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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 by [Valerie Young Ed.D]

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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 Kindle Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 595 ratings

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Editorial Reviews


“[Valerie] Young’s extremely perceptive and action-oriented solutions shine. . . . 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

“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 the 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.”
—Suzanne Imes, Ph.D., 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

“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 impostor 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

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 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.

--This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B004KPM1N0
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Currency (October 25, 2011)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ October 25, 2011
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 2277 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Not Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Sticky notes ‏ : ‎ On Kindle Scribe
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 306 pages
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.7 out of 5 stars 595 ratings

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The first time I heard about impostor feelings I was a 21-year-old doctoral student at the same university where my Mom was working as a night janitor. I instantly identified.

In fact, my head was nodding like a bobble-head doll. “Oh my God,” I thought, “they're 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 people. 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 advisers, 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.

What I learned became the basis for a daylong workshop called “Overcoming the Impostor Syndrome: Issues of Competence and Confidence for Women,” which I co-led with fellow graduate 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. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people -- both men and women -- have attended what is now known as the Rethinking Impostor Syndrome program. Simply giving people an alternative way of thinking about themselves and their competence has yielded some amazing results.

Attendees reported asking for—and getting–raises or raising their fees.

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.

One woman even decided to throw her hat into the ring for lieutenant governor!

The core of my work stems from my original research. Although my research subjects consisted of a racially diverse group of professional women, much of those original findings have proved directly applicable to anyone with impostor feelings.

At times I pull from my own professional and management experience working in a Fortune 100 company.

I draw too from my 25 years helping aspiring self-bossers think outside of the job box and to overcome the fear and self-doubt that stands between themselves and their dreams.

However, most of what I’ve learned about the impostor syndrome comes from the collective experience and wisdom of my workshop participants spanning nearly 40 years.

In that time I’ve led workshops for tens of thousands of students, faculty, and staff at more than 100 colleges and universities in the US, Canada, Japan, Europe and the UK including Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and Oxford. Unfortunately, the impostor syndrome does not end with a diploma. In fact, the more accomplished you are -- the more likely you are to feel like a fraud.

Some of what you’ll learn comes from my experience speaking to leaders and employees in such diverse organizations as Google, Pfizer, Intel, JP Morgan, Chrysler, Facebook, Procter & Gamble, Hello Fresh, YUM!, Merck, BP, IBM, McDonald's (Europe), NASA, the National Cancer Institute, Society of Women Engineers, Association of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and with women's entrepreneurial centers in five Canadian provinces.

In addition you'll learn from the experiences of people from a wide range of industries and careers. I’ve run seminars for groups of nurses, psychologists, optometrists, executives, financial planners, jewelers, cancer researchers, social workers, engineers, physicians, managers of enormous sports and other arenas, and attorneys—all of which has been incorporated in the Rethinking Impostor Syndrome(TM) workshops and this book.

Despite their various situations and occupations, the women and men I’ve worked with have one important thing in common: They are no impostors. And, as you will soon discover, neither are you.

I hope you enjoy the book. And remember, the only way to stop feeling like an impostor is to stop thinking like an impostor.

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