the impostor

The impostor phenomenon affects
regardless of their gender,
age or cultural background

Me, the impostor…

The person who seemed lucky when, at 30, I was appointed as General Counsel of the Mexican subsidiary of a German automotive parts company. My thoughts on that? Surely, there must have been someone else better qualified for the position, but he didn’t go to the office that day. Therefore, I quit my job 9 months later.

I am the cheater who, ten years later, was once again struck by luck and chosen as the President of the Board of Directors of the Mexican subsidiary of another German company. My conclusion about it? I felt like I was stealing the position from any, absolutely any of my colleagues, therefore I quit my job again… twice.

I am the chronic eternal student because I feel like I am not living up to the needs and expectations of my clients and colleagues, and one day they may find out I am a fraud. If you could witness the psychological maze built by guilt, fear, and anxiety that I navigate every night, you might just run and hide.

Am I alone? Sadly, no…

During the past week, I have heard stories from numerous lawyers, both men and women, where self-doubt casts a shadow on their accomplishments and threatens not only their self-worth but also the future of their professional careers. There’s the tale of the General Counsel in charge of the LATAM region who suddenly feels inadequate in her legal knowledge. There’s the account of the former Director of an Industrial Property Governmental Office who struggles to regain his confidence because he believes he deserves to be somehow punished for it. And then there’s the story of an alumnus with an Honourable Mention, a nationally awarded thesis, and a successful entrepreneurship, who firmly believes that everything she has achieved was simply a result of good luck. What really worries me about them is that they want to do the same as I did. They want to quit… their dreams, their paths, their careers.

So, if you are reading this, please do not do it.

In a world consumed by the emphasis on achievements, success, and self-assurance, the truth is that not everyone around is brimming with confidence and certainty.

Welcome to the world of the impostor phenomenon.

While typically associated with women, this psychological phenomenon affects individuals regardless of their gender, and it is crucial to break free from this stereotype if we truly aspire to live in a world of tolerance and diversity. The impostor phenomenon also impacts men, although it is often underreported and misunderstood. This may be attributed to societal expectations and gender roles that burden men with the pressure of not being able to openly admit their insecurities and seek support, probably for fear of undermining their masculinity.

The impostor phenomenon is characterized by a persistent feeling of inadequacy and the worry of being exposed as a fraud, despite evidence of competence and accomplishments. Men and women who experience this phenomenon often doubt their abilities, attribute their achievements to external factors or luck, and live with an overwhelming sense of being undeserving of their success. As with all cases related to emotional or psychological experiences, the causes of the impostor phenomenon may vary according to the context of each individual. Culture, personality, family dynamics, thinking patterns, and genetic predisposition may be among them. And all cases should be evaluated, diagnosed, and treated by mental health professionals.

However, what can we do in the meantime to help ourselves, our colleagues, or clients manage this state of self-doubt and emotional dysregulation?

  1. Encourage honest conversations about self-doubt, insecurities, and fears.
  2. Foster a psychologically safe environment where men and women feel equally comfortable expressing their vulnerabilities.
  3. Recognize and celebrate different forms of success, including personal growth, resilience, and continuous learning.
  4. Normalize the idea that seeking therapy, coaching, or mentorship is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  5. Cultivate self-compassion by acknowledging achievements, strengths, and deservingness of success.
  6. Challenge stereotypes and cultural norms that perpetuate the impostor phenomenon.

Regardless of gender, we all have a responsibility to create a more supportive and inclusive society where everyone feels empowered to embrace their true potential. Do you think that we all should work together to dismantle the barriers of self-doubt and cultivate an environment that nurtures confidence, authenticity, and collective growth?