*Note: This blog post was inspired by several conversations I recently had with women looking for career change (ex. new direction, seeking promotion, debating about going back to school).

When working towards a goal and experiencing changes on that journey, it would not be surprising to feel a number of things.  This can include fear, excitement, stress, joy, shock, happiness, or even satisfaction.  It is all part of the experience when you are growing and changing.  However, did you ever feel like a fake and that people will see right through you?

Two researchers (Clance & Imes, 1978) coined this the imposter phenomenon or better known today as imposter syndrome.  In their research, they worked with 150 highly successful women and found that they had a common “internal experience of intellectual phonies” (p. 1).  What did this mean?  That even though they all had several achievements including numerous college degrees, are respected in their professions, and had people looking up to them, they all felt like their success was not real and that they were a fake.  This phenomenon has been studied by several researchers since Clance & Imes and is a pretty popular topic today.  Some of the common feelings associated with imposter syndrome (Harvard Business Review, 2008) include:

I can’t fail

I feel like a fake

I just got lucky

It’s no big deal

I have to say there were a few times in my life where I felt like an imposter.  I must admit, the most prevalent one was when I first started teaching at the college level.  At that time, I was finishing my doctorate (I still had about 2 years left in my program) and was an adjunct (at the college level that is part time teaching).  It was so new and I was excited.  I also had a lot to learn.  It was completely new to me and I wanted the experience. 

I started teaching and it went well but in those first few years I experienced some bumps in the road.  I needed to redesign some courses and assignments.  There were moments where I questioned if I can do this.  I worried that people would see through me and call me out in front of the classroom (that never happened so I worried for no reason).  It also does not help that people often mistake me for a student instead of the professor. 

I dealt with these feelings through talking with colleagues and working with mentors.  I devoted myself to teaching.  I learned different teaching methods.  I redesigned courses and assignments.  I took the time to learn and I was successful.  As I devoted myself to learning, the feelings of insecurity began to fade away. 

As I reflect back on this time in my life, I can’t help but wonder how my life would be today if I let those feelings guide me.  Would I have continued to teach?  Would I have left the field?  Would it stop me from working towards my success? I am glad I decided to focus on my goals instead of letting the worries get the best of me. 

 I will leave you with this question-is imposter syndrome stopping you from achieving your goals?