It’s rarely talked about, but 70% of people have the same experience.
Photo by Jack Taylor / Getty Images
When we look at prominent leaders who stride across the world stage projecting unflappable confidence, we never consider they may be fighting major insecurities.
There’s no question that most people in positions of power deal with self-doubt, but the good ones are able to hide it.
Former first lady Michelle Obama opened up about the insecurities she’s dealt with as a public figure while speaking to 300 students at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School in north London.
Her speech at the all-girls school was a stop on the U.K.-leg of her book tour.
Photo by Obama White House / Flickr
According to the BBC, when she was asked how it felt to be seen as a “symbol of hope,” she admitted, “I still have a little [bit of] impostor syndrome. It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is.”
“If I’m giving people hope then that is a responsibility, so I have to make sure that I am accountable,” she added.
According to the International Journal of Behavioral Science, up to 70% of people may experience impostor syndrome at some point in their lives.
People with imposter syndrome were first described as having “intense feelings that their achievements are undeserved and worry that they are likely to be exposed as a fraud. This causes distress and maladaptive behaviour.”
People who experience the syndrome have an intense feeling of intellectual phoniness and are unable to internalise their success.
Kevin Cokley, Ph.D., director of the Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis at the University of Texas at Austin, says that women and people of color are more likely to feel like imposters “especially when they are in environments where they have historically been underrepresented.”
Obama told the girls at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School they can overcome imposter syndrome by addressing their own internal demons.
“The questions I ask myself — ‘am I good enough?’ — that haunts us, because the messages that are sent from the time we are little is: maybe you are not, don’t reach too high, don’t talk too loud,” Obama said.
“Here is the secret,” she continued. “I have been at probably every powerful table that you can think of, I have worked at non-profits, I have been at foundations, I have worked in corporations, served on corporate boards, I have been at G-summits, I have sat in at the UN; they are not that smart.”