25 Famous Women on Impostor Syndrome and Self-Doubt

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If you’ve ever been plagued with impostor syndrome, you know the feeling: Even if you’re successful (at work, school, or life in general), a voice pops into your head and spirals into self-doubt: You don’t deserve to be here. You’re a fraud and everyone knows it! An estimated 70 percent of people will experience impostor syndrome at least once in their lives. Below, famous women including Lupita Nyong’o, Natalie Portman, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and more talk about self-doubt and how they’ve learned to use it for success.

Tavi Gevinson

“Impostor syndrome is the bane of my existence. I look to my role models and remember that nobody, no matter how ‘aw shucks’ they seem in interviews, can get anything done without, well, ~believing in themselves~. I try to stay so inspired to get work done that there isn’t even time to be insecure about it, I just have to do it … I also have playlists (mostly Kanye, also some Fiona Apple and Eve and Kelly Rowland and much more). Also mantras. Kate Nash told me to say to myself every morning: ‘I’m a badass bitch from hell and nobody can fuck with me.’ Saying it out loud makes it more true than if you just told yourself it in your head. So I recommend that. You got this.” —Reddit AMA, September 2014

Sheryl Sandberg

“Every time I was called on in class, I was sure that I was about to embarrass myself. Every time I took a test, I was sure that it had gone badly. And every time I didn’t embarrass myself — or even excelled — I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day soon, the jig would be up … This phenomenon of capable people being plagued by self-doubt has a name — the impostor syndrome. Both men and women are susceptible to the impostor syndrome, but women tend to experience it more intensely and be more limited by it.” —Lean In, March 2013

Lupita Nyong’o

“What’s it called when you have a disease and it keeps recurring? I go through [acute impostor syndrome] with every role. I think winning an Oscar may in fact have made it worse. Now I’ve achieved this, what am I going to do next? What do I strive for? Then I remember that I didn’t get into acting for the accolades, I got into it for the joy of telling stories.” —Time Out, September 2016

Penélope Cruz

“I feel every time I’m making a movie, I feel like [it’s] my first movie. Every time I have the same fear that I’m gonna be fired. And I’m not joking. Every movie, the first week, I always feel that they could fire me!” —CBS, February 2009

Jessica Chastain

“I always think I’m going to get fired … Everyone keeps telling me you get fired from at least one set in your life, and I haven’t been fired yet. I’ve been fired on little things, but nothing big. So now every time I’m on a set, I’m like, ‘This could be the one.’” —E! News, January 2012

Amy Schumer

“I feel like a tourist in Hollywood …The truth is, I make a lot of jokes about myself, and I have the same moments where I lose all self-esteem and cannot believe anyone has managed to get an erection at my expense. When Judd Apatow gave me the opportunity to be in this movie that he would make and direct I just thought, ‘Yeah, he sees me as like, Seth Rogen.’ And we were doing this interview [during the press tour for Trainwreck] and he said to me, ‘I think that you’re prettier than you understand,’ and I just wanted to punch him in the face and ruin the opportunity because I was like, ‘You’re crazy!’ And I thought, Why is Hollywood playing this big trick on me? When are they going to realize that I’m disgusting and that I have no right to be in a movie and that I should be doing the Funny Bone and begging for half-off wings, which I’d been doing for ten years, happily? And I was just ready for this big backlash, bracing myself. And it never happened … Because I’ve been getting backlash since 2006. I’ve gotten death threats for about eight years. But I’m not going to stop.” —Elle’s 22nd annual Women in Hollywood Awards, October 2015

Gillian Jacobs

“I’m trying not to always let on how nervous I am, to appear more confident than I actually feel. Because I feel like at earlier points in my life, I would’ve just gone, ‘too hard, too scary, people are gonna realize I’m a fraud.’ … [Now, I’m] at a point that I kind of want to scare myself.” —Bustle, February 2016

Lena Dunham

“Making my deal with HBO as a 23-year-old woman, I felt that I had so much to prove. I felt like I had to be the person who answered emails the fastest, stayed up the latest, worked the hardest. As much as I loved my job, I really, like, injured myself in some ways. If I had felt like, ‘You’re worthy of eight hours of sleep, not four; you’re worthy of turning your phone off on a Saturday,’ I don’t think it would have changed the outcome of the show. [But] I could have worked with a sense of joy and excitement, rather than guilt and anxiety of being ‘found out.’ The advice I would give any woman going into a job if she has a sense of impostor syndrome would be: There will be nothing if you don’t look out for you. And I can’t wait, on my next project, to go into it with the strength that comes from, like, valuing your own body and your own mental health.” —Glamour, February 2016

Emma Watson

“It’s almost like the better I do, the more my feeling of inadequacy actually increases, because I’m just going, Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud, and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved. I can’t possibly live up to what everyone thinks I am and what everyone’s expectations of me are. It’s weird — sometimes [success] can be incredibly validating, but sometimes it can be incredibly unnerving and throw your balance off a bit, because you’re trying to reconcile how you feel about yourself with how the rest of the world perceives you.” —Rookie, May 2013

Mindy Kaling

“‘Why the fuck not me?’ should be your motto.” —her Twitter, June 2014

Amy Adams

“I’m a harsh critic of myself. I see when I stopped needing to be perfect. I stopped carrying the weight of criticism. I really was so tired of giving a [expletive] cause I just gave so many all the time.” —the Los Angeles Times, September 2016

Tina Fey

“Ah, the impostor syndrome!? The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania, and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh god, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud. Seriously, I’ve just realized that almost everyone is a fraud, so I try not to feel too bad about it.” —The Independent, March 2010

Sigourney Weaver

“Have I ever doubted myself? Have I ever not? I feel self-doubt whether I’m doing something hard or easy.” —Esquire, January 2010

