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The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It Hardcover – October 25, 2011

4.9 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Questions for Valerie Young

What is the impostor syndrome?
The impostor syndrome describes the countless millions of people who do not experience an inner sense of competence or success. Despite often overwhelming evidence of their abilities impostors dismiss them as merely a matter of luck, timing, outside help, charm--even computer error. Because people who have the impostor syndrome feel that they’ve somehow managed to slip through the system undetected, in their mind it’s just a matter of time before they’re found out.

Your book is about women--do men feel like impostors or is this a female issue?
Initially psychologists suspected it was something experienced primarily by women. That has proven not to be the case. Men are attending my seminars in increasing numbers, and among graduate students the male-female ratio is roughly fifty-fifty. I’ve heard from or worked with countless men who suffer terribly from their fraud fears, including a member of the Canadian mounted police and an attorney who argued before the Supreme Court.

In the end, I decided there were more reasons than not to focus on women. For starters my early doctoral research looked specifically at women. Second, 80 percent of my speaking engagements come at the request of women for their female employees or students. More importantly, I aimed the book at women of because chronic self-doubt tends to hold them back more.

Can men who experience the impostor syndrome benefit from this book?
In a word--absolutely! All the more so if they are a man of color, have working-class roots, or identify with any of the other “at-risk.” Similarly, if they know, teach, manage, mentor, parent, or coach a male or groups of males who are susceptible to the impostor syndrome, they will gain greatly from this book as well.

What would be one piece of advice from you to women entering the workforce (or academics) at any stage, with regards to impostor syndrome?
Impostors, and women especially, have seriously misguided notions about what it takes to be competent. Bar none the fastest way to kick the impostor feeling is to adopt what I’ve dubbed the Competence Rulebook for Mere Mortals which has as its cardinal rule, competence doesn’t mean you need to know everything, to do it all yourself, or to do everything perfectly or effortlessly. Instead competence is being able to identify the resources it takes to get the job done.

Do you think it's ever too late to become a "successful" woman?
Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until she was 80 years old and that, of her over 1,500 paintings, 25 percent were produced when she was past 100. As Mary Ann Evans, better known by her pen name, George Eliot, once said, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” It’s also never too late to be the confident, self-affirming person you were meant to be. Just remember to define success on your own terms.

What's one mistake that you've seen even the most experienced women make?
Whether it’s male bravado, denial, or, as some have argued, brain hardwiring, men generally don’t hold onto their failures and mistakes the way women do--at least not with the same intensity or longevity. Women can turn the same scene over and over in their mind. Depending on the magnitude of your alleged offense, an incident that took all of ten seconds to occur may take you days or even months to get over.

Unfortunately it’s easy for women to take a man being less rattled to mean he’s more competent--or at least more confident--which to the untrained eye is often mistaken as one and the same.

What is one easy thing we can do to overcome that voice inside our heads?
Separate feelings from fact. For example everyone feels stupid from time to time. In fact I can pretty much guarantee that sometime in the next 24-48 hours every person on the planet will have an opportunity to feel stupid. In these moments you need to remember, just because you feel stupid, does not mean you are stupid.


“Young’s extremely perceptive and action-oriented solutions shine; she urges women to focus on their actual, measurable achievements without editorializing (“just the facts, ma’am!”) and to take their cue from men and to fake it till they make it. A can’t-miss primer for businesswomen everywhere." 
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women examines a common affliction and offers tools, insight, scientific evidence, and numerous examples that aim to banish the impostor for good. Valerie Young’s diligence, passion for the subject, and belief that anyone can overcome feelings of inadequacy, duplicity, and unworthiness rings loudly throughout The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women."
New York Journal of Books

“Self-doubt is common, but when it impedes you from attaining your goals it’s time to take action. This book shows you how to move beyond feeling like an imposter so that you can achieve your full personal and professional potential.”
--Lois P. Frankel, Ph.D., author of Nice Girls Just Don’t Get It and Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office
“Valerie Young introduces us to the “Impostor Syndrome,” a fascinating pattern of thinking that many successful women feel today. If you, in any way, feel you don’t deserve your success, this is the book that will help you embrace the richness of the person you truly are.”
--Susan Jeffers, Ph. D., author of Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway® and Embracing Uncertainty
“Valerie Young's The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women is going to help a lot of talented women break free of self-doubt. The book is profound and practical, full of insights that will show you who you really are. You'll like what you see."
--Barbara Sher, New York Times bestselling author of I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was
“A calm, measured book that quells that nagging inner voice that says you’re not good enough, smart enough, or prepared enough to succeed. Women who second-guess themselves need to hear Valerie Young’s message.”
--Susan Pinker, Psychologist, Author of The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women and the Real Gender Gap
The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women may look like an ordinary self-help book, but there’s nothing ordinary about it. Valerie Young has given us a power tool to enrich and expand our lives in ways we may never dared to imagine. Although I’ve been vaguely aware of the impostor syndrome for years, now I not only understand it, but believe this book could inspire a new crusade to stamp out this insidious disorder that has caused so much unhappiness and wasted so much talent. I think The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women is as important as The Feminine Mystique. Quite simply, if you are a woman—or love one—this book belongs in your library."
--Barbara J. Winter Author of Making a Living Without a Job 
“Dr. Young is a mapmaker. She inspires us to “go for it” by providing guidelines to make success a choice based on our values rather than on our fear of incompetence. [This book] is a gift to millions who want to replace fear and suffering with excitement and joy in their achievements. I am recommending it to all my clients and students who suffer with impostor feelings.”
--Dr. Suzanne Imes, Co-Coiner of the Impostor Phenomenon
“Valerie Young’s book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, provides important insights into the Impostor Experience of very competent women. She provides important knowledge that can help women begin to truly appreciate and acclaim their success.”
--Pauline Rose Clance, Ph.D., ABPP, Co-Coiner of the Impostor Phenomenon

