How to Deal with ADHD & Imposter Syndrome + Five Competence Types

Do any of these imposter syndrome thoughts sound familiar?

  • What if they know I don’t have the answer?
  • They’re going to find out I don’t know what I’m doing.
  • If they only knew how much of a mess I really am…

If so, you’re in good company.

These thoughts – and countless others like them – often play on repeat in the ADHD brain.

We doubt our abilities.

We hide how hard it is to keep up with the neurotypical world.

And we’re on high alert, worried our facade will crack.

In episode 140 of the I’m Busy Being Awesome podcast, we’re talking a deep dive into imposter syndrome. 

We’re shining a light on the sneaky thoughts that keep us spinning in insecurity.

We’re discussing the different ways this phenomenon presents itself.

And we’re exploring actionable strategies to begin challenging these beliefs and recognizing what we bring to the table.

If you’re ready to take control of your imposter syndrome, this episode is for you.

You can listen to the episode above or stream it on your favorite podcasting app here:   

Prefer to read? No problem! Keep scrolling for the entire podcast transcript.

In Episode 140: How to Deal with ADHD and Imposter Syndrome + Five Competence Types

  • How to identify imposter thoughts for what they are
  • The five leading types of imposter syndrome
  • How to challenge your imposter thoughts and move forward with greater confidence

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Episode #140: How to Deal with ADHD & Imposter Syndrome + Five Competence Types

This week, we are exploring the concept of imposter syndrome.

How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome,  When You Have ADHD

We’re going to dive into what we can do about those tricky thoughts of being a fraud, worrying you’ll be “found out,” or thinking that you don’t belong. Because the truth is, you do belong. And you’re not a fraud.

But if you deal with imposter syndrome, simply hearing me tell you that probably won’t convince you – it certainly didn’t me – so let’s get into it, shall we?

What is Imposter Syndrome?

What is imposter syndrome anyway? 

Imposter syndrome is essentially the chronic feeling of inadequacy or incompetence. It’s the fear of people finding out you’re a “fraud” despite having evidence of successes in your life.

It is a term originally coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, and it describes high-achieving individuals who struggle to recognize their accomplishments.

Again, it’s the belief that you’re a fraud and you’re simply waiting to be found out. You might think that your achievements were lucky, or a fluke, or people were just being “nice.” And you often struggle to see everything that you bring to the table.

ADHD and Imposter Syndrome

I also want to note that Imposter Syndrome is very very very common. Everyone deals with it at one time or another. And this is especially true for people with ADHD and ADHD tendencies. 

As ADHDers, we have spent so much of our lives masking our struggles and trying to hide them from the rest of the world. We don’t want our boss to know that we pulled two all-nighters to get the report done on time.

We don’t want our colleagues to know that we spent hours on the project that they thought would take 20 minutes. We cringe at the idea of someone knowing how hard we have to work to keep up with a world that’s not built for the ADHD brain, so we hustle harder to hide it.

And as I mentioned, it’s not just an ADHD thing either.

Everyone deals with imposter syndrome at different times in their lives.

One of my favorite examples of this is Meryl Streep who is quoted saying,

“Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?”

Seriously – Meryl Streep – the actor who holds the most Academy Award nominations. Truly, we all navigate this.

So let’s shed some light on the situation. Let’s normalize these thoughts patterns. And let’s start challenging them so we can start doing the work we’re meant to do in this world, shall we? 

Imposter Syndrome Thoughts

stressed woman

I’d like to start with some of the most common imposter syndrome thoughts that love to sneak into our minds. And because the brain is SO GOOD at confirmation bias, which means it looks for evidence to prove itself true, it makes it so easy to believe these thoughts about ourselves.

What is Confirmation Bias?

I think I’ve mentioned this concept of confirmation bias in passing on the podcast before; what you focus on grows.

Confirmation bias means the brain continues to seek out information that confirms what it already thinks.

Your brain is a brilliant seeker of evidence and when you put your brain to work on finding some “truth,” you better believe that’s what you’ll find.

It’s kind of like when you start thinking about getting a new car, so you start noticing everyone on the road with cars like the ones you’re considering.

Or if you’re looking to move, you might start noticing for sale signs or rental notices pop up everywhere.

Your brain is constantly filtering information that it deems as necessary or unnecessary, and when you grab onto a belief, the brain sees it as necessary, so it keeps finding additional evidence to prove it true. 

