Own Your Greatness (2020) is a guided workbook for people who constantly feel like imposters. Drawing on Drs. Lisa and Richard Orbé-Austin’s expertise, it helps you identify and overcome the tiggers, habits and thoughts that activate your imposter syndrome, so you can beat self-doubt and succeed in life.
Introduction: A step-by-step guide for overcoming imposter syndrome
Do you find yourself constantly dismissing your achievements? What about worrying that someone might discover you’re incompetent? Do you overwork yourself, striving for perfection in every little task? Or perhaps you simply feel like a fraud, that some combination of luck and charm, not skill, got you here.
If any of these sound familiar, then you’re most likely suffering from imposter syndrome. First coined in the 1970s by two scientists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, imposter syndrome has since become a common term.
As much as seventy percent of the population will experience imposter syndrome at some point. But for others, these feelings are debilitating, and never go away. Imposter syndrome can hold people back in their careers, affect one’s mental health, hurt relationships, and even lead to burnout.
Over many years working as licensed psychologists, the authors have developed a number of clear steps for overcoming imposter syndrome.
In these summary, we’ll walk through each step, guided by various reflection exercises. Through these exercises, you’ll develop “coping cards” that you can refer back to whenever you need, and that together represent your action plan to stop feeling like a fraud.
I recommend you grab a pad of paper and a pen, as the exercises will require some writing. I’ll meet you at the next chapter, on the first step of your journey toward owning your greatness.
In these summary, you’ll learn
- Where your imposter story began, and how to change the narrative;
- How to share your experience with others and get support; and
- What ants have to do with overcoming self-doubt.
Step 1: Identify your imposter origin story
It all begins with a story, one that gets repeated over and over. It shows up at parties, during lunch with colleagues, in morning meetings. Only, this story lives mostly in your head, and is all about how you’re not really skilled at anything, that you must be deceiving everyone.
To overcome imposter syndrome, you have to change this narrative. But to do so, you have to first understand where these imposter feelings originated. For many, they trace back to childhood and their family dynamics.
Perhaps you grew up with very high expectations placed on you, and an emphasis on achievement. Or maybe you played the role of pleasing other family members and fulfilling their needs. Maybe you were constantly compared to another sibling, or your unique skills were never recognized.
For your first exercise, the goal is to identify and understand your imposter origin story. I’m going to ask you to look deeply at your past. What stories did you come to believe about yourself? How did they affect your role in the family, your ideas about competition, or how you receive feedback?
Let’s look at an example from Elizabeth. Her imposter origin story goes like this: “I was always called sensitive in my family, and never seen as the ‘smart one’ compared to my brother. This has led to a high need to please others, and to dismiss the skills I do have because I assume they won’t be valued.”
Before moving to the next chapter, take time now to write out your origin story. If you need help, use this prompt: “The dynamics that prompted my imposter syndrome were…” Be sure to describe the consequences of those dynamics, how they affected you. And try to keep it short, just a few sentences will do.
Before we move on, notice that you’re undertaking the task of dismantling something that developed over many years, maybe even generations. This work may take time; but it is well worth the effort.
Step 2: Know your triggers
Congratulations! You now have your first coping card – your imposter origin story. This will become the foundation for the next step, identifying your triggers.
A trigger is a situation that activates or increases your imposter feelings. The key thing to understand is that a trigger is only one half of the equation. The other half is your response. When you’re in the grip of imposter syndrome, the responses may come automatically.
But the first step of breaking the cycle of automatic, imposter responses, is to be aware of your triggers and learn to anticipate and prepare for triggering situations. Only then can you begin to change your responses.
Here are just a few examples of triggers that many people with imposter syndrome experience: Getting a promotion or starting a new job; Having your performance evaluated; Giving an important presentation; Receiving compliments; Starting a new relationship; Unfamiliar social situations, such as meeting new people.
