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The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It
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Insights Magazine
Business Insights for Women
PNC INSIGHTS Magazine Spring/Summer 2014 Issue
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Valerie Young wants to reshape the way you measure how competent you are.

In his 1969 bestseller The Peter Principle, Laurence Peter humorously posited that we're all destined to rise to our "level of incompetence" - one step beyond what we're actually capable of handling. That, it turns out, is how many successful women feel about themselves: that they're imposters who somehow managed to succeed without deserving to do so, and who are always one misstep away from being exposed as frauds.

Speaker and consultant Valerie Young, Ph.D., explores this "imposter syndrome" in her illuminating and nuanced book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women. Young points out that even though the phenomenon is hardly limited to women, numerous research studies indicate that more men than women generally regard themselves as knowledgeable, secure or capable. What's more, the old joke - that women have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good - turns out, lamentably, to be true. A Swedish study showed that women scientists had to produce two-and-a-half times more research and/or published work to receive the same competence scores as male applicants from a prestigious national council.

At the heart of Young's book is a description of five "competence types" - models or "rule books" that women impose on themselves that ultimately make them feel inadequate. For each, she proposes a healthy "re-framing" of perspective, concluding with new rules to replace those that cause anxiety. One example: the "Rugged Individualist." According to Young, this type believes that true competence equals solo, unaided achievement, and that the only valid ideas are those that are entirely new and original. Individualists, Young suggests, need to reject the myth that in order for an accomplishment to "count," you have to do it completely on your own.

If you're a successful woman, chances are you'll see yourself in at least one of the stereotypes Young exposes. By channeling your energy into achievements rather than anxiety, you can achieve greater balance - in business and beyond.



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