More About the Author
In 1982 I was four years into a graduate program in education at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and procrastinating terribly on writing my dissertation. One day while I was sitting in class, another student began reading aloud from an article by a couple of psychologists from Georgia State University, Dr. Pauline Rose Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes, titled, "The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women." Among the 162 high-achieving women they sampled, Clance and Imes uncovered a pervasive pattern of dismissing accomplishments and believing that their success would disappear once others discovered the awful secret that they were, in fact, "impostors."
My head was nodding like a bobble-head doll's. "Oh my God," I thought, "she's talking about me!" When I looked around the room, everyone else--including the professor--was nodding too. I couldn't believe my eyes. I knew these women. I'd been in class with them, I'd taught alongside them, I'd read their work. To me, they were intelligent, articulate, and supremely competent individuals. To learn that even they felt like they were fooling others rocked my world.
A group of us began to meet as a kind of informal impostor-support group, where we did what women commonly do under stress--we bared our souls. We talked about how intimidated we felt when we discussed our research with our respective faculty advisors, how more often than not we left these sessions feeling confused and inept. How we'd clearly put one over on the admissions office, and how anyone who looked too closely would realize we weren't scholar material after all. A few of us were convinced that certain professors had overlooked our obvious intellectual shortcomings simply because they liked us. We all agreed that these feelings of intellectual fraudulence were keeping us from finishing our dissertations in a timely fashion--or, in my case, from even starting.
Just being in the company of like- minded women was tremendously reassuring. Everything was going pretty well until about the third meeting. That's when I began to have this nagging sense that even though they were saying they felt like impostors . . . I knew I was the only real impostor!
Turning Pain into Gain
I realized then that I had a choice: I could let my own secret fears continue to stand between me and my goals, or I could channel my energy into trying to understand them. I chose the latter.
The impostor phenomenon or the impostor syndrome, as it is more commonly referred to in the popular media, became the impetus for my doctoral research, in which I explored the broader question of why so many clearly intelligent, capable women feel anything but.
My search for answers entailed in-depth interviews with a racially diverse group of fifteen women: executives, clinicians, social service providers, and academic advisors. I wanted to hear from them about the kinds of internal barriers to success they'd observed in the women they managed, counseled, or advised. What I learned became the basis for a daylong workshop called "Overcoming the Imposter Syndrome: Issues of Competence and Confidence for Women," which I co-led with fellow grad student Lee Anne Bell.
Lee and I booked a small meeting room at a local hotel, put up some flyers, and hoped that at least a few people would come. When forty women showed up, we knew we'd hit a nerve. We facilitated several more packed workshops before Lee relocated to pursue a career in higher education.
I continued to speak on the impostor syndrome and in 2001 renamed the program "How to Feel as Bright and Capable as Everyone Seems to Think You Are: Why Smart Women (and Men) Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and What to Do About It."
Taking impostor feelings out of the realm of therapy and into an educational arena has proved tremendously successful. To date, more than fifty thousand people have attended this workshop. Simply giving people an alternative way of thinking about themselves and their competence has yielded some amazing results. Women reported asking for--and getting-raises. Corporate execs who had participated in a workshop as students told of being so transformed that years later they asked me to address their employees. Writers who had played small for years became prolific. People who had lacked the confidence to start or grow a business suddenly found the courage to go for it.
The core of my work stems from my original research. Now and then I draw from my own professional and management experience. I spent seven year in a Fortune 200 company - two in training and development and five in strategic marketing.
I draw too from my sixteen years as the founder and Dreamer in Residence at ChangingCourse.com - an online resource about creative ways to profit from your passions. Most of the work I do there involves leading seminars and publishing a newsletter to help aspiring self-bossers think outside of the job box and to overcome the fear and self-doubt that stands between themselves and their dreams. I'm also the creator of the Profiting from Your Passions® Career Coach training program. For the record - I do not define myself as a career coach. Rather I see myself as a business idea generator for people who want to find ways to turn their interests into income.
However, most of what I've learned about the impostor syndrome comes from the collective experience and wisdom of my workshop participants over a quarter of a century.
In that time I've led workshops for tens of thousands of students, faculty, and staff at more than sixty colleges and universities including Harvard, Stanford, Smith, MIT, and Cal Tech. Unfortunately, the impostor syndrome does not end with a diploma. Some of what you'll learn comes from working directly with employees in such diverse organizations as Intel, Chrysler, Ernst & Young, UBS, Procter & Gamble, EMC, Bristol- Myers Squibb, IBM, the Society of Women Engineers, and American Women in Radio and Television, and with Canadian women Entrepreneurs.
In addition I've run seminars for groups of nurses, psychologists, optometrists, administrative assistants, jewelers, cancer researchers, social workers, and attorneys--all of which has been incorporated in my workshops and my book.
Despite their various situations and occupations, the women and men I've worked with have one important thing in common: They are not impostors. And, as you will soon discover, neither are you.
I hope you enjoy the book -- and if so will tell others.