“Linus, the young and gifted character in Peanuts, once said, “I am burdened by a great potential.” And so are you.

You’ve spent years explaining away your success… convinced that you’re really not as successful or as competent as everyone else knows you are… waiting for the other shoe to drop.

But there is another truth and that is:



Consciously you’re afraid that people will find out you’re inept. But deep down you know you’re “smart”—or at least smart enough. As Marianne Williamson famously observed, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”

Buried under all the debris of fear and self- doubt is the certain knowledge that you are infinitely capable. You’ll probably even smile when I tell you that leadership expert Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries considers the impostor syndrome to be “the flip side of giftedness.”

If you don’t believe me, then consider the findings by Wake Forest University psychologists that some people who say they feel like frauds are secretly more confident than they let on. The conclusion was that such people are in effect “phony phonies.”

I respectfully disagree. I believe what these researchers really revealed is the other side of impostorism. The side of you that, however small and inconsistent, secretly knows you are accomplished and competent and that you really can do it.

As cliché as it may sound, you really can do anything you put your mind to. Think about it.

• Why Sonia Sotomayor, Suze Orman, or Sue Grafton and not you?
• Why Madeleine Albright, Maya Lin, or Martha Graham and not you?
• Why Anita Roddick, Kathryn Bigelow, or Marian Wright Edelman and not you?
• Why Sally Ride, Dian Fossey, or Grace Hopper and not you?
• Why Margaret Mead, Michelle Wie, or Toni Morrison and not you?
• Why Meg Whitman, Martha Stewart, or Mary Kay Ash and not you?
• Why Louise Hay, Tina Fey, or Jane Goodall and not you?
• Why Christiane Amanpour, Salma Hayek, or Amy Tan and not you?

For that matter, why Rick Steves, Stephen King, Gary Vaynerchuk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Richard Branson, Barack Obama, or any man who has achieved his goals and not you? I could go on, of course, but the point is, not one of these amazing women or men are necessarily smarter, better, luckier, or more amazing than you are. True, they’ve acquired certain knowledge, skills, and experience. But the operative word here is acquired.

An improbable television phenomenon like Julia Child did not come out of the womb being “Julia Child, cooking legend.” She became Julia Child—and at forty-nine years old at that. Playwright Wendy Wasserstein’s turning point came in her early thirties when a friend told her that “the way to be taken seriously is to take yourself seriously.”

Oprah Winfrey had none of the advantages of economic class or a stable family life. She spent the first six years of her life being raised by her grandmother in Mississippi before being shuttled north to live with her mother. At thirteen the scars of abuse and molestation drove her to run away from home and subsequently be sent to a juvenile detention facility, only to be denied admission because all the beds were filled. Nothing in Oprah’s background would have portended success, never mind megastardom.

Yet Oprah was remarkably undaunted. Even after being fired from her television reporter’s job and told, “You’re not fit for TV,” she remained undaunted and was later said to remark, “I always knew I was destined for greatness.” And so are you.

You can be powerful beyond measure without becoming a household name. In fact, it takes just as much courage to walk away from what everyone else considers a “dream job” to follow your own road. It takes not one more ounce of courage or energy to dream big than it does to settle. And you’ve got a lot more to gain by shooting high than by shooting low.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Internationally recognized expert and “recovering impostor” Dr. Valerie Young has spoken to over 80,000 people at such diverse organizations as Facebook, Boeing, P&G, Intel, Chrysler, IBM, Ernst & Young, American Women in Radio and Television, Society of Women Engineers, Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton. Her book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, from which this article was adapted, is available in five languages. Her career-related tips have appeared around the world on the BBC and in The Wall Street Journal, More, Inc., Woman’s Day, Chicago Tribune, Globe & Mail, Glamour (UK), The Sydney Morning Herald and elsewhere. Visit her online at www.ImpostorSyndrome.com.