The Imposter’s Playbook

River D'Almeida, Ph.D
6 min readApr 5, 2021

A game plan to stop imposter syndrome from holding you back

Photo by Ismael Sanchez from Pexels

Glancing at the faces around the meeting table, I saw an entrepreneur, a Harvard grad, a senior scientist with a long list of patents under their belt. What on earth could I possibly bring to the table?

It’s not the first time I was overwhelmed by feeling like a fraud. When I did well in an exam, I figured that I just got lucky. I got clammy palms during the Q&A sessions at conference presentations. It’s only a matter of time before I’m exposed.

These are classic signs of what psychologists term the imposter phenomenon. Clinical psychologist Dr. Pauline Clance first described in 1978 from her observations that high-achieving women experienced a sort of intellectual phoniness. Despite their outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, these women held an unshakable belief that it was all an illusion, living in perpetual fear of the bubble one day bursting. The result? Crippling anxiety, an extreme fear of failure, and chronic dissatisfaction.

Does this sound familiar? Take Dr. Clance’s Ph.D. Imposter Scale to find out more!

Whatever your score, you’re not alone. The imposter phenomenon afflicts an estimated 70% of people at some point in their lives. What starts as fleeting moments of self-doubt can ultimately derail you, keeping you from applying for that dream job or that well-deserved promotion.

But it’s not all bad news; psychologists say you can get that monkey off your back. Here are some strategies that I’ve been experimenting with to free you from or mitigate imposter syndrome’s adverse effects.

Look that monkey in the eye

The first step in fixing a problem is acknowledging it. You need to develop a keen sense of awareness to catch subconscious imposter syndrome thought patterns.

Going back to my moment in the meeting room, I had an epiphany. Mentally listing my teammates’ credentials was just dragging me down. We had gathered to discuss the next steps in a project — a project that I had been leading for six months, for which I had created a solid action plan and kept progress on track. At that moment, everyone did need to hear what I had to say.

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River D'Almeida, Ph.D

Follow me for bite-sized stories on the latest discoveries and innovations in biomedical research.