Tracee Ellis Ross

“I remember when I was dropped by my agents early, early on in my career. They said I didn’t pop when I walked into a room. At the time, maybe I didn’t pop when I walked into a room or maybe I didn’t know who I was but it was one of those moments in my life and in my career where I remember crying to my sister and thinking, ‘I don’t know that I can do this as a career. This is too hard.’ And if [doing this] means that people get to make a comment on who I am, I took it very personally and it was the beginning of a lot of growth of me. A lot of what people think of me is none of my business. It kinda doesn’t matter to me. I get to follow my own bliss. I unconsciously set a really clear intention of what I wanted my job and career to be. It was the beginning of who I wanted to be and I made the choice in that moment that I was only going to continue doing acting if it was fun. It has done that.” —Vibe, March 2015

Natalie Portman

On being a Harvard student: “So I have to admit that today, even 12 years after graduation, I’m still insecure about my own worthiness. I have to remind myself today, You are here for a reason. Today, I feel much like I did when I came to Harvard Yard as a freshman in 1999 … I felt like there had been some mistake — that I wasn’t smart enough to be in this company and that every time I opened my mouth I would have to prove I wasn’t just a dumb actress. … Sometimes your insecurities and your inexperience may lead you to embrace other people’s expectations, standards, or values, but you can harness that inexperience to carve out your own path — one that is free of the burden of knowing how things are supposed to be, a path that is defined by its own particular set of reasons.” —Harvard Commencement 2015, May 2015

Padma Lakshmi

“On the first season of Top Chef, I suffered from … impostor syndrome. I didn’t have [restaurant cooking experience] … I thought, I’ll just be a really good host. Somewhere along, there, and he probably doesn’t even know it and we’re friends, I heard Éric Ripert say to another chef, ‘No, Padma has a really sensitive palate, like one of the most sensitive palates of anyone I’ve ever met.’ I held on to that. Any time I felt insecure or insufficient — which I did a lot on that set — all I had to do was rely on what I did know rather than what I didn’t know.” —Cherry Bombe’s Jubilee Conference, March 2015

Jennifer Lee

“If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that self-doubt is one of the most destructive forces. It makes you defensive instead of open, reactive instead of active. Self-doubt is consuming and cruel. And my hope today is that we can all collectively agree to ban it … Think about all the crazy ways you feel different from everyone else. And now take the judgment out of that. And what you are left with is such a wholly dynamic, inspiring character who could lead an epic story.” —University of New Hampshire Commencement, 2014

Justice Sonia Sotomayor

“I’m not a classic impostor-syndrome person because I have that initial insecurity but I’m capable of stepping outside of it and proving to myself it’s wrong.” —The Wall Street Journal, January 2013

Samantha Bee

On starting at The Daily Show in 2003

“We follow U.S. politics quite closely in Canada. It was definitely something I was interested and motivated to follow. It was a part of my life keeping up with international stuff and keeping up with what was happening in the United States. I didn’t feel prepared. I didn’t know anything about American history, really. [Laughs.] I mean, not in an immersive way. So in no way did I feel prepared for how it would be. It’s that impostor syndrome when you sit around thinking, ‘Why would they hire me? Oh my God, when are they going to figure out that I shouldn’t be here?’ I guess that they never figured it out. I got pretty lucky.” —Mother Jones, February 2016

Kate Winslet

“What people really think of me is something I remain blissfully unaware of most of the time. I love acting and all I ever try to do is my best. But even now I always dread those emotional scenes. I’m there thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m rubbish and everyone is going to see it. They’ve cast the wrong person.’ But I have come to realize that those nerves are all part of the process for me.” —The Mirror, June 2013

Jodie Foster

On winning an Oscar for her role in The Accused: “I thought it was a big fluke. The same way when I walked on the campus at Yale, I thought everybody would find out, and then they’d take the Oscar back.” —60 Minutes, December 1999

Cara Delevingne

“When you do everything you can to make people happy with your work but there are still people who aren’t happy, you start to think, ‘Well, I’ve worked my a** off. I’ve done everything. I’ve pushed myself into the ground.’ You just feel like you’re constantly disappointing others, and there’s this moment when you’re like, ‘Wait, what am I trying to do? Who am I doing this for?’ Over time, I came to realize that work and getting others’ approval isn’t the most important thing. Yes, your career is very important — but it’s not the most important. Of course I was proud of my accomplishments, but I wasn’t genuinely happy.” —Motto, March 2016

Joyce Roche

“The impostor fears had a greater impact on me early in my career. As I entered corporate America, I faced many unknowns. Being a woman of color in business at a time when very few women were in positions of power, I had to learn by trial and error how I was supposed to perform. This made me so afraid of being wrong or ‘looking dumb’ that I stayed quiet in meetings. I wanted to make sure everything I said was perfect before I would chance saying anything, and often found myself hearing a guy saying what I had been thinking but was too afraid to say. I did learn fairly early on that my being quiet and not voicing opinions only served to create doubts in the minds of others about my abilities. So I faced the fear and began taking risks to counter any questions about my abilities and me.” —The Huffington Post, September 2013

Cheryl Strayed

“Writing is always full of self-doubt, but the first book [Torch] is really full of self-doubt, and it was much more of a struggle to keep the faith. By the time I wrote Wild, I was familiar with that feeling of doubt and self-loathing, so I just thought, ‘Okay, this is how it feels to write a book.’” —Booth, July 2014

Helen Mirren

“It would be wrong to think that you’re always right and correct and perfect and brilliant. Self-doubt is the thing that drives you to try to improve yourself.” —Esquire, August 2011

25 Famous Women on Impostor Syndrome and Self-Doubt