good enough and I’m not a real artist because I like to goof off as much as I like to work and real artists are always making art.
    I keep doing it anyway, all of these things. I don’t know if that means I don’t have imposter syndrome and it’s just low self esteem. It sounds like people with imposter syndrome don’t follow through and hold themselves back. I’m not sure I’m doing that. I’m a yes person and I can’t not give my best and then more. That’s a whole different problem, but I’m just trying to figure out if I really have imposter syndrome so I can deal with it. Some of the stuff I read blows my mind with how similar it is to me and other information doesn’t sound like me. How do I know for sure?

  • Debbie says:

    This resonates with me. I am currently in my first year of my PhD and i feel like I don’t know enough. I feel like I don’t even deserve the scholarship and admission into the university. Atimes, i convince myself I only got accepted because I had my MSc in the same university.
    I don’t talk much on my interests as i FEEL I will be judged when people ask questions I don’t have the right answers to.
    I don’t socialise as i should for fear of sounding unintelligent.
    Half the time, I feel I have not done enough for my thesis to progress.
    I think i feel this way because I don’t have enough industry experience (what was i thinking when I applied for a PhD). I FEEL LIKE A FRAUD!!!!!

  • Kate says:

    I am late to writing this comment but I’ve never felt so much like an article has come straight from my brain. I have never felt so free as I did in realizing that I’m just not that special. I am a normal person and not some crazy godly being and for the first time I feel like that is a good thing. Imposer syndrome has plagued me my whole life and I think I am finally ready to grab onto the confidence I feel after reading this post and set a few things straight in my life. This is crazy. Thank you. So very much. I’m going to post this before I change my mind! I know its a rocky relationship between me and yourself but at least now, I have a good place to start from.

  • Lydia says:

    I was just about to leave this site. I realized I was doing it. This has helped me and I will begin the process of change. Thank you

  • ava says:

    I find the imposter syndrome in nearly everything I do (and don’t). It’s the procrastination that leads me to write an essay the morning it’s due. It’s ‘not having enough time’ to develop skills and hobbies. The guitar I got for christmas has been sitting in the corner of my room, untouched. I wanted it soooo bad! I wanted to challenge myself and love doing it. I shut myself off to doing things I love and am good at like art. This causes shame in myself for not doing well and having no skills when I robbed myself of excelling in the first place. At the root of all these is self doubt that produces overwhelming anxiety.

  • Older and Hopefully Wiser says:

    OK, here goes: I moved halfway across the country to make a fresh start in a new location, and now that I’m here, I’m suffering from Imposter Syndrome and I feel really stupid. As a man of 53, I should have conquered feelings like this long ago, right? I have had multiple successes in my career, but reading job descriptions these days can really make you susceptible to the “comparing yourself to others” portion of Imposter Syndrome – that is, unless you too have the alphabet soup of credentials after your name. Thank you, BTW, for reminding me that credentials of others don’t mean much – I’ve seen plenty of people in positions higher than me who had the alphabet soup but still couldn’t manage their way out of a paper bag, never mind manage and earn respect from their teams of professionals. So the task for job seekers like me becomes convincing hiring managers (if you can get to them at all) to take a chance on you despite the lack of alphabet soup after your name. This is where the Imposter Syndrome can easily insert its insidious little voice into your head and tell you you’re never going to be good enough like the other job applicants. When this happens, perhaps knowing about Thomas Edison’s experience can help: When a reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” It’s all about perspective. The lesson is to keep going and not give up. Don’t tell yourself “no” – there are plenty of other people who will do that for you. Tell yourself “Yes!”, and if you fall on your face, get up, dust yourself off, and try something else. The old adage is true: It’s not how many times you fall down that matters. What matters is how many times you get back up – And the number of times you get back up only needs to be one more than the number of times you fall. One.

    Thank you Kyle, for writing that even those of us with years of experience (some famous) can still have these feelings – I hope what I’ve written in response helps some of your younger readers.

  • Mary says:

    I copied and pasted some of your words into a document I can access quickly. Thank you.

  • hmm says:

    i don’t know whether this is of the same issue or not. But 99.999% of my life has been spent feeling like i am an impostor in my own body and life. i can never seem to do anything for my self due to not being worthy or some Sh*t like that and when i do and succeed i always come up with some reasons or over 9000 as to why it i had nothing to do with it.

    However if i were to do something for someone so e.g. someone wants me to start a company for them i can get it to operational but then i have to hand it back to them as i fear if i try to take into from startup to growth i’ll crash it.

    life example = i started my own business and my fear has Paralyzed it to the exact place it was at last year at this exact time. every time i try make a move i freeze and before i know months have gone by with an almost blank memory of what the hell i was doing in those months.

  • K says:

    I might have avoided finishing my own short film; the post-production has been in the pipeline for several years now and I keep postponing it… But maybe it was just a faulty belief like “if I don’t finish it, I don’t have to send it in to festivals, so I cannot ‘not win prizes’, which would prove that I failed”…

    This unfinished short film makes me feel miserable in two ways: I feel like I failed because I didn’t finish it yet + I feel like a fraud when I think about the moment it will be finished and others will see it and judge it.

  • ms_fraud says:

    10 minutes ago, I was on the wave of egomania typing up my resume and now I’m in the despair of fraud and no one is going to believe me. Miserable, but I’ll hope for another wave in 10 more minutes and try to throw myself out there before crashing again.