This is an important concept to keep in your mind as you’re working to build new beliefs and challenge old ones.

Imposter syndrome thoughts are so susceptible to this confirmation bias.

Each time you have one of these sneaky thoughts pop into your mind, your brain adds it to the pile of evidence that you don’t belong or you’ll be found out.

If you deal with RSD (rejection sensitive dysphoria) as we talked about in last week’s episode, this can be even more intense as any kind of criticism, feedback, and even potential critique can strengthen those imposter beliefs.

Examples of Imposter Syndrome Thoughts

  • I just got lucky or I had a lot of help.
  • I must have fooled them or tricked them in some way.
  • They’re just being nice or polite or they felt bad for me.
  • Honestly, it sounds like a much bigger accomplishment than it really is.
  • I was in the right place at the right time.
  • They probably made a mistake, and it’s only a matter of time before they realize it. 

For years I used to tell myself about my academic roles, “I had good connections.” And “I just had people fighting for me in my corner.”

When I was a professor I had grad students tell me, I think you admitted the wrong person. Or I got the postdoc because there weren’t many applicants.

I’ve had clients and friends say about their positions, “I’m just really good at interviews. Or I just look good on paper – anyone can do that.”

But not anyone can do that. That’s not true.

And if you’ve ever uttered these words or some version of them to yourself in the past, I hope this episode is especially helpful for you. 

I want to highlight that much of the concepts and information that I’m sharing with you today come from the wonderful research of Valerie Young. She has a book called Secret Thoughts Of Successful Women, which I highly suggest checking out if you want to dive further into the world of imposter syndrome.

She makes quite clear in the book that this is not just a book for women. So if you find imposter syndrome coming up for you, this book could be super helpful. I’ll be sure to link to it in the show notes so you can check it out.

But in her book, Young explains how people with imposter syndrome have a very skewed understanding of what it means to be competent. And what she means by this, is how one person defines competence might differ drastically from what another person deems as competent. 

This idea provides further evidence for my thought that it’s all made up.

What I mean by this is:

  • How we choose to define “competence,”
  • What we think “smart” means, what “talented” means, what “organized” or “has it together” means

It’s all made it. and is just people’s thoughts.

When I remind myself of this, and I remind myself that I get to create my own definitions of these things, I find so much freedom and release from the “shoulds.” 

So I want to offer this reminder to you as well.

The definition of competence, of smart, of capable, of talented, of knowledgeable. It’s all made up.

You get to make your own definitions, too which I encourage you to do. Really start questioning what you want to think about these definitions. Because you get to choose.

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Imposter Syndrome: Five Competence Types

Young’s research on imposter syndrome, she identified five different competence types.

Just as you might have different personality types, Young has identified patterns of thinking that fall into five sets of imposter beliefs. And in fact, she even offers the chapter where she discusses this as a free download on her site.

The 5 types of imposters are the most cited aspect of Dr. Valerie Young’s work. It is also the most misrepresented and most plagiarized. We welcome the chance to share this free chapter so you can hear directly from the source.

As mentioned, Dr. Young breaks down the imposter phenomenon into five types including:

  • Perfectionist
  • Natural genius
  • Rugged individualist
  • Expert
  • Superwoman / Superman. I just call it Superhuman.

Each one of these different competence types represents a rather skewed set of cognitive distortions.

Each one represents a set of thought errors that creates this sense of imposter syndrome for us.

Below I explain the 5 types of imposter syndrome, how they might present themselves, and what you can do to help challenge those beliefs and start thinking differently about yourself and your abilities.

I encourage you to listen to each type and see which ones resonate with you or not. And then we can start poking some holes in those imposter syndrome thoughts.

Type 1: Perfectionist

As Young explains, the perfectionist type is entirely focused on how something is done.

It should be done perfectly. There can be no blemishes, no mistakes, everything must exceed standards.

If and when you fail to meet those expectations, that’s when the imposter syndrome really comes into play. When you don’t meet those unrealistic expectations for yourself, you strengthen the belief that you’re a fraud.

Now not surprisingly, perfectionists often hold very high expectations, and they usually fall within three categories.

  1. Extremely high expectations for themselves
  2. High expectations for other people
  3. Perceived expectations that they believe other people have for them.

And they might fall into one category or a combination of them.

Perfectionists often have exceedingly high standards for themselves, and because of this, they can also feel resistant to ask for help.

The reason behind this resistance is that we think nobody else could possibly do it as well as we could. So we might as well just do it ourselves. 

