A Useful Pep Talk: Managing Your "Imposter Syndrome"

Several years ago, my firm was up for a big government contract.

I spent days drafting and polishing our proposal. By the time it was done, I thought it was pretty great. Our potential client agreed. In fact, she said it was the strongest proposal of the three finalists.

I didn’t win the contract.


Positive self-talk can be the difference between winning and losing.


Here’s the story: After I had submitted the proposal, I was asked to meet with the committee making the hiring decision. From the moment I walked into the meeting, I felt like I was being judged. Because I look younger than I am (I’m close to 40 but could pass for 29), I convinced myself that the prospect thought I was too young to work with the agency’s leadership. I proceeded to flub several answers.

It was all in my head.

In a follow-up phone call, the prospective client told me that based on the strength of my proposal, the work had been mine to lose – but that my mediocre in-person performance lost the proposal for my firm. She was right.

In hindsight, that was one of the most important moments in my career. I decided at that moment to never again allow a destructive interior monologue to cost me a client. Today, I walk into meetings reminding myself that we deliver great work and that our clients have deep respect for our firm. I’m going to lose work to other firms again – but I refuse to let it be because I allowed an insecurity to trip me up.

The imposter syndrome doesn’t just apply to client meetings. It applies to media interviews and speeches, as well.

You’d be stunned by the number of top executives we work with who also feel like “imposters” – like the emperor without any clothes who will be revealed as a fraud at any moment. They often feel like they didn’t fully earn their professional role, and believe it’s only a matter of time before someone calls them out for being a fake. They feel that there are people more knowledgeable than they are and that the public will recognize that from the first minute they begin speaking.

I’ve noticed something critical about people who suffer from the imposter syndrome: that the odds are good – very good – that other people view them as credible. That it’s all in their heads.

So the next time you hear those insecurities before you give a speech, deliver a media interview, or hold a client meeting, remind yourself that the imposter syndrome is all in your head. Then, get out of your own way and knock ‘em dead.