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Overcoming the Imposter


You probably don’t have to think too far back to recall the last time you diminished yourself and your work, brushing off moments of success as simply “good luck”. It’s called the Imposter Syndrome, and it is real, and it is rampant — an estimated 70% of people will experience it at least once in their lives. So how do we move past it and own our triumphs? Leah Parkhill Reilly of the Women of Influence Advancement Centre has some tips. 


by Leah Parkhill Reilly



Have you ever had a day when it seems like the stars are perfectly aligned for you? When someone has reached out and hit the easy button on your behalf? I had one of those days this past Friday and it was brilliant, everything managed to fall into place and several people offered some much-needed support to make the day successful.


My initial reaction to the day falling into place was “what a stroke of luck, thank goodness things happened that way.” But when thinking about things again I realized that there really was no luck involved. Friends stepped up to help out because I had done the same for them many times before. I was offered a project for my business because I had established a track record and proven my worth. My initial reaction of “wow, what luck” diminished the work and my own capabilities that had led to a brilliant day.


How many of us do this on a regular basis? Diminish ourselves and our work and brush it off as luck? As it turns out, a whole bunch of us do. There have been numerous articles written about Imposter Phenomenon, and a study from 2011 asserts that “…it is estimated that 70% of people will experience at least one episode of this Impostor Phenomenon in their lives.”


The person dealing with Imposter Phenomenon can be summarized as an individual who attributes the success in their life to external factors and internalizes the failures within their life, and they experience some degree of fear at being discovered as an intellectual fraud. They may tend to discount their success if it’s not a match to the ideal standard that they’ve envisioned for themselves. They may discount the success that comes with hard work and perceive it as not being due to their innate ability, or they may just attribute their success to luck.


Some have asserted that there is a correlation between the Imposter Syndrome and success, as it drives a cycle of ambition. Anxiety over failure leads to hard work and preparation, leading to success, leading to positive feedback which is discounted, leading to the next task that will prove capability and debunk fraudulent feelings and so on. However, a cycle of ambition based on fraudulent feelings doesn’t feel like an ideal long-term approach to managing a career or life.

So how does one manage the fine balance of accepting one’s role in the successes in life without tripping too far over the other side of the line of having a whopping big ego? I’m not a therapist but in thinking through this for myself I’ve come up with my own list and think it might be helpful for you.


  1. Acknowledge Success: accept that you’ve had some part in your own success and that hard work counts just as much as innate skills.

  2. Reinforce and Reward: create a reminder for yourself of your positive accomplishments, such as a journal, tweet, text, or celebratory token – the point is recognizing it in yourself.

  3. Be Proud but Humble: for me, part of the unwillingness to acknowledge is not wanting to be seen as boastful, but there is a balance between openly showboating and feeling an internal sense of pride in accomplishments. Find that balance and try to stay on the side of humble.

  4. Learn from Failure: the point of this post is about owning both your successes and failures, so ensure that in your process of acknowledging, you identify what can be learned from the failures along the way.



Leah Parkhill Reilly is a Women of Influence Advancement Centre expert and the owner of Parkhill Reilly Consulting. As a results-oriented human resources consultant, she has a proven track record of driving change across large, complex organizations specifically with regard to learning, development and organizational effectiveness. Leah has worked in a variety of industries including telecommunications, insurance and financial services. Her career experiences run the gamut from project management for systems implementation to human capital strategic planning.