How To Succeed at Being Your Authentic Self

By Kelly Carson, Editor

You walk into a room of hair-care professionals just like you. You’re armed with all the latest certificates and up-to-date training. But you are suddenly wracked with fear and wondering whether you belong.

Are you good enough? Are you smart enough? Do you have enough experience to run with this crowd?

Those types of questions are all part of imposter syndrome. The Harvard Business Review defines imposter syndrome as: “doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud. It disproportionately affects high-achieving people, who find it difficult to accept their accomplishments. Many question whether they’re deserving of accolades.”

WebMD gives a brief history of imposter syndrome that is easy to understand.

“In 1978, psychologists Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance first described imposter syndrome in high-achieving professional women. More recently, experts have found that it’s common among both men and women in many lines of work.

One study found that about 70% of all people have felt like an imposter at some point. Imposter syndrome often affects those who are highly capable perfectionists. Among those reported to have felt this kind of self-doubt are scientist Albert Einstein, athlete Serena Williams, singer Jennifer Lopez, and actors Natalie Portman, Lupita Nyong’o, and Tom Hanks.

“Studies show that those who are different from most of their peers, such as women in high-tech careers or first-generation college students, are more likely to have imposter syndrome. Research has also found that imposter syndrome is common among Black American, Asian American, and Latinx college students in the United States.”

The American Psychological Association reports that “up to 82% of people face feelings of impostor phenomenon, struggling with the sense they haven’t earned what they’ve achieved and are a fraud. These feelings can contribute to increased anxiety and depression, less risk-taking in careers, and career burnout.”

“There’s an ongoing fear that’s usually experienced by high-achieving individuals that they’re going to be ‘found out’ or unmasked as being incompetent or unable to replicate past successes,” said Audrey Ervin, a clinical psychologist in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, said in an APA article published online. She is also the academic director of Delaware Valley University’s graduate counseling psychology program.

The American Psychological Association offers seven strategies to help overcome impostor feelings, which we have condensed here.

As with all troubling emotions, one of the best ways to manage impostor feelings is to address the cognitive distortions contributing to them. While Jessica Vanderlan, a clinical instructor of psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis leads group discussions among medical residents, the tips remain the same across all fields because impostor feelings often lead to burnout. A common suggestion she shares is to take a step back to look at the bigger picture. What facts support that you deserve to be in your role?

While doing this, monitor your internal dialogue. Vanderlan recommends “a simple exercise of asking yourself how you might support a friend who minimizes their accomplishments and then applying the same supportive language to your own narration.”

“If you don’t trust your own “facts,” Vanderlan recommends enlisting other people. Sharing your impostor feelings with others can not only reduce loneliness but also open doors for others to share what they see in you.

“Be strategic about whom you share with. Airing impostor struggles with peers can promote comparison and increase the impostor phenomenon, but venting to trusted individuals outside your professional circle can provide a more helpful picture of your accomplishments and value,” the APA reported.

You can get a lot of help talking with people who are experiencing it as you are, and you can share your insecurities and in turn, gain new coping skills.

If your impostor feelings rise to the level where they negatively impact your functioning, then Kevin Cokley, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas at Austin who has studied the impostor phenomenon since 2013, suggests working through these thoughts in therapy.

“People who struggle with impostor feelings tend to brush off their successes, which can only exacerbate the experience,” The APA reported. “If someone congratulates you, don’t move on too fast. Pay attention to how you respond and aim to speak more positively about yourself.”

Lisa Orbé-Austin, a New York–based psychologist, executive coach, and coauthor of “Own Your Greatness: Overcome Impostor Syndrome, Beat Self-Doubt, and Succeed in Life,” said, “taking time to applaud yourself, whether you gain a new credential or publish a paper, or just have a good client session, can help you internalize your success.”

The APA report says you could simply reflect on your efforts, but external, concrete reminders are also important. For example, if you receive an email with positive feedback, save it or print it. Vanderlan said she keeps a few emails from reviewers and past supervisors near her desk so she can look at them and remember how others see her. The accomplishments don’t have to feel significant. “It can also be little things that, taken together, show you to be an incredibly competent, high-functioning professional,” Cokley said.

It’s important to know here that you don’t have to lower the bar, but adjusting your standards for success can make it easier to see and internalize your accomplishments, the APA reports. Vanderlan suggests focusing on progress rather than aiming for perfection. “In clinical work, there may not be a perfect way through a patient scenario, but we have to be OK with being good enough,” she said.

And when you don’t meet your standards, resist the urge to see your failure as an exposure, according to the APA. Instead, Orbé-Austin suggests reframing failures as opportunities to learn and grow, which will ultimately move you toward the success you’re seeking.

The APA also suggests it may help to release yourself from rigid roles. For example, Orbé-Austin said “people with impostor phenomenon often see themselves as helpers − people who come to the rescue. “Breaking free from those roles so you can be someone who doesn’t know it all or someone who can’t always help can allow us to be more robust people and professionals,” she said.

Self-compassion, as Ervin describes it, using mindfulness to shift from an external locus of self-worth to an internal one — can help you let go of perfectionism. Try to observe when your impostor feelings surface and how you respond to them. “Whereas the impostor phenomenon is unconscious and mindless, mindfulness can help you move in a different direction,” Ervin said. “It’s about learning to recognize those feelings of fear and learning to truly be OK as you are, without your accomplishments.”


Hearing what other people think of you isn’t the only way to grow out of impostor phenomenon.

Richard Gardner, an assistant professor of management, entrepreneurship, and technology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said discussing failures in a group can help paint a realistic portrait of what other people are struggling with.

For example, you can look at your resume and see all the accomplishments you’ve made, but when you see another colleague’s accomplishments, you can feel rejected. Seeing your worst and someone else’s best can spark comparison, which can aggravate impostor feelings.

The APA says that to combat this, Gardner and other junior professors in his field occasionally share their failures in a Facebook group. “These things happen to every single person, even if they’re top of their field,” he said. “Sharing the learning moments in those failures can be a really good organizational culture practice.”

The APA reports that as you learn to work through the impostor phenomenon, it will probably interfere less with your well-being. But taming impostor feelings doesn’t mean they’ll never show up again. APA reported that Vanderlan said it’s common for them to arise at any career shift.

“We’re always going to be faced with new experiences or roles, and that’s when this will really come out,” Vanderlan said. “So it’s good to recognize even if you’re making progress, you might be in a position next year where these things come up again.”

Remember that impostor feelings can arise at any career shift, especially if the people you are surrounded by have different achievements. So take the time during professional and casual gatherings such as the American Hair Loss Conference HairNow 23 to meet new friends, find a mentor and find your strength.