I want to really highlight this definition, because we have another imposter type that resists asking for help, too, but it’s for a different reason. For the perfectionist, it’s usually because nobody can do it as they can. 

Perfectionists almost always strive for the best. And anything less than the best brings out the inner critic, lots of negative self-talk, and often a whole lot of judgment and shame.

One of the craziest things when it comes to perfectionist beliefs is that even if you meet the high standards, you often think to yourself, you should have done it better.

Some Examples of Perfectionist Behavior:

  • Let’s say you give a phenomenal presentation, but you beat yourself up because the slides weren’t loading properly. 
  • You submitted an article and got feedback from the reviewers. The article was accepted for publication, and the reviewer’s feedback was positive, but you can’t let go of the suggestions reviewer two made to help further your argument.

Anytime you don’t meet your own expectations, that impostor syndrome sneaks in.

You feel shame. You feel disappointed in yourself. You tell yourself you should have done it better.

And then you worry about people knowing that you’re not perfect. You’re worried that the truth might shine through that shield of perfect armor.

And let me tell you from experience, trying to wear that armor 24/7 is not only exhausting, it’s also impossible. It will burn you out. 

Type 2: Natural Genius

The next competence type that Young talks about is the natural genius. And as she describes it…

The natural genius has a lot of similarities with the perfectionist, but this person bases their high standards on the ease and the speed with which they can complete their projects.

So the perfectionist is all about “the how” in terms of getting things done perfectly. And the natural genius has expectations that they must get it done with ease and speed.

Examples of ‘Natural Genius’ Behavior:

If you deal with this form of imposter syndrome, you might be thinking to yourself…

  • If I really belonged here, I should be able to understand this the first time I hear it.
  • If I was really good at my job, I’d be able to get my work done so much faster.
  • If I were a real [fill in the blank – coach, business person, writer, artist] I’d be so much more successful by now. This wouldn’t be so hard.

When things don’t go as fast as you expect, that’s when you start doubting your ability.

This will look like the person who gets frustrated with themselves when they’re not perfect at a skill or concept right away.

Maybe you start a new hobby, and because you aren’t at a professional level immediately, you want to quit. Because you think you don’t belong or your work isn’t good enough.

In chapter 6 of her book, Young explains…

…because you believe a more competent person would be farther along by now, when you run up against something that’s not easily understood, that’s difficult or time-consuming to master, you think, it must be me.”

This sentence really summarizes the natural genius imposter syndrome perfectly… If I don’t get it right immediately, if I don’t find it easy and simple, it must be me. I must not belong.

The natural genius is a perfect example of the fixed mindset, which Carol Dweck explores in her brilliant book Mindset. I also have a very early podcast on this topic, too, which you can check out.

But essentially, a fixed mindset is a person who believes you either got it or you don’t. You’re smart or you’re not. You’re an athlete or you’re not. You’re an artist or you’re not. You’re creative or you’re not. 

There is no in-between – there is no gray area. There is no room for improvement or development. You either can or can’t.

And as you might guess, people with a fixed mindset often find themselves feeling like an impostor. 

This makes sense since you have a strong belief that you either can or can’t. So if it takes some time to learn a new concept, or you have to practice a new skill to reach competency, then you question why you’re there in that role or doing what you do.

You use the fact that some skills take time to learn against yourself.

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Type 3: The Expert

The expert is all about knowledge, credentials, and essentially knowing everything.

This is one that I struggled with a lot when I was in academia. My thoughts sounded a whole lot like, “I should know everything.”

If somebody asks me a question – not only about my particular field of music, which was pop music and film music – but basically anything about music and…anything else in the world, generally.  I should basically have the answer to any question someone asked me.

If I were smart enough, I would understand and remember everything. If I were good enough to be here – if I were a good enough professor – then I’d be able to remember all the points from every article I read.

If I were a real academic, I’d be able to think of powerful questions to ask at conferences and have new perspectives to offer off-the-cuff in conversation. I believed I needed to be an expert on everything.

Signs You May be Navigating ‘The Expert’ Imposter Type

If you think about your own role or the work you’re doing right now, do you ever have thoughts or expectations for yourself to be the expert?

Do you think you “should” know all of the answers because that’s what a “real” coder, designer, writer, academic, coach, teacher, does?

Do you think you need to have all the credentials, all the certifications, and all the boxes checked to finally be rid of those imposter thoughts?

