299 – Imposter Syndrome: Who do you Think You Are?

“Those who do not observe the movements of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy.” —Marcus Aurelius Feeling like a fraud despite your achievements? Discover how Stoic philosophy can help you combat imposter syndrome and embrace your true self. Learn to focus on what you can control, accept imperfections, and cultivate inner resilience for a more authentic life.

Do you suffer from imposter syndrome? Do you often feel like you’re just faking your way through life? Today I want to talk about how Stoicism can help you overcome imposter syndrome and live a more authentic life.

“Failure to observe what is in the mind of another has seldom made a man unhappy; but those who do not observe the movements of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy.”

—Marcus Aurelius

We all have times in our lives when we feel like just faking our way through the day. We often have this nagging feeling that we’re “just not good enough”, even when we achieve some success. Imposter syndrome, the persistent feeling of being a fraud despite evident success, is a common struggle among many of us, especially high achievers. Stoic philosophy, with its timeless wisdom, offers profound insights and practical strategies to overcome this debilitating mindset. By applying Stoic principles, we can cultivate a more resilient and confident self-perception.

In my own life, imposter syndrome is something that I’ve struggled with. For example, early on in making this podcast, I often felt like I was an imposter because while I understood a lot of the Stoic principles I was discussing, I didn’t feel like I lived them very well. But one of the things I’ve learned over the last 8 years of studying Stoicism is that the Stoic taught and wrote about these ideas not because they were bragging about how perfect they were, but it was also their way of working through these ideas for themselves. It was their way of reminding themselves of the way that they wanted to live their lives. Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations were his personal thoughts and reminders for himself so that he could work through the challenges in his own life. Creating this podcast has been very much the same. I do it so that I can help others and so that I can constantly work through my own struggles. I’ve joked with friends that this podcast is my “public therapy”.

Understanding Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome manifests itself as a fear of being exposed as incompetent or unworthy, regardless of our achievements or external validation. This fear often leads to anxiety, self-doubt, and a constant sense of inadequacy. By applying the principles of Stoicism, we can develop our own inner strength and equanimity, which can help counter these feelings.

Principle 1: Focus on What You Can Control

One of the core tenets of Stoicism is the dichotomy of control, as articulated by Epictetus in his Enchiridion:

"Some things are up to us and some things are not."

Imposter syndrome thrives on focusing on what we cannot control—other people's opinions, the outcome of our efforts, and external recognition. By shifting our focus to what we can control—our thoughts, actions, and responses—we can reduce anxiety and build confidence. For example, instead of worrying about whether others perceive us as competent, we can concentrate on doing our best work and continuously improving our skills. As Marcus Aurelius reminds us, “It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own.”

Principle 2: Embrace Your Humanity

Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, reminds us in his "Meditations":

“Do not be disgusted, discouraged, or dissatisfied if you do not succeed in doing everything according to right principles; but when you have failed, return again, and be content if the greater part of what you do is consistent with man's nature.”

Here Marcus is reminding us of the importance of accepting our imperfections and shortcomings, and focusing on our actions. Imposter syndrome often stems from an unrealistic expectation of perfection. By recognizing that everyone, including ourselves, has flaws and makes mistakes, we can alleviate the pressure to be flawless and instead strive to be our best selves.

Principle 3: Reframe Your Perspective

Stoicism teaches us to reframe our thoughts and perceptions. Seneca, another prominent Stoic philosopher, said:

"We suffer more in imagination than in reality."

The Stoics taught that negative emotions were created from misperceptions or incorrect judgements about an external events and circumstances. When we experience imposter syndrome, we often exaggerate our perceived shortcomings and failures, and get stuck in ruminating on them. Often times, even when do achieve success, we let perfectionism get in the way and look for all the ways that we should have done it better. By practicing cognitive reframing, we can rationally challenge these distorted thoughts and view them more objectively. For instance, instead of thinking, "I don't deserve my success because I cold have done it better,” we can reframe it to, "I have worked hard to achieve my goals, and I continue to learn and grow."

Principle 4: Practice Self-Reflection and Acceptance

Self-reflection is a vital Stoic practice. Marcus Aurelius advises:

"The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts."

