12 successful women on imposter syndrome and self-doubt

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Imposter syndrome truly can affect anyone, even those women we perceive to be some of the most confident and successful people we know. It is estimated that 70% of women will struggle with imposter syndrome at some point in their lives, so let these quotes serve as a reminder that you’re not alone.     

In the modern workplace, imposter syndrome truly is the devil on most of our shoulders. Whether it makes you feel like you don’t belong, that you’re not good enough or that you’re a bit of a fraud, it is estimated that 70% of women will experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. In fact, last year, a study found that two thirds of women had experienced imposter syndrome in the last 12 months.

And while imposter syndrome is obviously something anyone can experience at any time of their lives, current research has confirmed that it disproportionately affects women, revealing that men are 18% less likely to experience self-doubt than their female counterparts.

It’s not just our confidence levels which can be damaged by this imbalance. A telling statistic from Hewlett Packard shows that men will often apply for a job when they meet just 60% of qualifications, whereas women will only apply if they meet 100%.

So, when it comes to tackling the strong feelings of self-doubt and anxiety that come with this confusing condition, where do we turn? While tackling the feelings themselves is a pretty vital step, it’s just as important to remind ourselves that we’re not the only ones feeling this way: even some of the women we love the most have found themselves suffering from self-doubt when it comes to their accomplishments.

Sometimes all we need to do is take comfort in the fact that no matter how much self-doubt we’re feeling, everyone around us (including some of our biggest role-models) are probably struggling just as much. Here are some of the things our favourite women have said about their relationship with imposter syndrome, as a little reminder that you’re definitely not alone.

  • Ellie Goulding

    Ellie Goulding
    Ellie Goulding on imposter syndrome: “I know for sure that a lot of my anxiety has come from what they call ‘imposter syndrome’.”

    Posting on Instagram for World Mental Health Day, singer Ellie Goulding spoke openly about how her imposter syndrome had led her to sabotage her own career success.

    “I know I chose this job but nothing could have prepared me for the ups and downs that come with it,” she wrote. “I know for sure that a lot of my anxiety has come from what they call ‘imposter syndrome,’ not believing in myself enough and thinking that I don’t deserve happiness, which results in wanting to sabotage my own success.”

  • Candice Carty-Williams

    Candice Carty-Williams
    Candice Carty-Williams on imposter syndrome: “I didn’t really see anyone who looks like me doing what I did, and this whole imposter syndrome thing, it’s a real thing.”

    Taking to the stage at Stylist Live LUXE earlier this year, the author of the best-selling novel Queenie Candice Carty-Williams opened up about how being a successful black writer had led to her experiencing imposter syndrome in particular.

    “I didn’t really see anyone who looks like me doing what I did, and this whole imposter syndrome thing, it’s a real thing. Especially when I’ve come from rooms that are filled with just white people and me,” she said.

    “While I know that I’ve worked hard, I’m still working out that this is all still real, like all the time. I have this conversation with my friends, and I think there’s this problem with identity in phrasing like ‘boys will be boys’,” she continued. “We’ve grown up with that phrase and it makes it okay that boys will just be boys, but we don’t have an equivalent. So we’re always trying to be something different and slot into an identity that has been given to us. So from the beginning, boys just do what they do, because that’s innately in there. But for us, I think we need to learn that we are enough and actively put ourselves into spaces.”

    Speaking about how to deal with imposter syndrome, Carty-Williams said that she tries her best to reassure other women whenever she sees they’re struggling: “It happens a lot and it makes me really sad. I say to these women you are absolutely amazing. Look, you’re here and you’re doing it. The work starts within us.” 

  • Emma Willis

    Emma Willis at Stylist's Remarkable Women Awards
    Emma Willis on imposter syndrome: “I think that I’m not good enough, and that everyone is going to find out one day.”

    At the award ceremony for Stylist’s Remarkable Women Awards earlier this year, Emma Willis shared how she has struggled with imposter syndrome throughout her career. 

    “I’ve got a lot of imposter syndrome,” Willis told Stylist. “I think that I’m not good enough, and that everyone is going to find out one day. As I get older, I go ‘fuck it, I’m alright. And even if I’m blagging it, I’m going to keep blagging it.’

    “Let’s make sure the younger generation don’t feel that way and that they feel empowered and confident,” the actor and presenter added. “And that will happen when they have women around them to support each other.” 

  • Michelle Obama

    Michelle Obama on imposter syndrome
    Michelle Obama speaking on the 'Becoming' live arena tour

    Speaking at a North London school for the UK leg of her book tour, Michelle Obama got honest about feeling out of place throughout her life.

    “I had to overcome the question ‘am I good enough?’” she said, when speaking about her time at Princeton. “It’s dogged me for most of my life. Many women and young girls walk around with that question in their minds.

    “I overcame that question the same way I do everything – with hard work,” she continued. “I decided to put my head down and let my work speak for itself. I felt like I had something to prove because of the colour of my skin and the shape of my body, but I had to get out of my own way.”

