Woman looking in a mirror experiencing imposter syndrome

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

By Usha Rao, PhD

The term imposter syndrome entered the lexicon in the 1970s to describe the psychological discomfort experienced by high-achieving women who attribute their work success to sheer luck, rather than to their own abilities. Recent research shows that nearly everyone experiences such feelings at least some of the time. However, the impacts of these feelings disproportionately affect women, especially women of color and other intersectional identities.

In a webinar on September 19, I discussed how we can change our mindset to overcome feelings of being an imposter. I also discussed the need to create equitable workplaces where more women can experience belonging.

Key Takeaways

Imposter Syndrome is common and universal during times of change.

  • Self-doubt is common during times of growth and challenge, so imposter syndrome often signals that you are moving forward in your career.
  • Just because you experience negative self-talk doesn’t mean that you have to believe it! Reframe your fear of failure as the drive to succeed.
  • Acknowledging your doubts and fears is a better strategy for coping with negative emotions than suppressing them is.

Embrace your authentic purpose.

  • Don’t “fake it till you make it.” This will only exacerbate your feeling of being an imposter.
  • Purpose is the antidote to this negative self-talk.

Lean into a learner mindset.

  • Having a learner mindset helps you to take your focus off your own narrow fears and interests and to put it instead on the task at hand. A learner mindset also helps you to reframe mistakes as a natural part of the learning process.
  • Track your wins and choose to keep moving ahead in spite of your selfdoubt.

Institutions play a role.

  • Imposter syndrome can be a logical response to finding yourself navigating institutions and systems not designed for you.
  • Feeling like an imposter is natural when you don’t see others like you succeeding in the workplace, but you have to find ways to move forward with purpose.
  • Encourage decision-makers to create workplaces where all talented people can thrive, such as by conducting climate surveys and providing transparent metrics on hires and career advancement.
  • Be part of the solution. Create institutional supports for future generations of women. You’re not an imposter. You’re a pioneer.

Want to learn more?

Usha Rao, PhDDr. Usha Rao is a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Saint Joseph’s University where she co-developed the John P. McNulty Program for Leadership in Science and Mathematics. Since 2009, this initiative has supported nearly 130 gifted undergraduate women with scholarships, peer and faculty mentoring, research funding, and leadership development opportunities. She also created the University’s first faculty development office to provide resources and support to hundreds of faculty members, serving as long-term Founding Director. Dr. Rao is also a speaker, STEM career coach, consultant, and writes articles on leadership and mentoring for Lab Manager magazine. She has received many awards including the AWIS Zenith award for lifetime achievement.

This article was originally published in AWIS Magazine. Join AWIS to access the full issue of AWIS Magazine and more member benefits.