I think that the biggest creator of imposter syndrome is that often we really don’t know ourselves. We may think things like, “I’m not good enough” or “I’m not worthy enough.” But what does that really mean? Good enough for what? And who decides if we’re worthy enough?

So what keeps us from really getting to know ourselves? Fear. We’re too afraid of looking at the things that we don’t like about ourselves because it’s scary. But until we are willing to face that darker and less likable parts of ourselves, then we’ll be constantly running away from them.

In episode 218 Accept Yourself, I talked about how I had to really take a deep look at why I thought I was not a very good person. I felt like I needed to have validation from my long term partner in order to feel better about myself. When she was upset with me, I felt awful about myself. My sense of self, and my self esteem were so tied up with what I thought she thought about me, that I made us both miserable. We would get into arguments because I would try to change her opinion about me so that I could feel better about myself.

As Marcus Aurelius reminds us, “Things do not touch the soul, for they are external and remain immovable; so our perturbations come only from our inner opinions.” It is the opinion about ourselves that causes us the most distress, and what we think about ourselves is something that we can control.

Regular self-reflection helps us identify irrational beliefs and negative thought patterns that fuel imposter syndrome. By journaling our thoughts and experiences, we can gain clarity and perspective, recognizing our achievements and progress.

One journaling practice that I recommended in episode 218 is to write down everything that you don’t like about yourself, and practice accepting those things about yourself. I know that it may sound counterintuitive, but until you’re willing to face up to negative opinions you hold about yourself, they will continue to drag you down. And to be honest, I think you’ll be surprised at how trivial most of those things really are, and you’ll recognize that most of the things on your list are probably on the lists of those closest to you. But more than anything, it’s a way to be honest with yourself, own up to the things that scare you, and accept yourself for exactly who you are.

Principle 5: Cultivate Inner Resilience

Stoicism emphasizes resilience in the face of adversity. Marcus Aurelius encourages us to build inner strength:

“Remember, too, on every occasion that leads you to vexation to apply this principle: not that this is a misfortune, but that to bear it nobly is good fortune.”

Imposter syndrome can trigger intense emotional responses, but Stoic resilience teaches us to manage these emotions and remain steadfast. By practicing mindfulness and being aware of our own thinking, we are better able to regulate our emotions, and we can respond to self-doubt with calm and rationality, rather than letting it overwhelm us.

When we do suffer setbacks, then we can look for the opportunity that comes from it. How we respond to a failure is place for growth to become something even greater. If everything worked out exactly as we wanted all the time, then life wouldn’t be very interesting. When we have challenges and the risk of failure then it makes it all the more rewarding when we succeed. As Seneca wrote, “A setback has often cleared the way for greater prosperity. Many things have fallen only to rise to more exalted heights.”

Principle 6: Seek Wisdom and Support

The Stoics valued wisdom and learning from others. Seneca wrote:

"Associate with people who are likely to improve you."

Seeking guidance from mentors, colleagues, or trusted friends can provide valuable perspectives and encouragement. Sharing our struggles with imposter syndrome can also help us realize that we are not alone and that others have faced and overcome similar challenges. Also, by understanding that you don’t have to be perfect, and accepting the areas where you are weak gives you insight into knowing when to ask for help.

Principle 7: Live with Integrity

Living according to our values and principles is a cornerstone of Stoic philosophy. Marcus Aurelius urges us:

"If it is not right, do not do it; if it is not true, do not say it."

By aligning our actions with our values, we can develop a sense of integrity and authenticity. This alignment helps us build self-respect and reduces the likelihood of feeling like an imposter. When we act in accordance with our principles, we can take pride in our efforts and trust in our capabilities.


Imposter syndrome is a pervasive issue that can undermine our confidence and well-being. However, by applying Stoic principles, we can cultivate a more resilient and grounded mindset. Focusing on what we can control, embracing our humanity, reframing our perspectives, practicing self-reflection, cultivating inner resilience, seeking wisdom and support, and living with integrity are powerful strategies to overcome imposter syndrome. By integrating these Stoic teachings into our daily lives, we can navigate challenges with greater confidence and grace, ultimately leading a more fulfilling and authentic life.

Visit the Stoic Coffee Break website for more episodes, transcripts, and merch.

Find out more about the Leadership Mastermind.

Find me on linkedIn, instagram, twitter, or threads.

Thanks again for listening!