Success, Failure and the Imposter Syndrome

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” –Michael Jordan

It is easy to get caught by a negative, critical story about ourselves.  I imagine that most everyone does this, at times. I’ve noticed in my own life I can easily tell the story of my life as a failure – all of the things I’ve wanted to accomplish that I have not, all of my weaknesses and shortcomings; as well as my long list of regrets.  At the same time, I can just as easily tell a story of my life as a series of great successes and satisfactions – all that I have accomplished, as well as my family, my relationships and my work.

The “inner critic” seems to be the human condition. Perhaps it serves a positive role of keeping us out of danger by being on guard and suspect, or helping us strive to greater accomplishments.  And, for many people, it is just a bad habit, a constant running of negative energy that tends to limit and constrict presence, effectiveness and joy.

A problem with running the energy of our inner critic is that our body doesn’t distinguish between real pain and imagined pain.  When we feel bad about ourselves and judge ourselves, we can create conditions of stress and anxiety.  The tendency is to constrict and limit our ability to function openly and fully.  The inner critic can limit our ability to meet people fully and to find creative solutions in our lives and in the world.

The inner critic can sometimes lead to feelings of not deserving the successes we have achieved. The Imposter Syndrome refers to a condition in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments, and carry fear about being discovered as not deserving of their role or position.  Apparently this is a very common phenomenon in many walks of life – business leaders, graduate students and performers.  In my coaching practice, and in my own experience, it appears that a large percentage of people have experienced these feelings in a variety of forms.  I’ve heard that there is some evidence that the more successful people in business become, the more they harbor these feelings of being imposters.

The antidote isn’t to ignore our pain and difficulties.  As a human being, life will bring us plenty of pain.  The key is to become aware of the stories we tell ourselves, about failure and about success, and to label these as stories and to enjoy the stories, to not take them too seriously or get too attached to them.  In this way we can appreciate our pain and failures, and appreciate our joy and successes.

How do you do this?  One way is to practice being aware of your body and breath.  Meditation and mindfulness practice.  Also, pay attention to the stories that the inner critic tells, and label them as stories.  You may try journaling – tell the story of your life from the perspective of failure.  Then, tell the story of your life as overcoming difficulty, from the perspective of success.  Then try telling your story as a journey – a journey of discovery, of challenge, of developing more awareness and more compassion.


Peggy B
Peggy B8 months ago

Good article.

William C
William C12 months ago

Thank you.

W. C
W. C12 months ago

Thanks for the news.

Stella Nobrega-Garcia

An excellent article. Thank you for posting.

Emma S.
Emma S6 years ago

Good to remember they're just stories...

Lupe G.
Guadalupe G7 years ago

I am a fixer. I was brought-up to be one. It led me into a bad relationship with a person with BPD. When he wasn't critizising me, I was doing so. It is almost over (legal ramifications are still pending), but I see the error of my ways. I don't see the point in being angry that my upbringing put me in this situation. I just wished I would have learned this lesson sooner to avoid the years of pain it caused me.

K s Goh
KS Goh7 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Alamzeb Akhund
Alamzeb Khan7 years ago


Tekla Drakfrende
Tekla Drakfrende7 years ago

thanks for sharing

irene fernandez
irene Fernandez7 years ago

This is a great article. I kind of wish I'd stubble upon it years ago thinking it could have saved me tons of heartache but at the sametime I get why it is coming to me at this time... I wouldn't have understood this before