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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
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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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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.
With a title like “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women,” you may wonder why a guy like me would read it. Although the Imposter Syndrome affects women more frequently—for reasons she outlines in the book—most men can identify with much of her material. It also provides great insights for men into what our sisters, wives, and daughters deal with on a daily basis. I underlined many ideas that hit home with me and will cite a few examples.
Toward the beginning of the book, Valerie lists “Seven Perfectly Good Reasons Why You May Feel Like and Imposter—and What to Do About Them.” Reason #1 is that we were raised by (imperfect) humans. As children, the withheld praise that we hunger for from adults can haunt us for a long time. But if we realize that perhaps our parents never received the approval they needed growing up, it makes it easier to forgive them and to move on.
She also identifies self-destructive habits we develop to undermine our successes. If we procrastinate on studying for an important test and end up receiving a bad grade, we justify it by saying it really does prove we’re not as smart as others think we are.
How we respond to mistakes and criticism factors into a diminished self-image for many people. Valerie reminds us that sometimes are critics are dead wrong. Did you know Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper for “lacking ideas?”
Perhaps most shocking to some readers may be the long list of famous people who confess to feeling like imposters. Tina Fey, Sonia Sotomayor, Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet and the late Andy Williams are quoted. But as mere average mortals, it’s refreshing to learn that even those with world-class talent acknowledge their occasional doubts about how deserving they are of their fame. And it’s interesting to see how they cope with it.
Finally, after presenting the tools needed to overcome the Imposter Syndrome, Valerie presents an inspiring challenge. “Everyone loses when you play small,” she writes. “There are people out there this very minute who want and deserve to benefit from your full range of knowledge, abilities, and skills.”
This is a brilliant book that belongs in every self-help library.
The author does a great job of giving the personal and societal reasons for the Impostor Syndrome, and then moves on the different ways Impostor Syndrome shows up in a person's thoughts and behaviors. She then gets even more detailed with what she calls "competencies," which have to do with a what a person perceives as competent and what is not.
I read this book not only for my own personal growth, but also as part of research for my own book which I am currently working on now about banishing your inner critic to unleash creativity, which will be out later this year. I took *20 pages* of notes from this book, and upon reading practically every page, I let out an audible grunt of agreement (my housemate was like "oh, that book is really speaking to you, huh?" :D). That would be an understatement! In reading the book, I saw so much of not only myself, but also my mother and my sister in the book as well – which also alerted me to the idea that Impostor Syndrome can also be a learned behavior, passed down from generation to generation, to highly competent mothers to daughters.
My only wish for this book was that I felt the solutions for all of the different manifestations of Impostor Syndrome were buried in paragraphs. I would have liked to see the format be a bit more clear so that the problems are laid out, followed by clear action-item, applicable solutions.
It's a great, eye-opening read. If you have the merest hint of feeling like you are a fraud, got lucky, and at any moment "they" will find out you are just winging it, then definitely read this book!