The "Sham" in Shamrock: Imposter Phenomenon and the Dark Side of Feeling Lucky

Don't fool yourself into thinking you don't deserve the success you have!
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The “Sham” in Shamrock: Imposter Phenomenon and the Dark Side of Feeling Lucky

Don’t fool yourself into thinking you don’t deserve the success you have!

-Kate Robinette,

Business woman with phones

Ever feel like you just got lucky in your success? That at any minute you’ll be exposed for the fraud you are? It’s undeniable that there are lucky breaks, but don’t be fooled into thinking you don’t deserve the success you have.

“[I feel that] at any minute people will realize that I’m actually this little idiot and there’s no reason that I ought to be here. [It’s a] constant sense of paranoia,” says Jen, a 22 year-old first year Ph.D. student.

But the thing is, she very much deserves to be there. One of only a few in her program who got in straight from undergrad, Jen is also the only student in an international Psychoanalytic organization made up of adult experts in the field. So what gives?

In 1978, psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes first coined the term “Imposter Phenomenon,” referring to this strange phenomenon in which high-achieving women, despite numerous outward accomplishments, believe that they have fooled everyone and don’t deserve their success.

We now know it doesn’t just occur in women and we have more knowledge and resources to help people combat it.

Read Four Ways to Improve Your Luck

True, we all feel this way at times. So how do you know whether you are suffering from the IP or if you’re actually taking on too much? Do a mental self-check to see where you attribute your successes: Do you often worry you’ll fail next time? Do you feel disappointed in yourself or struggle to accept others’ praise? Do you feel like you always need to be the best? Those are tell-tale signs that you might not be giving yourself full credit for your achievements.

If you like quizzes (and you know we do), you can also take a diagnostic test developed by Clance here.

Dan, another highly successful Ph.D. student, blames his impressive resume on opportunity—your proverbial right-place-right-time.

“Because [my undergraduate college is] small, if you have any modicum of talent they throw a lot of opportunities at you,” he says. That may be true, but it doesn’t discount his accomplishments. Still, Dan feels that he got into his Ph.D. program by mistake:

“I’m terrified [to] talk to someone with administrative authority,” he says, “because I don’t want to draw attention to how I got in here…[and] there’s no level at which I can’t think this isn’t something I contrived to do by manipulating other people.”

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