4 Ways to Get Over the Feeling of Not Being Smart Enough

Last week, I turned on my phone to find a message from my best friend about how she was having difficulty accepting compliments on a job well-done from her boss.

The day before, a friend at work and I were discussing how she had trouble owning when she had done a good job on a project.

You – like me — have probably heard dozens of similar stories from the women in your life. In fact, you’ve probably even experienced the feeling yourself.

You know the one – that nagging notion you have that you’re not as smart as everyone else in the room, that you don’t deserve compliments, maybe even that you don’t deserve your job in the first place and just got where you are based on pure luck.

Well, it has a name: Impostors Syndrome.

Coined by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, the term has long been used to describe the all-too-common feeling that high-achieving women often face of feeling like an “intellectual phony.”

In other words, it’s that feeling you have when you’re sitting in a room of your professional peers wondering how you got there and if somebody will find out that you don’t actually deserve to be there at all.

Except that you do deserve to be there.

Feeling otherwise, however, can lead to some serious problems both in and out of the workplace.

When you don’t perceive yourself as worthy of all you’ve accomplished, you may be less likely to seize leadership opportunities, finally take the plunge and change jobs or careers, or even ask for the promotion or raise you really deserve.

In a wonderful TEDxTalk on this occurrence, life coach Tanya Geisler explains that the root of this issue for many women is that young girls are socialized to emphasize fairness and apologize at every turn, while young boys are taught that this very thing is a sign of weakness.

This manifests later in life with many women underscoring their accomplishments, pointing out their own flaws, and passing up opportunities because they don’t feel like they’ve earned them.

In a world that constantly tells women they aren’t good enough and that they don’t deserve to be at the top, refusing to accept Impostors Syndrome is downright revolutionary.

So how can you begin to fight back against those deceitful feelings and own your accomplishments and sense of self-worth?

Doing so is certainly a life-long process, but here are some ways you can start.

1. Recognize the Problem and How It Impacts Your Life

The most important part of dealing with Impostors Syndrome is to recognize not only when you’re experiencing it, but also how those feelings impact your work and your life.

A great place to start doing this is to take an inventory of what your Impostors Syndrome tells you that you aren’t good enough at and how those things disqualify you from being where you’re at.

This is something Giesler calls “beratement bootcamp.”

She notes that you’ll probably find many of the entries at your list to be extremities. That “if you don’t know everything, you know nothing.” So be sure to get everything onto paper that you feel is holding you back from getting where you want to be so you can see they don’t hold water for yourself.

Then list out the ways those things are holding you back: Does it tell you that you don’t deserve a raise because you aren’t as good at making presentations as one of your coworkers? Does it make you feel like you don’t deserve a promotion because you didn’t deserve your job in the first place?

Once you’ve figured out the falsehoods your Impostors Syndrome makes you believe, you can start to address doing away with the lies it tells you.

2. Own Your Accomplishments

The easiest way to reaffirm your self-worth is to remind yourself of all that you’ve accomplished.

After a lifetime of downplaying your achievements, this may be more difficult than you think.

You can start to do this by keeping a physical reminder of your accomplishments on hand. This can be as personal as a scrapbook or as professional as keeping an updated resume and portfolio. But having something concrete to reflect on will help you look back on how you got where you are whenever you feel like you faked your way there.

These physical reminders should be consistently updated. That means taking the time out of your busy schedule to reflect on the awesome work you’ve been doing.

Update your resume to include a big project you did at work that had a major impact, the blog post you wrote that brought in thousands of page views, or the presentation you gave at a conference. Be sure to keep track of how much of an impact your work has had on the bottom line at your company or organization.

All of these things are what have made you successful, and keeping track of them will not only serve as a reminder yourself, but also give you the opportunity to present your accomplishments to your boss the next time an opportunity for a raise or promotion comes around.

Having your portfolio, resume, or even a scrapbook of your work around is wonderful, but since many of the most wonderful parts of who you are happen to be personality traits and not accomplishments, be sure to keep a list of these qualities to check-in on as well.

It may take a while to sink in, so keep these reminders somewhere visible and continue to read them aloud whenever you doubt yourself. Tell yourself why you got where you are over and over again until it clicks, because you are special and you do deserve good things.

At a loss for where to start? Try recruiting the people around you. Even if you may not recognize all of the amazing characteristics that make you who you are and got you to where you are, your friends, family, and co-workers will.

If you’re scrapbooking your reminders of self-worth, ask them to write letters about what they admire about you or what they believe makes you who you are.

If you’re keeping track through your resume and portfolio, this is the perfect opportunity to snag some of those recommendations that are good to have on hand anyways.

3. Envision Where You Want to Be

Your Impostors Syndrome likely tells you all sorts of falsehoods about how you don’t deserve success. But those shouldn’t be listened to.

Instead, envision where you could be if you didn’t have a nagging voice telling you that you don’t deserve to get there. After all, if you don’t know where you want to be, how will you know when you arrive at your destination?

As feminists, we’re always envisioning a better, more just world and how to make those dreams a reality. Now take that same frame of vision and cast it on your own life.

Ask yourself what your perfect world looks like: Where are you? What kind of job do you have? How do you feel every day? Who are you surrounded by?

Try creating an inspiration board to get you motivated and keep you invested in the future you envision for yourself. This should include more than physical things like your dream house or job, so include the qualities you want to possess and the way you want to feel.

Compile images, quotes, and other reminders that evoke these things so you can turn to them when you forget about why casting out your Impostors Syndrome and trusting in your own self-worth is so important.

Don’t be afraid to aim big here; these are your dreams after all.

Once you’ve figured out where you want to be, start to think about how you can get there. What qualities do you possess that will help you succeed?

Thinking about your future in this manner is a great way to take an honest look at what qualities you already have that make you great, and how these things will help you succeed.

4. Take Risks

This is without a doubt the most difficult part of battling Impostors Syndrome, but it also has the biggest payoff. Once you know who you are, where you want to be, and how much you deserve it, it’s time to start taking those risks to get you to your end goals.

This may seem scary, but what’s the worst that can happen?

Disrupting Dinner Parties suggests reframing this question and instead asking “What is the best that can happen?”

Let that voice be louder than your Impostors Syndrome telling you about the bad things that can happen, because remember, your Impostors Syndrome is just the reel of the lies that makes you feel like you can’t do something you’re totally qualified for.

Besides, even failure can be an important part of your progression. Just be sure to learn from the experience, keep stock of how you can improve next time, and move on.

So go ahead and ask for that raise or promotion. Ask that person you’ve had an eye on out on a date. Make the move to a new city you’ve always told yourself you were going to do, but have been too scared to actually make happen. Just do it.

The risk may be scary, but I assure you that payoff will be totally worthwhile.


Putting these things into practice takes time, and even the most confident people you know have bad days when they question themselves.

When these bad days happen, look back on all you’ve accomplished and walk yourself back through these steps.

It’s a process, but you’ll get there.

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Ally Boghun is a Contributing Writer at Everyday Feminism. She is a feminist activist and media researcher living and working in Washington, DC. Ally completed both her B.A. in Communications and Art History as well as her M.S. in Professional Communications at Clark University, where she researched abortion debate rhetoric. She is also the founder and editor of Because I am a Woman, a blog devoted to intersectional feminism and reproductive justice. In her spare time, you can find her at an art museum, consuming massive amounts of coffee while writing, or trying to convince her cat to go for walk. You can follow Ally on Twitter @AllyBoguhnRead her articles here.