The Imposter Syndrome – How to shift your self-doubting thoughts

Yikes!  Surely, someone is going to recognize I really am not that smart, that I have been lucky – in the right place at the right time. How long will I be able to keep this secret?  Can my family, friends, and colleagues see the real me? Yes, I have accomplished a great deal, but truly, it has all happened by chance.

These types of thoughts are common for professionals who are experiencing Imposter Syndrome, a phenomenon first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes.

I recall going through my professional life and believing my opportunities and achievements resulted from what I called the “Mr. Magoo phenomenon”. If you aren’t familiar with this nearsighted cartoon character, let me explain. Mr. Magoo had a TV series in the 1960’s. His extreme nearsightedness led him into harrowing predicaments, yet always, just in the nick of time, Mr. Magoo would take the right action that would lead him to his desired outcome.

Well, I felt my career was a lot like Mr. Magoo. I would find myself not knowing which direction to take in my clinical career, in different leadership positions, and even in academic pursuits. But just as I was feeling most confused, a great option presented itself and the choice was made. As each of these “lucky” occurrences reinforced my belief in mitigating circumstances rather than my own talent, abilities and experiences, the notion of being an imposter was confirmed.

Research is replete with information on the Imposter Syndrome. In fact, did you know more than 70% of us experience feelings of being an imposter at some time or another? There are many highly accomplished people who admit they too have felt like an imposter. Maya Angelou, a three-time Grammy award winner, Tom Hanks who appears in more than 70 films and John Steinbeck a literary giant – all shared something in common at times during their careers –  they described themselves as feeling like frauds. However, they were able to overcome these doubts to have amazing, successful careers.

So, what can the rest of us do to overcome imposter syndrome paralysis when it happens? I asked two of my colleagues at Thunderbird Leadership Consulting to share their wisdom and useful tips to navigate the perils of imposter syndrome.

Carla J. Rotering, a physician, coach and consultant, takes the approach of embracing the self-doubt.

Carla J. Rotering

Carla J. Rotering

“Imposter syndrome is nearly a universal phenomenon regardless of the ‘outer image’ we may see in others. Nearly everyone has almost certainly felt like a fraud at some point. It’s what we do, and it often creates the fear of being ‘found out’ and exposed. There are lots of suggested ways to manage that fear. I personally use a way that at first may feel a little harsh – and yet it is the thought that has proven the most useful for me.

“What if I simply say it is true? I am an imposter. We are all imposters. There is a standard out there somewhere called ‘perfect’ and that is the bar we have set for ourselves. But we are not perfect, any of us. The human condition is simply imperfect by definition. Any claim of perfection is therefore fraudulent.

“When I can recognize that – without judgment, but just with awareness of that FACT – I can tap into a more authentic, humble self. I can use my ‘imposter’ moment as a springboard to growth, learning, and fresh thought. I can let my ego off the hook and alleviate my own suffering and shame. I can lay that useless emotion aside, and then I can acknowledge what I don’t know, ask for assistance when I need it, and lean into the well of information, wisdom, and knowledge that will allow me to grow closer to that bar to which I aspire.

“I can realize I am human – that I am and (hopefully) always will be a work in progress.”

When Nathan Bachofsky experiences Imposter Syndrome, he turns to mentors to seek a reality check.

“I have wrestled with Imposter Syndrome at many points throughout my career and still experience relapses from time to time. A few years ago, I made a transition into a new role that required more of me in terms of leadership and responsibility. There were many challenges that came with this transition that left me feeling like maybe I was not ready or enough.

Imposter Syndrome Quote

I found great comfort in the counsel of my trusted mentors. It helped immensely for me to open up about my challenges to then hear an esteemed mentor in my field say, ‘Oh yes, I felt that way many times,’ or ‘I am still waiting for someone to realize they hired the wrong person’ I thought, ‘Wait, THEY went through this? But they are so confident and successful!’

“We can shine a light on the darkness of Imposter Syndrome through the vulnerable act of sharing our experiences with others and reinforcing the notion that no one is alone in this feeling. I have found my experience with Imposter Syndrome to ebb and flow, but by talking openly about it and maintaining positive affirmations, my relapses can be drastically shortened.”