Now that you understand what triggers are, it’s time to make your second coping card. In this exercise, you’ll write down all the recent times you can remember feeling like an imposter. Take some time to describe the situation – where were you, who were you with, what was said to you, and how did you react?
When you’re done, take the opportunity to look for patterns in these situations. You might try to complete the sentence, “I’m triggered by situations that, places that, and people who…” Or you might write: “When I’m triggered I’m often thinking or feeling…”
I encourage you to pause this summary now, and complete the exercise.
Good work! Now you have a solid understanding of your imposter triggers. Let’s move on to step three, which will help you to start changing the narrative.
Step 3: Change your narrative
“I only have this job because no one more qualified applied. I’m such a fraud. I need to work even harder so they don’t question their decision to hire me.”
Isn’t it time to finally change that tired, old story? I know, some days it feels impossible to see yourself any other way. But in this step, you’ll learn how to craft a more accurate and positive narrative.
The method we’ll use is to “thicken” the story. What does that mean? Well, the thing about your imposter story is that it’s distorted. It is simplistic, one-dimensional, and leaves out a lot of information and context. In other words, it’s thin.
Let’s return to Elizabeth. Remember her? She was always told growing up that she was emotional, compared to her brother, the “smart one.” This led Elizabeth to believe she isn’t smart. She learned to attend to everyone else’s emotional needs instead.
But Elizabeth’s story leaves out a lot. In reality, both she and her brother are smart. While things appear to come easily to her brother, Elizabeth takes her time to learn new things. She needs to study, and write things down to comprehend them.
By thickening our story, we can create something more complex, balanced, accurate, and affirming.
In Elizabeth’s case, she challenges the narrative that she’s not smart. One of the powerful things about a thicker narrative is “both-and” thinking, rather than “either-or.” Her new story questions why someone can’t be both sensitive and smart. It also acknowledges the positive strategies she’s developed – taking notes in meetings, for example.
Okay, so let’s try this strategy for yourself. Take out your notepad and write all your old, imposter narratives down along one column. In the adjacent column, thicken each narrative. What skills or achievements does that story ignore? What is the bigger context for that story? What is missing?
Step 4: Speak your truth
No one can change their narrative and overcome imposter syndrome alone. When you hold this experience in and keep it to yourself, it has greater power over you. Curiously, the simple strategy of speaking your truth and putting it out into the world, helps weaken its grip.
I want you to start by identifying one or two people in your life who you trust deeply. It could be your best friend, a colleague, your spouse, your mom. Share with them what it’s like to live with imposter syndrome, what anxieties and fears come up for you, and the things that trigger it.
You might be amazed that these confidants have experienced similar feelings. Or they may reflect back to you all the skills and achievements they associate with you. And it might help you be more open about this with more people.
The other aspect of speaking your truth is owning your skills and achievements. Remember what we discovered in the previous chapter – your imposter narrative often hides the truth, crowding out your actual achievements and the things you are good at.
Reversing that story requires acknowledging that you have lots of talents.
For this exercise, I want you to simply write down a list of your skills. What do you excel at? What are some things you often don’t promote about yourself, or that don’t get recognized as often? It’s helpful to define skills broadly here, such as emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, communication, body-kinesthetic skills, musical or visual skills, and creativity.
If you’re struggling, that makes sense because your imposter story has been hiding and downplaying your gifts and talents for years. Try this to get the ball rolling: Think of an accomplishment or two, something you’ve done in your life that you’re proud of. What skills did those achievements require?
This list of skills will be your fourth coping card, and it’s a handy one to refer back to whenever you need a reminder of your greatness.
Step 5: Silence your ANTs, or Automatic Negative Thoughts
Imagine you’ve laid out a beautiful picnic. There’s fresh sandwiches on soft bread, and piles of colorful fruit. You’re sipping on a glass of wine when suddenly, the ants show up. They start carrying off entire grapes and swarming your tupperware.
These annoying little creatures are oddly like the negative thoughts that crowd your mind when you’re in the grip of imposter syndrome. They come from nowhere, are intrusive, and can carry a lot of weight.
