Several years ago, I was introduced to “Matt,” who was about to begin working with a big, new client. “How do I deal with the feeling that I may have oversold them? What if I’m not really capable of delivering what I promised?” he wondered.
“My wife calls what I’m going through ‘imposter syndrome,’ ” explained Matt. “But whatever you call it, it is really making me feel like a fraud. I’m afraid that at some point, they’re going to figure it out.”
Imposter syndrome describes that collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in the face of information indicating the opposite. It is the feeling that you are not really competent but merely posing as someone who is. It often hits professionals at the worst possible time: when they’re negotiating an exceptionally large contract.
I told Matt it was OK to have this fear. “Instead of trying to fight it,” I recommended, “acknowledge that it’s there. It’s OK to be afraid, but take steps to do what you need to do to get rid of it. Become the expert you claim to be.”