The Stanford Graduate School of Business and ...me? (How To Overcome Imposter Syndrome)
Updated: Jul 27
When I received the email asking me to apply for a Coaching position at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, I was ecstatic. My thoughts immediately ran to “oh my gosh…Stanford! And not just Stanford, but the Graduate School of Business!”
I knew well-known graduates of the GSB include Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, Forbes #1 Most Powerful Women in the world, Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, and Vinod Khosla, cofounder of Sun Microsystems.
I instantly replied to the email with an enthusiastic ‘yes!’
Not long after the final interview, I received a call offering me the position and I was on top of the world. But two minutes after hanging up the phone a new thought hit me like a ton of bricks “oh my gosh…Stanford. And not just Stanford, but the Graduate School of Business - and me?? The GSB has been the launch pad of more world class entrepreneurs and CEO’s than I count, and I’m just a kid from the north side of Detroit. They must have made a mistake.”
A few days later I received a call from the program director, and I fully expected her to say “Gina, I’m so sorry. There were actually two women named Gina Grahame who applied for the position and ….” I’m happy to say that did not happen and I have relished my time at the GSB ever since.
Does this scenario of undercutting your own value, of self-doubt, that despite all evidence to the contrary, you believe yourself to be a failure or a fraud sound familiar to you? Odds are it does.
It’s called Imposter Syndrome and, contrary to popular belief, it affects people of all genders. And the more successful you are as an individual, the more you strive to achieve, the more prevalent the feelings of Imposter Syndrome are likely to be.
If you find yourself struggling with self-doubt, I’d like you to keep two things in mind:
You are in excellent company: Sheryl Sandberg, Howard Schultz, Tina Fey, Tom Hanks, and even Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor have all talked openly about their struggles with Imposter Syndrome.
There are actions you can take to counter and move through the feelings of Imposter Syndrome to allow yourself to be successful.
Here are 3 actions you can do to counter Imposter Syndrome:
Internalize your achievements and strengths. Own them. With authenticity, not arrogance. Section off a few minutes alone and physically write down a list of the achievements you are proud of. The list needs to include items perceived to be big and small, both personal and professional.
Understand that you are not in the position you are because you bought the lucky lottery ticket, or because you’re pretty, or because you’re fun to be around. You are where you are because you earned it. You continue to bring massive value to your organization. If you don’t believe it, then pull out your list from Step 1 and read it aloud to yourself into the mirror. Don’t laugh, look away or dismiss it. You need to learn how to accept praise and to just say ‘thank you,’ even when you are acknowledging your achievements to yourself.
Continue to do the work. Continue to strive to succeed, to take on new challenges, to grow. Accept that you will make mistakes along the way, as everyone does. Michael Jordan, considered by many to the greatest basketball player in history, said
“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 again in my life. And that’s why I succeed.”
So expect to fall short of expectations, to “fail.” See those as the opportunities for personal growth that they are. Understand that falling short of anyone’s measure, to fail, does not, will not, define you unless you allow it to.