For Step 5, we’re going to learn how to silence these ANTs, or Automatic Negative Thoughts. That’s because they interrupt your ability to change your imposter story and think positively about yourself.
Let’s begin by looking at a number of common ANTs. As I describe them, think about which apply to you.
- Mind-reading: “They must all think I’m incompetent.”
- Labeling: “I’m so stupid, I can’t believe I did that.”
- Fortune-telling: “There’s no way this is going to work out.”
- Catastrophizing: “They’re going to fire me if I make a mistake.”
- Unfair Comparisons: “Everyone here is so accomplished compared to me.”
- All-or-nothing Thinking: “If it’s not perfect, then it’s a failure.”
- Discounting Positives: “That compliment isn’t genuine, they were just being nice.”
For your fifth coping card, I want you to write down your most common or strongest Automatic Negative
Thoughts. How do they contribute to your imposter syndrome?
Now it’s time to develop some ANT repellent.
Begin by asking challenging questions of each ANT. For example, if you tend to catastrophize, you might ask, “What evidence do I have that this could happen?” or “Has anyone ever been fired for giving a poor presentation before?” Write out a list of challenge questions that you can ask yourself in the future, when each ANT crawls its way into your mind.
Lastly, replace each ANT with a positive thought. For example, “If I make a mistake, they won’t fire me. It will give me the opportunity to receive feedback, and that will help me grow and do my job better.”
Step 6: Experiment with new roles
Hopefully at this point, you’re already starting to feel a change in how you think about yourself. Now it’s time to put this new you into action.
Step 7 is all about giving up the roles that sustain your fraud thinking and experimenting with new roles. First, let’s explore typical roles that people with imposter syndrome tend to play, and their alternatives.
- The Helper: Rather than always being the one with all the answers, the go-to person for support, learn how to ask for help yourself, and instead become the Help-Seeker.
- The Superperson: Instead of trying to do everything on your own and taking all the responsibility, learn to delegate tasks and work in a team, becoming the Collaborator.
- The Failure Avoider: You don’t always need to play it safe. Instead, learn how to take calculated risks and try new things as the Risk-Taker, even if you might fail.
- Behind-the-Scenes Leader: Stop letting your imposter syndrome hold you back from the spotlight, and learn to be the Visible Leader once in a while.
It can be scary to play new roles. The key is to be light-hearted and playful at first. You’re experimenting here, trying it on for size. You don’t have to stop the old roles entirely, just think of “adding in” these new roles to your repertoire. They are options that are available to you.
It can also help to start with lower stakes situations first, like identifying one person to try this new role out with. Give yourself time to get comfortable in it, before moving into higher stakes situations.
Now to the exercise. For this coping card, list the new roles you want to try. What situations will each role be particularly relevant to? For example, with your manager, your siblings, or at your book club.
Step 7: Build your dream team
In this final step, you’re going to start building a dream team of people to support you in this ongoing journey. These people will provide advice or a listening ear when the going gets tough.
Let’s explore the six members you might want to have on your team. As I describe them, write down one or two people who can play each role for you. Also identify the situations or moments when you’ll reach out to that person. This will become your seventh and final coping card.
Okay, here we go. The six dream team members are…
“The cheerleader” is a person who can lift you up when you’re feeling low, guilty, or falling back into old patterns. It’s most likely a friend, family member, or trusted colleague.
“The grounder” can give you a reality check when you’re catastrophizing or spinning. Choose someone in your life who is rational or realistic, and won’t be afraid to speak honestly.
“The action planner” is somebody good at solving problems, and who will help you break things into steps and make a plan. They usually have insight about the situation, like a colleague.
“The big-picture person” knows you well. They will remind you of where you’re trying to go in life, what you value, and who you want to be when the small stuff is overwhelming you.
“The imposter expert” could be someone who suffers from imposter syndrome as well, or has specialized training, like a therapist or coach.
