Valerie Young Ed.D

Valerie Young Ed.D

The first time I heard about impostor feelings I was a 21-year-old doctoral student at the same university where my Mom was working as a night janitor. I instantly identified. In fact, my head was nodding like a bobble-head doll. “Oh my God,” I thought, “they're talking about me!” When I looked around the room, everyone else—including the professor—was nodding too. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I knew these people. I’d been in class with them, I’d taught alongside them, I’d read their work. To me, they were intelligent, articulate, and supremely competent individuals. To learn that even they felt like they were fooling others rocked my world. A group of us began to meet as a kind of informal impostor-support group, where we did what women commonly do under stress—we bared our souls. We talked about how intimidated we felt when we discussed our research with our advisers, how more often than not we left these sessions feeling confused and inept. How we’d clearly put one over on the admissions office... and how anyone who looked too closely would realize we weren’t scholar material after all. A few of us were convinced that certain professors had overlooked our obvious intellectual shortcomings simply because they liked us. We all agreed that these feelings of intellectual fraudulence were keeping us from finishing our dissertations in a timely fashion—or, in my case, from even starting. Just being in the company of like-minded women was tremendously reassuring. Everything was going pretty well until about the third meeting. That’s when I began to have this nagging sense that even though they were saying they felt like impostors . . . I knew I was the only real impostor! Turning Pain into Gain I realized then that I had a choice: I could let my own secret fears continue to stand between me and my goals, or I could channel my energy into trying to understand them. I chose the latter. The impostor phenomenon or the impostor syndrome, as it is more commonly referred to in the popular media, became the impetus for my doctoral research, in which I explored the broader question of why so many clearly intelligent, capable women feel anything but. What I learned became the basis for a daylong workshop called “Overcoming the Impostor Syndrome: Issues of Competence and Confidence for Women,” which I co-led with fellow grad student Lee Anne Bell. Lee and I booked a small meeting room at a local hotel, put up some flyers, and hoped that at least a few people would come. When forty women showed up, we knew we’d hit a nerve. We facilitated several more packed workshops before Lee relocated to pursue a career in higher education. I continued to speak on the impostor syndrome and in 2001 renamed the program “How to Feel as Bright and Capable as Everyone Seems to Think You Are: Why Smart Women (and Men) Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and What to Do About It.” Taking impostor feelings out of the realm of therapy and into an educational arena has proved tremendously successful. Since then, hundreds of thousands of people -- both men and women -- have attended what is now known as the Rethinking Impostor Syndrome program. Simply giving people an alternative way of thinking about themselves and their competence has yielded some amazing results. Attendees reported asking for—and getting–raises or raising their fees. Corporate execs who had participated in a workshop as students told of being so transformed that years later they asked me to address their employees. Writers who had played small for years became prolific. People who had lacked the confidence to start or grow a business suddenly found the courage to go for it. One woman even decided to throw her hat into the ring for lieutenant governor! The core of my work stems from my original research. Now and then I draw from my own professional and management experience. I spent seven year in a Fortune 100 company – two in training and development and five in strategic marketing. I draw too from my two decades as the founder and Dreamer in Residence at – an online resource about creative ways to profit from your passions. There I help aspiring self-bossers think outside of the job box and to overcome the fear and self-doubt that stands between themselves and their dreams. However, most of what I’ve learned about the impostor syndrome comes from the collective experience and wisdom of my workshop participants over a quarter of a century. In that time I’ve led workshops for tens of thousands of students, faculty, and staff at more than 100 colleges and universities in the US, Canada, Japan, Europe and the UK including Harvard, Stanford, MIT, Oxford, and the UK College of Policing. Unfortunately, the impostor syndrome does not end with a diploma. In fact, the more accomplished you are -- the more likely you are to feel like a fraud. Some of what you’ll learn comes from my experience as a guest speaker for leaders and employees in such diverse organizations as Apple, Intel, Chrysler, Facebook, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Google, Procter & Gamble, Merck, BP, IBM, McDonald's (Europe), NASA, the National Cancer Institute, Society of Women Engineers, American Chemical Society, and with women's entrepreneurial centers in five Canadian provinces. In addition you'll learn from the experiences of people from a wide range of industries and careers. I’ve run seminars for groups of nurses, psychologists, optometrists, executives, financial planners, jewelers, cancer researchers, social workers, engineers, physicians, managers of enormous sports and other arenas, and attorneys—all of which has been incorporated in the Rethinking Impostor Sydrome workshops and this book. Despite their various situations and occupations, the women and men I’ve worked with have one important thing in common: They are no impostors. And, as you will soon discover, neither are you. I hope you enjoy the book. And remember, the only way to stop feeling like an impostor is to stop thinking like an impostor.
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