Are you an Imposter (or are you a unicorn?)

personal development Feb 23, 2018

Do you ever get that weird feeling that no matter what you do or how much you learn there is someone lurking around the corner waiting to call you out as a fraud? Or maybe, you always have a strange feeling that you are only successful because of your well developed ability to fake it? What about living with that little voice that reminds you “You know nothing”?

Well, you are not alone.

There is an interesting phenomena that impacts many well accomplished individuals called Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome was first coined in 1979 to describe individuals who cannot internalize success and accomplishments and always feel like they will be exposed as frauds. Experts say that 70% of the population will feel like they are a fraud at least once in their lives. (For the academic curious out there – you can read more here – The Impostor Phenomenon.)  

It’s almost like a reverse secret identity. Instead of a superhero pretending to be an average everyday person, those who suffer from Imposter syndrome feel like a below average loser pretending to be a superhero… and hoping like hell that no one will expose the truth. Sound familiar? Yea, same here.


I’ve been living with it for quite some time. For years, I have had this voice in my head telling me I am a fake. I’m a plain old horse with a big fake horn trying to pass myself off as a unicorn. You can read about my own imposter syndrome struggles over on my Hot Pink Tech blog. I discuss my fake unicorn journey in the post You Need to Believe in Yourself – How I Deal with Imposter Syndrome.

But this isn’t about me. This is about you and how to defeat that big bad voice inside your head. That voice that tells you to be careful because someone will figure out that you have no idea what you are doing. That voice that reminds you that you are only successful because you are lucky. That voice that says you are only pretending to be a superhero and people are going to discover your true identity. You know what? That voice is a jerk and needs to shut up.

5 Ways to beat that voice in your head

1. Know you are not alone.

The first step in defeating your defeatist voice is to realize that these feelings are completely normal. As the research says, pretty much everyone at some point in their lives will have feelings of inferiority and insecurity. (Ok, except for that 30% but their just weird so whatever.) I think this chart from ErrantScience explains it best.      


In fact, there is a type of cognitive bias, called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, that indicates individuals with a high level of aptitude and cognitive self-awareness will underestimate their own competence. Conversely, those with a lower level of aptitude and cognitive self-awareness typically overestimate their competence. This cognitive bias may explain why Imposter Syndrome runs rampant in high achievers.   

You are not crazy and your voice is not right. Everyone feels this way. It is normal. And it is OK. If you are in a room filled with people who you think are smarter or better than you, remember that at least 70% of them are thinking the same thing about you.

2. Give it a name.

Dr. Valerie Young, has identified five types of Imposter Syndrome: the Perfectionist, the Superman/woman, the Natural Genius, the Rugged Individualist, and the Expert.

The best way to overcome your imposter syndrome is to understand what is really happening in your head. Are your feelings caused because you are a perfectionist type and nothing you do will ever meet your standards? So, you beat yourself up and put yourself down because you will never be good enough. Or, are you an expert type and believe that you will never know enough to be the expert people think you are. So, you hope and pray that people won’t see through your charade and expose you as a fake. That’s my type.

Once you figure out what type of Imposter syndrome you are dealing with, it is easier to recognize your destructive behaviors and stop them.

Melody J. Wilding, from the Muse, has an excellent article on the Five Types and how to defeat them. Give it a read.  

3. Keep a “Kudos” folder

One thing that as helped me is to keep a folder with words of praise or kudos from jobs well done. Whether it is a positive email from your boss, or a handwritten thank you note  happy client, or a certificate of achievement or an award, keep it!  Think of these as reminders of what you have accomplished. They are ammunition for when your negative voice gets out of control.  

This folder is proof that you know what you are doing. That you are good at what you do. You do know things. So your voice can just kiss off.

4.  Know when to listen

It is important to admit that sometimes your voice is right. Not the jerk voice that tells you know nothing, that other voice. If you can silence the jerk voice then you can listen to that smart voice that helps you see your strengths and weaknesses and helps you grow. You don’t want to overcome Imposter Syndrome only to swing to the other side of the continuum and fall into a different cognitive bias called illusory superiority.

Illusory superiority is the other side of the imposter syndrome coin. It’s when you have an over inflated view of your competence. We all know folks like this. Over confident and unaware. I’ll admit, sometimes I envy them. They can live life with reckless abandon and never question their own aptitude or abilities.  

You need to listen to the smart voice you can trust who can help you find the perfect balance between confidence and honest self-reflection. Listen to that voice!

5. Get a mentor or coach

Finally, get a mentor or coach to help you. Every superhero needs a wise mentor to help them along the way. You need an Alfred to your Bruce Wayne. An Obi-Wan Kenobi to your Luke Skywalker. Someone who has your best interest in mind and will help you identify your strengths and overcome your weakness. A mentor or coach will help you shut down your jerk voice and find your smart voice.


There are people out there who believe in you and can help you believe in yourself. Like the amazing team here at Coaching for Geeks. You all got this. You know stuff. You just need to believe that you do.

By Dr. Kristin Brynteson – A.K.A Hot Pink Tech. Check it out here. It’s great and the reason we asked Dr Brynteson to write for us.




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