Imposter complex

You get into a top graduate program. But you fear that you won’t be able to measure up. In fact, you know it. Your article gets published in a prominent publication. Clearly, that’s because you wrote about a trendy topic. They must’ve run out of their good contributors. Maybe it’s just a stroke of luck.

These are all examples of “impostor syndrome.” Clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes coined the term in 1978. (Since then it’s been called everything from the impostor complex to fraud syndrome.)

Clance and Imes were studying a group of high-achieving women and noticed an interesting pattern: “These women dismissed any proof of their success as luck, fluke, timing or having managed to deceive others into thinking that they were smarter, more capable than they actually were,” said Tanya Geisler, CPCC, ACC, a leadership coach, who teaches women how to overcome the impostor complex in their life, work and life’s work.

The impostor complex doesn’t discriminate, she said. It can show up at any age, profession, position and area of our lives. It can show up in students, CEOs and artists.