Lastly, “the mentor” is someone more experienced in your field who can help you navigate and advance in your career.
Congratulations for making it this far! Now I want you to gather up all your coping cards from each step. You should have seven altogether. These are the tools you can return to if you start slipping into imposter stories. Together, they serve as your individualized action plan.
Changing your relationship to yourself is no easy task. But can you picture it? That’s you, living your best life, no longer feeling like an imposter, and believing in yourself.
The most important thing to remember from all this is:
While it takes some work, it is possible to stop feeling like an imposter. In these summary, you’ve learned where your imposter story came from, what triggers it, how to change your narrative and speak your truth, how to silence automatic negative thoughts, experimenting with non-imposter roles, and building a dream team of people to support you. Together, these tools will help you overcome imposter syndrome once and for all and start owning your greatness.
And here’s some more actionable advice: Prioritize self-care.
Many people who think they’re an imposter respond by digging in harder, working themselves to the bone to compensate. They may think that any mistake is a complete failure. All this overworking and perfectionism can easily lead to burnout, a common experience for people with imposter syndrome. That’s why it’s so important to prioritize self-care activities: Meditation, soaking in the tub, going for a walk, listening to music, reading, taking up a new hobby, cooking, time with friends, napping, going to a museum. Anything that brings you joy, helps you relax and rebuilds your energy.
About the author
Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin is a licensed psychologist, executive coach, and organizational consultant. Her boutique private practice is located in New York City, where she works mostly with high-potential managers and executives. Her organizational work has focused on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, communication, leadership styles, and team cohesion in corporations, higher education institutions, and nonprofits.
Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin is a licensed psychologist, executive coach, and organizational consultant. Her views about career management and advancement are regularly sought by the media, and she has appeared in various outlets, such as the New York Times, Forbes, NBC News, Refinery29, and Insight Into Diversity. Dr. Orbé-Austin received her bachelor’s degree in English from Boston College, her master’s degree in counseling psychology from Boston College, and her PhD in counseling psychology from Columbia University.
Dr. Richard Orbé-Austin is a psychologist and a partner of Dynamic Transitions Psychological Consulting, LLP, a career and executive coaching consultancy in New York City. Dr. Orbé-Austin’s opinions and writings have appeared in a variety of publications, including Forbes, Fast Company, Diversity Executive, and ThriveGlobal. He earned his PhD in counseling psychology from Fordham University’s Graduate School of Education and his bachelor’s degree in psychology from NYU.
Patrick Lawlor is an accomplished audiobook narrator, stage actor, director, and combat choreographer. The recipient of an AudioFile Earphones Award, he was also a finalist for an Audie Award.
Psychology, Personal Development, Self Help, Business, Motivation, Self-Esteem, Job Hunting, Careers
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 An Overview and Assessment of Impostor Syndrome 3
Signs of Impostor Syndrome 4
Impact on Education and Career 5
The Professional Impact of Your Impostor Syndrome 10
Trait vs. State 10
Gender Differences 11
What Is Your Typical Impostor Response? 12
The Impact of Culture 13
The Key Features of Your Impostor Syndrome 14
Your Impostor Syndrome Intensity 15
The 3 C’s Strategy to Overcoming Impostor Syndrome 16
Chapter 2 Step 1: Identify Your Impostor Syndrome Origin Story 20
Family Dynamics 21
Identify Your Family Dynamics 24
Legend of Genogram Symbols 25
