Here’s a tool to help manage your imposter “syndrome” when it shows up in your career. Which, as research suggests, is often, especially if you have perfectionistic characteristics, which many academics do.

In fact, because all people, regardless of gender, race, education, income, will feel like an imposter at some of the time, it has been suggested that we do away with the term “syndrome” since the word connotes a disease or medical condition. We should, instead, think of it as an  “imposter experience” to reflect the fact that nearly all humans have, well… this experience. I subscribe to that philosophy (see Note 1) and, consequently, I think of managing the feelings, rather than trying to overcome them.

Let’s get clear on a few basics before introducing the tool.

What is “imposter syndrome”?

Impostor syndrome has been defined as “a condition where high-achieving individuals…ascribe their accomplishments to luck and contingency rather than individual skill and merit…” (Bothello & Roulet, 2019, p.854).

In short, when you have this experience, you doubt your abilities and feel like a fraud. If you’re a faculty member and other professional in higher education, you are fully aware that that doubt comes about regardless of your educational and other accomplishments.

Common characteristics

When you are the middle of having an imposter experience, here is what you’re typically thinking/feeling:

  • You think others have an inflated opinion of your abilities or skills
  • You’re convinced you will be found out as a fake
  • You attribute your success to external factors (i.e., luck or hard work)

(You can learn more about the imposter experience in the podcast episode I recorded with Heather Ross on the Better Me podcast).

Managing your imposter experience with the ‘Separate Facts and Feelings‘ tool

This exercise  involves writing about and reflecting on your feelings and thoughts. It also involves challenging your imposter thoughts and coming up with contra-evidence (see Note 2).

Step 1: Write the fact.

Step 2: Write your imposter-related thoughts/feelings about the fact.

Step 3: List skills, capabilities and talents that have led to the fact.

Credit for this tool/exercise goes to Dr. Mann, author of “Why Do I Feel Like an Imposter?: How to understand and cope with imposter syndrome

Example #1

Fact What my imposter syndrome thinks about that Skills, capabilities and talents that have led to this fact
I received a promotion at work. I am not up for the position. It was a mistake to appoint me I am skilled at x, y, z. I am good at…


Example #2

Fact What my imposter syndrome thinks about that Skills, capabilities and talents that have led to this fact
I received a grant It was a fluke. They made a mistake when assessing the submission I made a strong case. I followed the guidelines carefully.


Over to you

First, a word about resistance:

The (good) thing with many personal growth tools and approaches is that they’re fairly straightforward; however, the implementation and practice is the hard part. We (I include myself in this category) “forget” to do them, or forget about them all together. Or we experience other resistance to actually putting them into practice.

I don’t have any magical cure for remembering. I use alarms, sticky notes, adding the activity to my daily list, putting reminders in my calendars, and leaving a physical sheet in plain view, as my main strategies for remembering to put tools such as the one below into practice.

Give it a try

This tool only works if you use it; the rationale behind it is that by changing our thoughts, we can influence how we feel.

Give it a try.

If you’d like support moving through challenging thoughts and behaviours, contact me to see how we can work together. I’m at


Note 1: Though “experience” is, in my opinion, a more apt term, I still use the word “syndrome” in my writing because it is better known and sometimes less awkward.

Note 2: I recognize that there are many, many factors outside of the self that contribute to feeling like an imposter. For example, in academia, there is abundant research about the marginalization of BIPOC faculty members. Inequities, racism and discrimination are real. The tool I present above can be helpful in managing our thoughts but doesn’t address the bigger societal, cultural, power and other issues that bring about the imposter experience in higher education and elsewhere.

Ready to shape your career so it's right for you?

...Get monthly resources and actionable advice here..

SUCCESS! Thank you for joining.