If so, you may be navigating the Expert imposter type.

Type 4: The Individualist

The individualist imposter type tends to believe that they need to do everything themselves. And if they can’t do it all, it’s a sign of weakness. So the individualist thinks the only successes that actually count are the successes that you create on your own without the help of others.

If you have to ask for help, your ADHD brain likely Thinks:

  • You don’t know what you’re doing
  • You’re not capable

And because you keep putting things on your plate and taking on more and more to keep proving you can handle it, you probably don’t take care of yourself. And for most of us, this quickly leads to burnout.

If and when you manage to pull things off, the impostor syndrome still sneaks in because you think to yourself…

  • If they only knew what a mess I am behind the scenes.
  • If they only knew that I’m barely able to make this happen. Then they’d know that I’m an impostor. Then they know I’m a fraud.

I find this one often with the ADHDer because they don’t want people to know how hard it is for us to keep everything together, so we just hide behind our masks – or shields of armor –  and try to keep everything together. And all the while we’re desperate for support. 

Type 5: The Superhuman

As Young explains, “you can think of the Superhuman as the perfectionist, natural genius, and an individualist on steroids.”

This superhuman type is the one that I absolutely identify with. The superhuman – in summary – believes, “if I were really good enough, I’d be able to do it all.”

I’d have a beautifully organized home, a loving family that never argues, a perfectly curated calendar with a well-balanced mix of social events and rest time.

I’d be thriving in my job or my business with promotions and hitting new revenue goals. I’d have my health and wellness all figured out. 

If I were really competent and not an imposter, then I’d be able to do all of that efficiently and effortlessly.

Is anyone else nodding along here?

When I read about this category, I was thinking to myself, “Yep. Yep. yep. Checking every single box.”

You may even show yourself that you can do this for a short time – but if you happened to drop the ball on one of them, that is when that inner critic comes out strong.

This is when all-or-nothing, black and white thinking pops in like we talked about in episode 122.

We struggle to recognize all the incredible things we ARE doing. Instead, the brain zooms in on the one area where it’s not perfect, and let that determine how we think about ourselves.

If you do manage to keep all the balls in the air, you might think to yourself…

  • I should probably take on a little bit more.
  • Maybe I should do one more thing and add more to the mix.
  • If I were really capable, I’d be able to do all of this and then some.
  • I should always be able to do one more thing.

David Allen the author of Getting Things Done has a quote that always resonates with me. He says…

“You can do anything, but not everything.”

I know that’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s also true. You can do anything you put your time to. But when you try to do everything, you rob yourself of your energy and your time, and your focus.

As you try to bounce from one thing to the next, task switching constantly, you put so much unnecessary pressure on your executive functions to keep everything in the air, and that’s when all the balls fall down. 

When we can do anything and we choose to focus our energy on a handful of important things for a season and we put the other ideas in our brilliant ideas list to return to at another time, that is when we can thrive in that more well-rounded life that many of us seek.

Strategies to Deal with Imposter Syndrome

Overcoming imposter syndrome when you have ADHD

If you see yourself in these different categories, what can you do? How can you support yourself?

I’m going to share a handful of different suggestions on how to deal with imposter syndrome. If you want to take the work further, again, I recommend checking out Valerie Young’s book, Secret Thoughts Of Successful Women

Additionally, this is also something that we do a deep dive into in We’re Busy Being Awesome, my small group program. And I’ve had quite a few people asking about the group recently, wondering when the next cohort begins.

So I wanted to mention that, whenever you’re listening to this podcast (or reading the show notes), I highly recommend popping over to imbusybeingawesome.com/group. Find out whether it’s a great fit for what you’re looking to achieve.


Want To Join Our Group Coaching Program?!

I will be opening the doors for the next cohort of We’re Busy Being Awesome in a couple of weeks!

Add your name to the waitlist so you’ll be the first to know about program dates and times, plus how you can sign up if it’s a great fit for you.


How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome?

How can we support ourselves when these imposter thoughts creep in?

If you resonated with these beliefs or one of the five types we talked about today, how can you move forward?

Remember, Imposter Syndrome is all Made Up

As I alluded to earlier, one of my favorite thoughts that I often remind myself of is that it’s all made up.

  • How we define smart
  • How we define capable
  • How we define successful or knowledgeable It’s all made up depending on the information you’re looking for. Because the truth is, what’s successful or impressive to one person is most certainly not the case for everyone. 