Ashten’s Sample Genogram 26
Your Impostor Syndrome Family Dynamics 27
Chapter 3 Step 2: Know Your Impostor Syndrome Triggers 29
Your Competencies Today 30
Impostor Scenarios 33
Why Your Triggers Exist 35
Trigger Origins 36
The Expressive Letter 37
Facing Triggers in the Here and Now 39
Chapter 4 Step 3: Change Your Narrative 40
Statement of Position Map 42
Thickening Your Story 45
Your Autobiography 47
Chapter 5 Step 4: Speak Your Truth 51
Two Impostor Syndrome Confidants 53
Case Study: Cal 54
Owning Your Accomplishments 55
Identify Three of Your Strengths 58
Chapter 6 Step 5: Silence Automatic Negative Thoughts 60
Your Typical ANTs 60
Identify Your ANTs 62
Countering ANTs 63
Challenging Your ANTs 65
Turning Down the ANTs Volume 66
Your Positive Tape Plan 67
Chapter 7 Step 6: Value Your Self-Care 69
Impostor Syndrome-Induced Burnout 70
Burnout Assessment 71
Setting Suitable Boundaries to Combat Burnout 72
Contributors to Your Burnout 73
Boundary-Setting Strategies 73
Valuing Yourself: Role Clarity and Evaluation 74
Clarifying Role Expectations 75
Self-Care: Overcoming Burnout 75
Perfectionism: A Major Barrier to Self-Care 76
How Your Perfectionism Functions 77
How to Combat Perfectionism 80
Strategies for Self-Care 81
Task and Time Management: Keys to Self-Care 82
Self-Care Activities 83
Self-Care Micro-Habits 86
Identifying a Self-Care Accountability Partner 86
Self-Care Accountability Partner 87
Solidifying Self-Care 87
Making Self-Care Plans Visible 87
Chapter 8 Step 7: Experiment with New Roles 90
Typical Roles for Impostor Syndrome 92
Name Your Impostor Roles 93
The Cost of Changing Roles 93
Role Cost-Benefit nalysis 94
Experimenting with New Roles: Common Options 95
New Role Play 96
Experimenting with New Roles: Low-Stakes Engagement 96
Try on the New Role 97
Experimenting with New Rotes: High-Stakes Engagement 98
New Role Adoption Plan 98
Creating a More Expansive Menu of Role Options 99
Chapter 9 Step 8: Establish Your Dream Team 101
Considering a Therapist 103
Finding a Coach 104
Resources to Find a Coach 104
Other Dream Team Members 105
Assess Your Dream Team Needs 110
Skills to Build the Team 110
Identify Dream Team Members 113
Chapter 10 Step 9: Understand and Create the Conditions for Your Optimal Performance 116
Card 1 The Origin and New Beginnings Card 118
Card 2 The Neutralizing Triggers Card 119
Card 3 Your New Narrative Card 120
Card 4 Speak Your Truth and Know Your Strengths 121
Card 5 Most Popular ANTs and Your Repellent 121
Card 6 Self-Care Commitments 123
Card 7 New Roles 124
Card 8 Your Dream Team 125
Card 9 Your Key Takeaways 126
Your Impostor Syndrome Coping Card Toolbox 127
Chapter 11 Own Your Greatness 128
Understanding Lapse vs. Relapse 129
Identifying Lapse vs. Relapse 130
Barriers to Consistently Utilizing the 3 C’s Strategy 131
Major Life Changes or Disruptions 133
Summary of the 3 C’s Strategy 133
Your Impostor Syndrome Commitment 136
About the Authors 143
Stop letting impostor syndrome hold you back! This guided workbook of interactive exercises and research-backed activities will help you conquer self-doubt, realize your true worth, and enjoy your success.
How many times have you thought that everyone is crushing it except you? How often have you looked at one of your accomplishments and attributed it to luck or the help of others? It can be difficult to acknowledge our own successes and skills and overcome the feeling of being an impostor. But moving past that feeling is crucial to continuing down the path to even greater success and happiness.
Own Your Greatness will give you all the tools you need to recognize and overcome the impostor syndrome that is holding you back. Packed full of research- and therapy-backed exercises, prompts, and activities, this interactive workbook will help you- Identify the root causes of your impostor syndrome- Recognize your natural skills and strengths- Gain the confidence to lead- Speak up for yourself- Feel comfortable receiving and giving praise.
With this book, you’ll acknowledge the skills you bring to the table, understand that you truly deserve your success, and take steps to a successful, happy, and fulfilled life.