You Don’t Have to Fake It ‘Til You Make It! How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome at Any Stage

Updated: Aug 21, 2020

I still occasionally have imposter syndrome (IS) spasms.

Do I really know what I’m talking about? What if my client doesn’t like my blog post (after all, I never went to journalism school)? Do I REALLY know how to be a parent? (My daughters are 32 and 28 BTW.)

During my 20+ year career in financial services, I sometimes worried that I would get “busted” for never taking an Economics class in college. I was an English and Psychology major and still managed to become a VP and, ultimately a CMO at a global company.

So, why do we do this to ourselves? That pesky little insecure inner voice taunts us and makes us feel like we’re not quite as talented, smart, or qualified as those around us.

First, You Are Not Alone

Google “imposter syndrome women,” and you’ll find close to a million hits. This recent article lays out some of the causes. As women, not having enough other women like us to benchmark against is often at the core. We sometimes just see the surfaces of successful people and don’t understand that everyone is flawed or struggling somehow.

Having a trusted circle is vital in working on our IS issues. In fact, this post was inspired by topics raised within the SOS community.

“Fake it ‘Til You Make it” is a Seriously Flawed Concept

Replace it with “Say it…learn it…act it…become it.” Although the acronym is an unfortunate “SLAB,” what it means is that we need to work on building our inner strength and confidence. You’re not “faking” anything. You’re simply on a path to owning your many talents.

  • Say it. Commit to being or doing something. Eliminate words like “I hope to…” or “I think I might…” and replace them with “I will.” For example, when I embarked on my writing/speaking career, I simply stated that “I am a talented writer who will get published in major media outlets.”

  • Learn it. Rather than focusing on what skills we don’t have, invest in filling the gaps. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or mentors and subject matter experts. Admit what you don’t know without crushing yourself. Study successful women leaders who have mastered the art of being a little self-deprecating without sounding pathetic.

  • Act it. Confidence is key. Walk the talk until you’re able to run. This is a tough one for many of us. Stand in front of a mirror and give your “pitch.” Pay attention to your body language and tone. With practice, you’ll build confidence.

  • Become it. Enough said.

Above all, do not allow rejection to send you into an IS tailspin. One of my fave superheroes was the cheerleader Claire Bennet in the TV show “Heroes.” Her power was the ability to heal quickly. Use criticism as a way to improve.

Everyone loses when bright people play small

That's the tagline of Clearly, you are not alone if the topic has its own website!

For more about Imposter Syndrome:

Why Imposter Syndrome Hits Women and Women of Colour Harder

How to Shut Up That Voice in Your Head

How to Mentor Someone With Imposter Syndrome

Nancy A. Shenker is a marketing innovator, brand builder, writer, speaker, and self-proclaimed rule breaker. Founder of theONswitch marketing, Nancy was formerly a senior executive for major consumer and business brands, including Citibank, MasterCard, and Reed Exhibitions. She has written four books and publishes a women’s entrepreneur community (sheBOOM). She is 64, has two daughters, and is a self-proclaimed midlife digital nomad, with a home base in Scottsdale, Arizona. (She’s originally a hard-core New Yorker.)

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