It’s all made up depending on the information you’re looking for. Because the truth is, what’s successful or impressive to one person is most certainly not the case for everyone. 

Example:

And I want to give you an example to put this into context within my own academic field.

So like I said, I am a musicologist, and my specific field of study was film music and pop music. So I would study the role music played in film, the history of rock and roll, this history of protest music, and the role that music played in shaping society. 

Now, within the realm of musicology, this field was sometimes looked down on by the traditionalists – at least it was for quite some time. I’m sure it’s changing, but for a while it was.

Essentially, there were different versions of the thought that pop music wasn’t “real music.” It wasn’t serious music. It didn’t “count.” It wasn’t the music of Bach or Mendelssohn or Wagner or Beethoven.

So when I would go to musicology conferences, there might be one or two panels dedicated to pop music or film music, while you would have days worth of conference talks on the music of these other “serious” composers. So that is one collection of thoughts.

But then I would go to an American studies conference, for example. And let me tell you, focusing on the role of music in society and the way that protest music in the 60s helped shape the messaging of a movement was much more exciting and interesting to the people in those conferences than if I came and decided to talk about Bach’s organ music in the early 1700s.

If I went to a conference in the tech space, my research wouldn’t be interesting to anyone! Nobody would be thinking, wow, we really need a musicologist here because they’re the real experts. So it’s all made up. 

The truth is that people have different interests and knowledge bases. 

We each have different skillsets and strengths. And just because I don’t know something or you don’t know something doesn’t make either one of us an imposter. 

We each have our areas and our specialties that we bring to the mix. You don’t have to know everything.

The beauty is when you offer what you do know.

The beauty is when you own your strengths and you share them with others so we can all grow together.

And then stay open to learning new concepts and idea and asking for help – without judgment of yourself – so you can continue growing and learning in the areas that most light you up.

So first of all, remind yourself of this thought often: it’s all made up.

Especially if you ever find yourself slipping into the expert category.

Check-in with Yourself

Additionally, if you find yourself thinking you have to know it all, do it all, have it all done perfectly, etc. or else you’ll be found out. Or you’re a fraud if you don’t, I’d encourage you to check in with yourself.

I invite you to ask yourself…

“Why do I make it about me or my abilities if I don’t check the box of what I think it means to have it all together?”

As you actually put those words to paper, read them over and get really honest with yourself:

  • Do you believe those thoughts?
  • Do they feel really true to you? Or are you able to start questioning them? 

Sometimes simply calling attention to those thoughts like, “I have to do it all or I’m a total fraud. I can’t possibly ask for help or people will know I’m not capable.” “If it’s not perfect, I don’t belong in this role.” can be really impactful.

Because then you can check in with yourself. 

Ask Yourself:

  • Would I think this about someone else?
  • Do I hold this same level of expectation for other people?
  • Is it possible this simply isn’t true?
  • What if embracing B+ work so I can get it out there is actually the best thing I could do because I can help more people now?
  • What if asking for help is the smartest action I could take in this scenario? Then I could get an answer quickly rather than wasting valuable time trying to hide the fact that I don’t know an answer.

In my opinion, some of the most brilliant, capable people are the ones who know what they need, and they know who to ask for support. They know who’s on their team, and they know where they can go when they need that extra boost.

I’m telling you, it can be really empowering to remind yourself that…

We can do so much more and make a much bigger impact when we combine our ideas, our energy, and our resources to make something incredible happen.

Change Your Inner Narrative

I invite you to stop telling yourself you need to do it all, you need to do it perfectly. You need to do it all right.

These beliefs are causing urgency and pressure that drains your energy. It drains your focus. And it completely taxes your executive functions. 

Dealing with Imposter Syndrome: Actions To Take

  • Get some help on some of those nonessential tasks.
  • Set aside or offload some of the things that can wait.
  • Don’t put your energy into these thoughts. You can do that – did you know that? You can really decide to let it go

I promise when you allow yourself to deal with imposter syndrome, you give yourself the gift of focused energy, attention, and time on the handful of things that are most important to you. When you drop the pressure that you have to know everything, handle everything, and do everything perfectly that’s when you give yourself the space to really thrive.

Want to learn how to do that in a supportive group of busy awesome humans? Head over to our group, We’re Busy Being Awesome and add your name to the interest list, or simply click below to get on the waitlist!


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Until next time, keep being awesome. I’ll talk with you soon.

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