The impostor syndrome
In 1978, Dr. Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne A. Imes identified “the impostor syndrome” as an issue particular to high achieving women. Those who suffer from this malady believe their success is a fluke and are waiting to be “found out.” Valerie Young, an acknowledged expert on the syndrome, writes that a sufferer feels she is an “impostor, a fake and a fraud.” She believes that success is purely a matter of luck, that standards were lowered for her and her personality masks her lack of ability. Ms. Young states that “impostor feelings crop up most during times of transition or when faced with a new challenge, such as tackling an unfamiliar or high-profile assignment.”
Why do we suffer with the impostor syndrome?
Ms. Young has some interesting explanations for the occurrence of this painful
malady. She suggests that women strive to reach unrealistic levels of competence and often set achievement targets much higher than men do. We also have a much harder time dealing with criticism.
It is never too late to be what you might have been.
A female boomer entrepreneur and an impostor syndrome sufferer
Losing a job can be an opportunity to reassess your future and pivot to something more exciting. It also can be frightening and confusing, as I can attest from personal experience. I never had a weak performance review, so each job loss came as a surprise to me. I wondered whether it was the economy, the firm’s issues or my lack of strong skills that was the true cause of my termination.
After a long career in the law and real estate, I became a boomer entrepreneur. It was one of the best decisions of my life, but my issues with the impostor syndrome came along with me.
We feel we are faking it
When asked how my business is doing, I should say with confidence, “absolutely great.” The business is profitable, the client list is growing and we are making good money doing what we love. When I do respond positively, I sometimes blush with embarrassment and feel uncomfortable. Given my long and successful career, I should not doubt my abilities. And I have current external proof of my capabilities: I often speak on panels as an expert and have had extensive positive press coverage of my new venture. However,neither firmly convince me of my intellectual and professional strength.
The female boomer entrepreneur advantage – we are not impostors!
The quote often attributed to George Eliot, “It is never too late to be what you might have been,” is a mantra to live by for female boomer entrepreneurs suffering with the imposter syndrome. We have an advantage over younger victims because we have wisdom. Our years of successes and failures have taught us that perfection is an unrealistic goal. Our joy in our successes prior to our entrepreneurial ventures may have been tempered by the impostor syndrome but now we have the chance to enjoy real unfettered success, made more likely because we are boomers. We have years of experience and expertise developed over time. We have risen frequently from personal and professional disappointments.
In spite of all this, many of us struggle with impostor syndrome, although we have every reason not to. The only way to get over it is to believe in ourselves. Repeat this often: We are female boomer entrepreneurs and we are not impostors!
 Clance, P. R., & Imes, S. A. (1978). “The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention.” Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 15(3), 241-247.
 Young, Valerie. The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women. New York: Crown Business, 2011, p.15.
 Ibid., p.17.
Lynn Zuckerman Gray is Founder and CEO of Campus Scout, providing innovative recruiting, coaching and training programs focused on the Millennial and Z Generations. Lynn has a long history in finance, the Law and academia. Before founding Campus Scout, she was with Lehman Brothers and a leader in its women’s network and mentorship programs. A graduate of Tufts and Cornell Law School, she serves on the Advisory Board of the Baker Graduate Program in Real Estate, the faculty of Fordham’s Gabelli School of Business and as a Facilitator for the NYC FastTrac Entrepreneurship programs. A frequent author and speaker on talent management and entrepreneurship, she is often featured in domestic and foreign media including the NY Times and Wall Street Journal.Connect with Lynn