My Struggle with Impostor Syndrome

Have you ever heard of impostor syndrome? Do you suffer from it?

Let me tell you what it is.

Impostor syndrome, also known as fraud syndrome, is a term coined in the 1970s by psychologists and researchers to informally describe people who are unable to internalize their accomplishments.

In layman’s terms, it is our unwillingness to take ownership of our own accomplishments. In my humble opinion, it holds many of us back. I know that it has held me back. Let me explain.

In 2006, I jumped head-on into sales as my full-time profession. I made the move because I felt as if I had stagnated in my marketing role at the insurance company where I was working at the time. I wanted more for my family, and I felt that I could use my skill set better in sales. The owners of a boutique IT consulting company gave me a break, hiring me as their business development lead. I fought through the fears of sales and made some good things happen. I helped to grow the company over a period of just a couple of years from twelve employees to more than fifty employees. A few years later, the company was sold to one of the largest professional services firms in the world. I played a major role in that happening.

However, up until recently, I found myself doubting my true impact. Although I didn’t verbalize it to other people, I found that my self-talk about that company’s success was that when I joined the company the economy was booming, due to a thriving oil and gas industry, and a major contract had already been landed. Although I had received accolades for my part in the company’s growth and my paycheck was proof of my contribution, I had not internalized my accomplishments and taken ownership of them. It took a discussion with my good friend and business coach, Amanda Maynard, to identify this.

Amanda made me document the emotional and practical progress that I have made over the past ten years. I must admit that this exercise brought shivers up my spine as I actually felt all that I had accomplished. The act of taking inventory of my accomplishments enabled me to take ownership of them. It was quite a liberating experience.

Today, I can say without any doubt that my contribution was real.

We all hit levels in our progress in which we face a number of choices. We can choose to level out or to advance to the next level. My belief is that if we suffer from imposter syndrome and fail to take ownership of our accomplishments we actually can suffer a worst fate—we can fall back a level. After all, we can only live to the vision we have in our heads at any given time. If we fail to take ownership of an accomplishment, we are playing a movie in our minds that we are not good enough to be at our present level. We need to combat this.

If you suffer from impostor syndrome, as I did, I suggest that you do exactly what I did. Write down a solid inventory of the emotional and practical advancements you have made over the past three, five, and ten years.

Feel in your heart what you have accomplished, and own it.

Chris Spurvey
About the author: 

Chris Spurvey is a Vice President with KPMG.  His previous roles include a term as Chairman of the Board of NATI and as a Vice President with Plato Consulting. Mr. Spurvey currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Shallowly, a non-profit youth organization, and is the author of “It’s Time to Sell: Cultivating the Sales Mind-set”. Follow Chris on LinkedIn and on Twitter.