“This is an important book to read for just about every woman I know, because however competent and accomplished they are, women can still feel they are faking it. Valerie Young guides women with depth and awareness of this impostor syndrome, coaching them with valuable tools on how to let go of these self-limiting beliefs and embrace their own success with authenticity.”
--Iris J. Newalu, Director, Smith College Executive Education for Women
“I wish I could have read Dr. Young’s book twenty-five years ago when I was convinced that my acceptance into a prestigious college was a mistake; or 18 years ago when, as a new lawyer, I was naively under the impression that I could compete effectively within a department dominated by men simply by waiting to be noticed for my hard work without self-promoting; or even 12 years ago when I felt like an incompetent fraud after being promoted into my dream job.  The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women is a critical resource full of practical solutions for the impostor feelings that plague successful women."
--Ellen J. Duffy, VP and Deputy General Counsel, Genworth Financial
 “Valerie Young will transform the lives of professional women with Secret Thoughts, a book that provides life-changing insight on how to overpower limiting thoughts and behaviors. It was so empowering to realize that I am not unique in feeling like a fraud and that countless successful women like me also experience the Impostor Syndrome."
-- Betty Shanahan, Executive Director & CEO, Society of Women Engineers

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business (October 25, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307452719
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307452719
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #33,257 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This very readable book by Valerie Young expands our understanding of "the impostor syndrome" and the many perfectly good reasons we might find ourselves with the uncomfortable sense of feeling like a fraud. This is accomplished through the development of a guide that leads readers to identify and confront many of the issues that may be holding them back from greater personal success. Encouragement in naming personal road blocks is key, as is discovery of even those internalized bits of pre-programming that may not have been previously identified as slowing our forward momentum. Dr. Young's thoughtful writing inspires us to re-evaluate our own life experiences as they may be viewed as being hurtful (or even helpful). The book further serves to lead us into personal consideration of the issues and patterns we have identified, to help us learn which serve us well and which do not. It helps us develop tools for maximizing one while minimizing the other.

The percentage of women who are dealing with this syndrome is considered to be high but it is certainly not exclusive of men and the book contains many anecdotes and references which add to the richness of the content. Dr. Young finally encourages us to take two snapshots of ourselves. One to be taken before we have engaged with the content of this book and the other to be the new confident self-affirming picture.

This could be an excellent book for consideration by book study groups.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have been fan of Dr. Valerie Young for years. So, when I saw her book, "Secret Thoughts of Successful Women," announced, I was so excited, I ordered it before it was even on the shelf. Boy was I not disappointed. I felt as if Valerie Young was speaking to me personally. The book was amazing in its insight and in fact has made my company's success possible.

In my previous "day job" I was a an accomplished senior manager and technologist in the engineering field for over 30 years. But it was always my dream to work for myself. Unfortunately, all of my prior attempts to be a self-bosser were less than satisfying. Yes, I could teach sewing or walk dogs, but for some reason, I wasn't passionate enough about those endeavors to keep my interest long enough to see success. I liked engineering. But, opening up my own successful engineering company seemed so out of reach to me. I had started the framework for one anyway, but kept dragging my feet. I was getting a few small contracts, but nothing that would sustain my being able to work for myself. I still had the nagging feeling that women don't build engineering companies. Men do.

After reading the book "Secret Thoughts of Successful Women" and seeing that all of my fears were really the Impostor Syndrome at work, I realized that I had been saying "NO" to my own success all along, and didn't need to. In fact, just after I finished reading the book, I was able to go to the next networking meeting with the "Big Guys" and land a huge contract and exclusive alliance with a very lucrative client company. This relationship will definitely go a long way to ensure the continued success of my company for years to come, and has definitely allowed me to finally become a self-bosser.
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Format: Hardcover
Valerie Young's The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women is a guide to help women recover from the Imposter Syndrome, a psychological phenomenon that describes the self-doubt that successful women experience. In 1978, Dr. Pauline Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes discovered that high-achieving women trivialized accomplishments and attributed success to luck, hard work, or favoritism. The Imposter Syndrome "involve[s] a deep sense of inauthenticity and an inability to internalize [] successes" (Kalinosky). Young's work seeks to help women "own" their success and alleviate the constant stress that these outliers feel.

Reading the The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women was a lot like reading a book of quotes and anecdotes. Every other paragraph contained words said by a well-known individual that emphasized a sense of illegitimacy. Although interesting, these quotes and stories are unnecessary in a self-help book. A few stories can be used to highlight a point or topic, but Young saturates her work with words written and said by others. Perhaps the inclusion of these quotes is targeted at individuals who feel better about themselves when they know that famous people suffer from the same syndrome. The text would have been more convincing if studies were cited or researchers discussed. Reading quote after quote was really tiring.

The most irritating aspect of this book was the constant questioning of the audience. Every section included numerous questions that asked the audience if it has felt a certain way. Have you ever felt like you didn't deserve your successes? Do you think your professors give you good grades because they like you? Do you feel like you're not smart enough to be here? Yes, yes, and yes. How many times are you going to ask me?
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By Donna on November 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is great for those of us who tend to not own our success. I love the insight into yourself. It is also very helpful to do the exercises in the book. It really helps to see why you do what you do. The greater beauty is it helps you know how to change your behavior and your thought patterns. It has really helped me be more confident and assertive! I would recommend this to anyone. I first ran across Valerie Young, on her website Changing Course. She is very good at motivating you to live your dream!
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