Imposter Syndrome. The INW Experience

I still vividly remember my first lesson at Harvard Law School during my LL.M. program.

A Professor asked us how many felt unworthy of being there, believing our classmates were somehow better than us. Surprisingly, most of us raised our hands.

A few months later, my then-girlfriend, who was starting her JD, shared a similar experience. When faced with the same question, the majority of her classmates also raised their hands.

This phenomenon intrigued me. On one hand, the Dean proclaimed in the annual inauguration lecture, “We searched the world for you,” yet on the other, many of us felt we didn’t belong. It became apparent that imposter syndrome was widespread across the Ivy League universities and basically across every company and institution full of over-achievers. The more qualified you are, it seems, the more likely you are to experience it. Research on the matter confirmed my initial assumptions.

I’ve always had issues with the term “imposter syndrome”. To many, the word “imposter” connotes something nefarious, like a thief or a criminal. I prefer to call it “INW”, short for “I’m Not Worthy.” And rather than labeling it a syndrome, I simply say “I feel INW“. Moreover, the binary notion of either feeling it or not never sat right with me. It’s not a simple on/off switch, not just a black-and-white consideration. To me, it’s about degrees, nuances, percentages.

“I feel slightly INW”.

“How much?”.


When I mention this, many of my peers are surprised. Friends and colleagues know me as a natural extrovert, a risk-taker, and an adrenaline junkie. You wouldn’t expect me to experience such doubts. Yet, it seems that those who frequently step out of their comfort zones are the ones most likely to encounter these feelings.

My extensive experience with lectures, speeches, workshops, and articles worsened the situation, highlighting a curious disconnection between self-perception and external perception. Sometimes, I think I’ve written a great article or delivered an outstanding speech, only to receive no feedback. Other times, I feel I performed decently and receive heaps of praise and positive reactions. What does this mean in practice? It’s like releasing a song into the market; you never truly know how it will be received until it’s out there. Pretty good if you want to feel confident in your skills.

Grappling with feelings of unworthiness is a more nuanced and widespread issue than we might initially think, but it’s a very relevant one. Recognizing these feelings as common among highly accomplished individuals can help us address them with a more compassionate and understanding mindset.

And maybe, acknowledging our doubts while also embracing our achievements will help us shine, highlighting the unique qualities we bring to the table.

Share the Post:

Related Posts