What Is Imposter Syndrome

Work, Wisdom

If you struggle with imposter syndrome, get really excited. It is evidence that you are taking tremendous action!

As we gather our gumption to face big decisions, choices, goals, we need to address imposter syndrome. If you have never experienced it, or don’t know what I am talking about, then you might be an imposter reader of this blog post…  Naw, just kidding. If you don’t know what I am talking about, I am truly thrilled! Hopefully that means you are not busily second guessing yourself, or doubting that you are sufficient for your current challenge or opportunity. Really. I pray that anyone within the grasp of this site sheds the habit of self doubt immediately.

When I arrived at Harvard Business School, Dean Kim Clark addressed imposter syndrome right up front. He didn’t attempt to scare or intimidate us.  He did not do the tough guy act I have heard is so common at select schools. You know the one that goes something like this: turn to your right and to your left….those people will not be here when you graduate because x number of you will fail out. Not at all. Dean Clark did the opposite. 

He said, “We don’t make admissions mistakes. You are not an imposter of an HBS student, you are all meant to be here. You will be meeting amazing people this week and it will be tempting to ask yourself, What am I doing here? To think, I don’t belong, I am an imposter. Rather, he instructed us to understand that each of us fit and none of us were “imposters”.

Self Pep Talk Download

Imposter Syndrome Theory

I now have a theory about imposter syndrome.

If you struggle with imposter syndrome, get really excited. It is evidence that you are taking tremendous action!  

I spend a great deal of time with a wide variety of people. On the one hand, I am blessed to have a large group of friends that are almost exclusively from the same town where we live and where they grew up.

These people largely have maintained the same jobs or careers for decades, and mostly spend their social time in the same circles doing the same activities. Although I enjoy their welcoming and warm friendship, I am not particularly inspired by their presence, and I don’t see them make a meaningful impact. Literally NONE of these mates is touched by imposter syndrome and if I were to ask them about it, it would not register.

On the other hand, I have dozens of friends whose lives blow me away. I sit in awe of the uncertainty they embrace and the advancements they make.  Many (not all) of these highly accomplished people are also incredibly well educated and have fancy pedigrees. Nevertheless imposter syndrome often plagues them.

In other words, in my personal experience, those who worry that they might be “imposters” are definitely NOT; conversely, those who don’t recognize that they are imposters, to some degree maybe are!”

The Solid Oak Tree

Please imagine a strong oak tree. My first friend group tends to reside solidly in the trunk of the tree where there is little change and tons of stability. They stay in the same jobs and live in the same town. I am not one of these people, but I am grateful to have them in my life. They provide a source of dependability, predictability, and stability.

I don’t gravitate to living in the tree’s trunk or even on the branches. No, I tend to reside in the highest and farthest twig. Like a leaf, I reach to the sky and sway in the breeze. Unlike my stable buddies in the trunk, I am often plucked and sometimes crash to the ground only to rise again and grow.  

What about you? My guess is that by the mere fact that you and I are meeting on the Into the Ideal site, you might be more of a branch or leaf.  Welcome! As the growing, stretching type, we will be prone to question ourselves. To see ourselves as imposters. Please waste no more energy questioning yourself. When that unease sneaks its pesky little way into your precious body, mind or spirit, cringe your lip at it, grit your teeth if you have to, but then recognize it for what it is: confirmation that you are daring to live life out on the branches.

A Famous Roosevelt Quote

Brene Brown’s bestseller Dare to Lead is based largely on President Theodore Roosevelt famous quote, 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and eat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasm, the great devotions’ who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”


Things aren’t always as they seem. Some days it will appear as though you are not fully equipped or qualified to handle the uncertainty and the tests that you face. But.You.Are! Just by jumping in the ring, you are winning.