Five Flavors of Impostor

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Valerie Young is the author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It. In a previous post, I wrote about how women are much more likely to think of themselves as impostors. Men, on the other hand, tend to think that people underestimate them –  a quote from someone Young interviewed for the book stated “My husband is a nice guy who is successful and pretty far up the executive ladder. Last night at dinner, I was telling him about the impostor syndrome. He said to me completely sincerely and non-arrogantly that he could not relate at all because he feels like he is genuinely smarter than anyone gives him credit for. LOL!!:-)”

Impostor Syndrome, defined by Young as the feeling that you’re somehow faking your success, occurs for women (and some men) at every level, from beginners to highly successful executives and creative artists. Leonardo Da Vinci once wrote: “I have offended God and mankind because my work didn’t reach the quality it should have.”

But not all of us who feel like fakes feel so for the same reason. There are at least five flavors of Impostor Syndrome, according to Young. She identifies the types as:

  • The Perfectionist
  • The Natural Genius
  • The Rugged Individualist
  • The Expert, and
  • The Superwoman/Man/Student

Your sense of being an impostor, Young says, comes from a rigid set of rules that have been planted in your head. REAL successes, you think, are different from you because they (fill in the blank with a strict rule here.)

Great speakers never get nervous before a presentation. If I were really a gifted designer, I’d never have to pitch work – commissions would come to me.  Competent writers never miss errors. I’ll know I’m good at this when I get a million followers.

Young offers this assessment to determine which kind of competence style is holding you back. Take a moment to complete the following sentences with the first thing that pops into your head:

I’ll know I’m competent at____________ when____________________________________________.

If I were really smart, _________________I should always___________________________________.

If I were really qualified, I would________________________.

Young writes: “Each sentence represents one kind of erroneous thinking about what it takes to be competent—your inner competence rule book.” Your answers reveal what kind of self-defeating thinking might be causing you to feel like a failure.

Read about the Perfectionist here.

Read about the Natural here.



1 thought on “Five Flavors of Impostor

  1. […] written before about Impostor Syndrome, the persistent, sometimes crippling feeling that you’re not as good as everyone thinks you are. […]


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