imposter syndromeThere are lots of people who suffer from a fear of failure. What I’ve noticed is that almost as many people suffer from “Imposter Syndrome” – or fear of success.

I was one of those people. Several years ago, I wrote about how I declared at a workshop that I was “more comfortable with failure than success.” And, at the time, it felt true.

If something doesn’t work out – if you “fail” – there is an initial, inevitable period of disappointment, lack of confidence, guilt and perhaps even anger, before you feel able to start again.

So it’s quite understandable that people are afraid of failure. But being afraid of success? That doesn’t make any sense – until you realise that fear of success is actually fear of failure in a different guise.

I’ve realised that, when I was afraid of being successful, it was because I didn’t think I would be able to keep it up. I thought I might have a moment of brilliance, that led me to being successful, but I wouldn’t have the staying power or the resources to keep delivering.

I was afraid that people would find out that I was really a fraud – that I had nothing to offer, and that I had somehow managed to hoodwink them into believing that I was much cleverer and much more talented than I actually was.

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome is quite common among people who have all the skills and qualifications to be immensely successful – and yet even if they are successful, something holds them back. Valerie Young is something of an expert, and has written a book on the subject.

From my own experience, the more I learn, the more I realise there still is to learn – so if anyone asks if I’m an “expert”, I usually say “no”, even if it’s not true. It’s about setting a level of expectation – if people don’t expect too much of me, then they can’t be disappointed in me.

So what is the purpose of Imposter Syndrome? Everything we do – or don’t do – is for a reason. There’s an underlying benefit. So what is the benefit of playing small, of holding back, in case you get “found out”?

The answer is in the question. By playing small, we don’t have to achieve great things – we don’t have to suffer the humiliation of being exposed as a fraud. But what if you’re not a fraud? What if you really ARE that brilliant? Don’t you owe it to yourself – and to the world – to show that brilliance? To fully be the special person that you are?

I’m now recovering from Imposter Syndrome. I realise that I do have something to offer – and that, even if someone were to call me a fraud, I would know that’s not true. Quite the opposite in fact. I might not be perfect, but if I’m being true to myself, I can never be an Imposter.


Please feel free to leave a comment below, on Facebook or on Twitter (#30DWC). You can also follow my progress on Facebook and Twitter #30DWC.

4 thoughts on “Imposter Syndrome

  1. hey Julia
    Thanks for these thoughts.
    I’m so glad you are coming round to how much you have to offer! I’m sure there will always be people who have more experience of know-how than us, and a lot who know an awful lot less, so we just have to find the people we are a good fit for! I try to remind myself ‘its not failing, its learning’. Easier some days than others, but something to work on!

  2. Julia Barnickle

    Thanks Hannah – true words of wisdom!
    I think I used to spend my time trying to be someone I wasn’t – trying to be like other successful business people, So it’s hardly surprising that I felt like an Imposter!
    The turning point came when I realised that, by being true to myself, and not an Imposter, I can attract the people who, as you say, are a good fit.

  3. You are spot on Julia. One of the exercises I have people at my talks do is sort out what they are getting out of their impostor pattern… safety, avoiding humiliation, more free time that comes from procrastinating on important career or business enhancing activities, protection from scrutiny or criticism.

    Once we understand how our pattern serves us we can then ask ourselves — at what cost? This is the point where you get to decide — I’m going to stick with the benefits of my pattern — OR I’m going to make a change. Happily most people choose the later.

    Glad to see you are owning your gifts and bringing them into the world.

  4. Julia Barnickle

    Thank you for stopping by, Valerie – and thank you for your comment. I’m glad to hear that you find most people choose to change, rather than stick with the “benefits” of feeling like an imposter. The world needs us all to own our gifts.

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