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The curse of successful people: Feeling like impostors.

Some time ago, I started coaching a successful executive woman. She was very intelligent, had a friendly personality, loved her family life, beautiful home and was financially comfortable. She wanted to grow her side of the business and she knew that it all depended on her planning and some difficult tasks she would have to own. After a few weeks she told me: “I don’t know why, but I’m always feeling that I just got lucky, that I haven’t really earned anything I have, the success, my family, the money I have, and I’m here, trying to go for bigger things and all I am is really scared that life is going to find out and in a moment take it all away, like: “Oops, we made a mistake giving you all this, let me take it all back!”

By then, I had already read about how we often feel like “impostors” in our lives and careers (and had a big "aha!" moment by the way, because I too, have felt that!), and that it is very prevalent among successful women...And men too. They just don’t like to talk about it because of the expectations imposed by society that men shouldn’t “feel” or share “weaknesses”.

"The general feeling is that we don't belong - that we have fooled people into thinking we're more competent and talented than we actually are."

Amy Cuddy, referring to what it means to feel like an Impostor on her book "Presence".

Please raise your hand (or better yet, send me a quick message or comment) if you’ve ever experienced any of these feelings:

  • You’re scared that people will find out that you are not as smart as they think you are.

  • You feel that you just got lucky. That you were given a chance for reasons beyond your talents.

  • You think “Oh crap” when you get recognized for something great you did. And doubt your ability to do it again.

  • You compare yourself to others and diminish your talents against theirs. You think they are smarter, more confident, better fit for the job.

  • You feel uncomfortable when people praise your work and say “oh it was nothing!”

  • And, this is very common among women, you decline an opportunity of a promotion because you feel you are not ready for it yet.

So, feeling like an impostor? Where does it come from?

It’s difficult to know and I wouldn’t recommend you to try to figure it out, unless you want to spend your entire life on self-analysis mode. The reality is that there could be some many variables like the way you were raised, life experiences you’ve gone through, society expectations, your personality, and so on.

Does it ever go away?

I believe that it does get better, but as humans living in constant change, feelings like that will come back to us as life progresses. The key is to learn to recognize them, lead ourselves through them, and crush them by creating self-power.

Who do you want to lead yourself from?

If you have achieved great success, there is a side of you that knows how great you are. So, you can choose to lead yourself upward through this successful side that’s part of you, or with the one that feels like an impostor.

Make the decision to lead with the side of you that will

help you move towards the success that you want.

Back to the story

I continued to work with the executive woman I mentioned earlier, and after a couple of meetings of self-analysis I said: “Look, we can keep talking about the many possibilities that make you feel this way and stay there for as long as you need, or we can create a plan for you to start living and leading through the person you really want to be.”

I expect many of you to say, “well, it is not that easy!”. It isn’t, but it is that simple. It is as simple as you deciding every day WHO you want to be that day and lead your emotions to help you support that person - even if you are pretending all day, even if you don't feel like the successful business person you want to be, or the great leader you would feel proud of, the fact that you are acting like it, will inform the world that you are exactly that. And guess what, you will believe it soon enough.

Self-Leadership is one of the most difficult challenges we face, but it is simpler than you think. It becomes complicated when we try to figure out ways our minds work, what our subconscious messages are making us do or feel, or how life is getting in the way of our success. If you spend too much time reflecting on all that, things will get very complicated.

My recommendation for you is this: Stop trying to figure yourself out. Yes, become an expert at learning the emotional patterns in your life and where they come from, but stay committed to taking action because there is a side of you that trusts your ability to be great at achieving success...It might be crushed deep down, but the best way to dig it out is by doing, by acting, by leading yourself regardless of how afraid you may be.

A simple way to move forward from feeling like an impostor.

Take a moment of serious reflection and answer these questions:

  • Who do I want to be?

  • How do I want to act?

  • What do I want to feel?

Crush self-doubt when you are working on this. Trust that you have everything necessary to achieve great success, because you-do. After you’ve answered these three questions, create a plan to commit to leading yourself every single day, like the real winner you are.

Questions for you:

When have you felt like an impostor?

Are you feeling like one now?

If you have, let me know by sending me a message or commenting here.

Please like and share this! It might be exactly what someone needs today.

Mariana Jaeger is a Leadership Development and Performance Success expert and has successfully trained, mentored and coached hundreds of people in her career. To learn more about Mariana, click here

Mariana Jaeger


Austin, Texas based, serving clients globally.

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