    The former first lady also spoke about how imposter syndrome continues to impact her life today.

    “It never goes away,” she said. “It’s sort of like ‘you’re actually listening to me?’ It doesn’t go away, that feeling of ‘I don’t know if the world should take me seriously; I’m just Michelle Robinson, that little girl on the south side who went to public school’.”

  • Kamala Harris

    Kamala Harris
    Kamala Harris

    Speaking to a young woman at a rally she hosted in Iowa, Kamala Harris gave some pretty powerful advice on how to overcome imposter syndrome.

    “You never have to ask anyone permission to lead,” Harris told her. “I want you to remember that. OK? When you want to lead, you lead.”

  • Zoe Sugg

    Zoe Sugg on imposter syndrome
    Zoe Sugg on imposter syndrome: “I’m constantly doubting everything I’ve achieved, everything I’m working on business wise and everything I’m working on in my personal life.”

    Lifestyle blogger Zoe Sugg got real about experiencing imposter syndrome in a candid Instagram posted earlier this year.

    “I have major imposter syndrome at the moment!” she wrote. “I’m constantly doubting everything I’ve achieved, everything I’m working on business wise & everything I’m working on in my personal life! (Even down to second guessing if I should have said certain things, or ‘did I do that properly’…it’s bloody annoying haha). 

    “It’s such a peculiar feeling and nothing I do seems to make it ‘less so’.”

  • Maya Angelou

    Maya Angelou on imposter syndrome
    Maya Angelou on imposter syndrome: “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now.'”

    Despite being a literary legend, Maya Angelou once spoke about the feelings of self-doubt she experienced each time she published a book.

    “Each time I write a book, every time I face that yellow pad, the challenge is so great,”  Angelou said. “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.” 

  • Olivia Colman

    Olivia Colman on imposter syndrome
    Olivia Colman on imposter syndrome: “It’s genuinely quite stressful. This is hilarious. I got an Oscar!”

    Olivia Colman could not believe it when she won her first Oscar earlier this year, and her reaction shows that she actually doesn’t know how talented she is.

    “It’s genuinely quite stressful. This is hilarious. I got an Oscar!” she said as she took to the stage. 

    “Any little girl who’s practicing her speech on the telly, you never know. I used to work as a cleaner and I loved that job but I did spend quite a lot of my time imagining this.”

  • Natalie Portman

    Natalie Portman on imposter syndrome
    Natalie Portman on imposter syndrome: “I felt like there had been some mistake, that I wasn’t smart enough to be in this company.”

    Speaking at a Harvard event in 2015, Natalie Portman shared how she never felt like she deserved to be at the university during her time there.

    “Today I feel much like I did when I came to Harvard Yard as a freshman in 1999,” she told the students who had gathered to listen to her. “I felt like there had been some mistake, that I wasn’t smart enough to be in this company, and that every time I opened my mouth I would have to prove that I wasn’t just a dumb actress.”

  • Penelope Cruz

    Penelope Cruz on imposter syndrome
    Penelope Cruz on imposter syndrome: “Every movie, the first week, I always feel that they could fire me!”

    Way back in 2009, Penelope Cruz spoke to CBS News about struggling with imposter syndrome every time she starts a new project.

    “I feel every time I’m making a movie, I feel like if it was my first movie,” she explained. “Every time I have the same fear that I’m gonna be fired. And I’m not joking. Every movie, the first week, I always feel that they could fire me!”

  • Stephanie Yeboah

    Stephanie Yeboah on imposter syndrome
    Stephanie Yeboah on imposter syndrome: “Don’t minimise or dismiss compliments by attributing your successes to outside factors or people.”

    Speaking about imposter syndrome in a video for Stylist, Stephanie Yeboah shared her tips on how to overcome your inner-critic.

    “Anytime I get a lovely comment on my social media channels or my blog, I store it away by putting it in a file on my laptop,” she explained. “So that any time impostor syndrome starts to creep in and I feel like a fraud, I just go into that folder and read all of the lovely comments that people have said about me.”

  • Michelle Pfeiffer

    Michelle Pfieffer on imposter syndrome
    Michelle Pfieffer on imposter syndrome: “I think it comes from not having a background of formal training.”

    Speaking to Entertainment Tonight during promotion for her latest film Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, Michelle Pfieffer got honest about feeling out of place in the acting industry, especially at the beginning of her career.

    “I think it comes from not having a background of formal training, you know, in the beginning,” Pfeiffer said. “And I think when I started out, a lot of actors were coming out of Juilliard and I was just this young person from Orange County, kind of just getting by on my instincts purely and I think, for the longest time, I felt like it wasn’t really enough and maybe didn’t give me the credibility and maybe because I had to find my technique as I went along. That I didn’t sort of start from a real secure place.”

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With contributions from Georgina Smith

Images: Getty

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