Imposter Syndrome vs Real Talk

Blog post written by The Wisest Women Content Creator Intern, Liliana Hildebrand

Imposter syndrome, an array of emotions that stems from fearing that you will be “found out” about your qualifications, is one of the most discussed topics in the steminism world. I’ve heard it so much when women in STEM discuss their struggles with work that I have come to the conclusion that imposter syndrome to women in STEM is just like black to clothes; it goes with everything. I also understand that sometimes I deserve to tell myself that I am not qualified for something because I do not have the experiences for a specific objective. Frequently, I want to blame those doubts on imposter syndrome, so that I can go along with my task and feed my ego. This is a habit I do not want to keep. Furthermore, I have found imposter syndrome associated feelings and actions to be unproductive. After research into the concept,  I have determined that one can decipher whether their feelings come from real talk if they look at where the feelings come from, the identity their feelings give them, and the solutions their feelings are guiding them to.  

I believe that any deep thinking done using an internal dialogue results in a partnership with yourself, and tools used to help social skills apply to improving that internal partnership. Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud, psychologists focusing on leadership, briefly discuss blame in a relationship in their book Boundaries in Dating. According to them, “we cannot ingest the truth from someone unless we know we are loved”, and truth without love is judgement. The voice of imposter syndrome, by definition and like a bad partner, invalidates your success and judges you through its critique. Real talk, like a great partner, seeks to improve you as a human being and keeps the dialogue centered on the moment itself and how you are an amazing person beyond your mistake.  If your internal dialogue is giving you a real talk, as Cloud and Townsend put it, “love dominates over hate.” An easy test is asking yourself if your internal dialogue is admitting to anything remotely positive about you.

 When we act or feel, we step closer to an identity that results in how we and the world see us. An interesting point that Frank Zendejas, founder of ZSI Performance Coaching, made in our interview is that “criticism is fortifying a non-serving identity” that prevents improvement of our state. An example of this in imposter syndrome is the internal dialogue phrase “you are undeserving of this role.”  While that may be true for now, the “are” pulls you closer to making the undeserving state a permanent one, causing you to think of yourself entirely in that mistake, and starts a consuming cycle of negativity. Real talk, on the other hand, gives you an identity that is in terms of growing success. We can change “you are undeserving of this role” to “you are undeserving of this role right now” to make the identity supported by the phrase serving towards your success and shift from imposter syndrome feelings to real talk if needed.  

There comes a point in an internal dialogue when your mind is telling you to go do something about the issue. Frank Zendejas discusses two types of actions that occur after a breakdown: certain, associated with real talk, and non certain, associated with imposter syndrome. Both actions help the person calm down, but certain actions are the only ones that improve the objective situation.  Let’s go back to the Undeserving Role Scenario. If your action in the Undeserving Role Situation is to nap, you are not doing anything about your actual flaws and instead are procrastinating on feeling like a fraud or failure again. If you react to the situation by doing more research to better prepare you for your role, then real talk has inspired you to become a better person.

So what is the next step? Well, dear reader, you can take a special look at our podcast episodes Self Advocacy, Gravity Can’t Hold Us Down, and Knocked Up or Knocked Out that focus on imposter syndrome throughout various stages of women’s careers.  Next you can talk to others about their experiences with imposter syndrome. Lastly, you can watch webinars focused on imposter syndrome from professional groups such as the TED Talk website.


  1. Frank Zendejas: Instagram: frank.zendejas & Website:
  2. Boundaries in Dating by Dr. Townsend and Dr. Cloud

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