If you or any of your colleagues are experiencing feelings of being a fake or being lucky in your achievements, know that you are not alone and that you too can shift your thinking. If you’d like to talk to one of our team at Thunderbird Leadership Consulting, please feel free to reach out to us at

2018 Leadership Summit Summary – Being on Purpose

Wow! Where did the time go?  Isn’t that how we feel about this time of year?  Suddenly Halloween has come and gone, Thanksgiving is past and the days just count themselves to the end of the year.
On November 9th, Thunderbird Leadership Consulting and BoxCar International hosted its twelfth annual Leadership Summit.  Dorothy Sisneros, Carla Rotering and Amy Steinbinder had the vision to bring leaders together for a special day designed to strengthen and renew us. Unlike other leadership programs, it is about turning inward and honoring and learning about ourselves to make a difference in our personal and professional lives.
This year’s program, Being on Purpose: Small Enough to Manage, Big Enough to Matter, was an amazing exploration of what matters and how it matters.  We modeled the day on Emily Esfahani Smith’s work, The Power of Meaning[1]. Dorothy Sisneros welcomed everyone and shared the process used by the Planning Team each year to create these amazing programs.  We listen, we observe, we read and we sense throughout the year and then share our insights and ideas to build the program.  The Planning Team nailed it again this year.
Amy Johnson[2] was our first keynote speaker.  Her role was to set the stage for the day and to explore Purpose in our lives.  She challenged us to listen deeply to ourselves and not get caught up in what we should be doing.  She quoted Einstein and challenged us to differentiate “the intuitive mind which is a sacred gift, and the rational mind, a faithful servant. We honor the servant and forget the gift.” What we learned and heard from Amy was to trust our inner voice, our intuition, and not feel pressured to constantly do, to constantly force ourselves forward.  She said, “finding purpose is not about proving our worthiness, purpose has to find us, like finding love.”
What a way to start the day – to step back, to allow life to speak to us instead of feeling compelled to force our way through the dense forest.  She quoted people like this quote from Tony Bennett to Amy Winehouse, “life teaches you how to live it if you slow down long enough to listen.”  That is a powerful message especially at this time of the year.  Dustin Fennell lead the group through several activities to build on Amy’s messages.
Carla Rotering spoke next about Belonging.  In a concise and powerful presentation, Carla changed the way we think of Belonging.  It is not so much about others as it is about my “way of being in the world.”  She encouraged us not to wait for invitations for connections but to recognize that we have the capacity to reach out and connect because we already come from a greater whole.  Ruth Ballard took the group through activities to reinforce the messages.  Carla and Kevin Monaco teamed to offer a music meditation to set the stage for the rest of the day.
Then Sat Kartar Khalsa-Ramey spoke to us about Transcendence.  Sat Kartar is an ordained Sikh Dharma minister and a certified ACPE Educator Emeritus with the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE). Her presentation was personal, current and moving as she shared her story and we sat rapt on her every word.  Transcendence was about how we deal with what life gives us, the choices we make, the connections we maintain as we travel difficult, unexplored highways.  We were privileged to share her yet-unfinished journey interwoven with Soul Collage[3] activities – that transported us from her journey to our own. Rory Gilbert helped us focus on the final pillar around Storytelling.  We found meaning and belonging and understanding of the power of Storytelling to make sense of our world.
So many people shaped the Summit.  Our wonderful planning team made everything possible.
We particularly want to thank three remarkable contributors to our day.

  • Kevin Monaco (composer and musician) – Kevin’s music wrapped meaning around the day, connected us to belonging and transcendence and created an atmosphere of significance to all that we did. Learn more about Kevin and his music at:
  • Heather Marie Paslay (massage therapist) – Heather provided chair massages throughout the breaks in the day. For those who were able to benefit from Heather’s healing way, the day was that much more enjoyable and fulfilling.  Heather can be reached at
  • Steph Martini (graphic artist) – Steph recorded the day as it enfolded. She captured the what, the why and the feel of our shared experience and walked us through her masterpiece as a summary to the day. To connect with Steph about her work, please connect with her at

In keeping with Summit tradition, we held a Silent Auction that raised over $3,000 for three deserving charities: Hospice of the Valley, Homicide Survivors and UMOM.
The Summit was an extraordinary day to connect with members of our Thunderbird Leadership and BoxCar community, to enjoy a deep and meaningful experience with new and old friends and colleagues.  More information about the day will appear on the Thunderbird Leadership Consulting website and we are already beginning to think about what will happen next year.  Tentatively hold November 15, 2019 on your calendar for “a spa day for the soul.”
[1] Smith, Emily Esfahani (2017) The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed with Happiness. Broadway Books, New York.
[2] Johnson, Amy (2013) Being Human, Essays on Thoughtmares, Bouncing Back, and Your True Nature. Self-published.
[3]For more information: