Dr. Bob Wright | May 19, 2016

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Do you ever feel like you’re about to be “found out”—like your success is a mistake? Did you get to where you are today by “tricking” everyone into believing you’re a great salesperson, an awesome CEO, a fantastic artist, or a talented writer?

Do you fear the day when everyone finds out you don’t actually measure up?

These negative thoughts are symptoms of imposter syndrome.

The “imposter phenomenon” was coined by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes in 1978. The term was used to describe successful individuals who, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary, felt themselves to be “frauds” in their chosen profession. When shown evidence of their success, these so-called imposters dismissed it as good luck or suggested they deceived others into believing they were competent.

Does this sound familiar? Why do we feel this way?

Most of us have some sort of anxiety. We all worry. Sometimes our worries are reasonable and sometimes they’re aren’t. Many of us worry about our health, our financial status, our social lives, our loved ones, whether people like us, and whether we can take care of those around us. A little anxiety is natural. In fact, most successful people are driven in one way or another by their uneasiness, their need to do well, and their anxiety about success.

However, our healthy amount of worrying runs up against these foundational ideas in our heads called limiting beliefs. These ideas “keep us safe.” They keep us from quitting our job and running off to join the circus, or from hurting those around us.

Yet, our limiting beliefs also keep us from trusting ourselves. They keep us from self-development and reaching our maximum potential. They make us hold ourselves back, so we can stay cozy in our perceived “safe zone.” Limiting beliefs keep us from fully living our best lives.

Understanding Our Limiting Beliefs

The first step to overcoming imposter syndrome is to examine our limiting beliefs. Limiting beliefs are those beliefs at our very core: they’re typically formed very early in childhood. These limiting beliefs are not only often untrue—they actually hold us back from reaching our full potential.

Our limiting beliefs might cause us to think things like:

These beliefs follow us around; they haunt us. Sometimes we might not even realize our particular limiting beliefs because they’re so buried within our subconscious. Although we may be blind to them, these limiting beliefs shape our choices and our confidence. They steer our decisions toward or away from things we might otherwise want.

Chances are, you already formed most of your limiting beliefs before you were aware. They may have come from your interactions with siblings, a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, or even your friends. Most of our social and emotional makeup is formed by age six or seven, and then it’s carried with us for life, forming the basis of our future choices and self-image.

Why One Man Feels Like an Imposter

Lately, I’ve been coaching a highly successful young man. He has references and accolades from some of the most respected folks in his industry. He was recently promoted to a higher position offering more money and the chance to manage a whole network of global team members.

In the midst of all this, he’s haunted by the fact that he doesn’t have a college degree. He flunked out. Not because he couldn’t do it, but because he didn’t care—at the time, he was more interested in sports and partying. He turned his life around and he’s very successful now, but yet, in the back of his mind, he’s just waiting to be found out. He believes he’s an imposter. He’s been honest with people about his education and it’s never held him back at all. He’s relied on his life experience and personality to drive him, but this idea that he’s not good enough still continues to come up and taint his success.

Working with him, we were able to discover it all went back to his childhood relationship with his parents. He’s living out a self-fulfilling prophecy that he’ll “never be good enough” because his mom was a higher performer and his father was less so. He believed that, as a man, he was inherently lazy. He felt like he didn’t even live up to the standard set by his father, especially after his academics suffered. So he’s still hearing the voice of doubt in his head—the need to rebel against other people’s performance standards, to stand against authority. Despite his success, money and promotions, he’s still working through this early childhood limitation.

How To Let Go of Limiting Beliefs

To really be successful—to take your life to the next level—you have to really shake up those limiting beliefs. After a certain point, they simply hold you back. How? Challenge the things you think about yourself. If you feel you aren’t deserving of your success, examine why you have that belief. Where is it coming from? Challenge it and push yourself to really figure out WHY you feel this way and how you can let it go.

Every step you take away from your limiting beliefs, you should truly and sincerely congratulate yourself. Tell yourself you’re embracing your best and you deserve the things you have. Because you’re working toward living out your fullest potential, you can and will do it.

Truly Overcoming Imposter Syndrome & Living Your Best Life

Educational Theorist Lev Vygotsky taught (in what became known as Social Development Theory) that children develop by playing and interacting socially. They first pretend something, and then throughout their cognitive development, this “play” turns into real social interactions. If you’ve ever watched children play house, you’ve probably seen some elaborate social interaction planned and carried out. There are imagined scenarios and then reactions to the scenarios. Children learn how to become what they first pretend.

Just like children, we can literally “fake it ‘til we make it.” Acknowledge your limiting beliefs are there, holding you back. Know you can and will achieve the things you want by working on these skills and challenging yourself.

If you’re in a constant state of growth, challenging yourself, and being honest, authentic and intentional, you can become what you want to be. There’s very little out of your reach. It’s not about deserving something or fitting a certain mold; it’s about having integrity and intention. If you work to create the best and bring out the best for those around you, they will reciprocate because they’ll also want the best for you.

Let go of the idea you don’t deserve your success—embrace it!


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About the Author


Dr. Bob Wright is an internationally recognized visionary, educator, program developer, leadership and sales executive, best-selling author and speaker. He is a co-founder of Wright and the Wright Graduate University.

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