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My TEDx Talk: Do you have Impostor Syndrome … too?

What happens when you share the secret that has been feeding your impostor syndrome for more than 25 years? In this TEDx talk, I share a secret that I kept hidden for 25 years and the result of that secret being revealed on the front page of a national newspaper. Through this journey, I was forced [

Phil McKinney
Phil McKinney
5 min read
Phil McKinney talk on Impostor Syndrome at TEDx Boulder 2018

What happens when you share the secret that has been feeding your impostor syndrome for more than 25 years? In this TEDx talk, I share a secret that I kept hidden for 25 years and the result of that secret being revealed on the front page of a national newspaper. Through this journey, I was forced to come face-to-face with the impact impostor syndrome has on the individual and their career.

Can you push back against impostor syndrome? Yes, and in this talk, I share the lessons learned and the steps to overcome the lies of the impostor syndrome that tells you that you are not good enough.

YouTube link:

While the talk is based on the following script, it does vary at some points as you would expect when delivering this talk live to an audience of about 2,000.

Humans Have A Super Power

We as humans have a super power. That super power is our ability to convince ourselves that something is true when it is not.

75% of the population has convinced themselves that they are a fraud … an impostor when it comes to their jobs. This leads many to question their achievements. Or worse – you convince yourself to not even try because of the self-doubt that you aren’t good enough.

Did you really earn the job you are in…or were you just lucky?

Define Impostor Syndrome

Leadership experts and psychologists call this the Impostor Syndrome.

What is it?

It is when someone doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. While 75% of the global population suffer from it, some studies have shown that women experience Impostor Syndrome at an even higher rate.

I'm Phil McKinney. I'm an award-winning author — host an award winning nationally syndicated talk radio show and podcast. I retired as CTO for Hewlett-Packard before coming to Colorado to take over as the CEO for CableLabs. I've appeared on most every major news programs and have been profiled in leading newspapers and magazines around the world.

With all these accomplishments across a long career — you would think I was comfortable with my accomplishments.  Not true!

I have spent a significant portion of my career living in fear that others would uncover that … I’m an impostor with a secret.

The Secret

In April 2007, a reporter from the San Jose Mercury News was wrapping up our interview for a front-page executive profile of me.  Then came the final question.

This one question put me into a full panic attack that my secret would be made public. My Impostor Syndrome was telling me that everyone would know I was a fraud.

So, what triggered the all-out panic attack? It was a secret that I didn’t want to be public. I never graduated from college.

Phil McKinney's secret

You may be saying to yourself — lots of people don’t graduate college and go on to be successful. SO WHAT?!

That’s – the – point!

When you have Impostor Syndrome, what you believe disqualifies you is a secret that you need to protect and never share.

Then the article came out and there was my secret — in the sidebar — “He left college without graduating”.

I prepared myself for the inevitable fallout — which was — NOTHING!!!

The world didn’t care.

I had guarded this secret for 25 years. Suddenly, it vanished.

The stress and fear were gone. I had used my super power and convinced myself that I was a fraud – which was not true.

That is when I understood… secrets are fuel for the Impostor Syndrome.

I shared my secret and it took away its power over me.

In reality – I didn’t share my secret .. my secret was shared for me on the front page of a major national newspaper. Which would not have been my first choice.

Sharing My Impostor Syndrome Story

Since my secret was revealed, I’ve shared my battle with Impostor Syndrome in talks like this — and on my radio show.  The response from others sharing their own struggles has been overwhelming.

Impostor Syndrome is a struggle that isn’t limited to title, education, background, gender or any other form of identify.

It is universal.

Over the years, I’ve had exceptional members of my staff suffer from such severe cases of Impostor Syndrome, that it was crippling.

One felt that he was going to lose his job. The rumor mill was churning about changes at his company and he felt that there were others on the team that were better and they would find out that he was an impostor.

The result — he believed that his family were going to be homeless!

This leap from where everything is fine … to being homeless took all of 3 seconds.

I assured him that he was highly skilled and that he had earned his accomplishments. He was not an an impostor.

What happened? Reassuring him he was not a fraud changed his whole perspective.

To overcome his Impostor Syndrome, he needed to share his secret of self-doubt and for someone to acknowledge he was not an impostor.

Are You Suffering From Impostor Syndrome?

Are you suffering with Impostor Syndrome?

Do you …

  • have fear that you can’t accomplish what others expect from you?
  • Have a hard time acknowledging recognition for your own accomplishments?
  • practice self-sabotage?
  • experience the cycle of self-doubt/ worry that others will discover the “truth” about your abilities?

So … do you suffer from Impostor Syndrome?

Look around the auditorium. Studies say that 75% of you have, are or will experience Impostor Syndrome.

Pushing Back on Impostor Syndrome

So how do you push back on Impostor Syndrome?

Let me share with you two ways to push back on Impostor Syndrome. Both will require you to take on some risk but taking risk is what is needed sometimes to create change.

First – Find a safe forum to share your secret that is fueling your impostor syndrome.

What worked for me — having my secret on the front page of a national newspaper – or sharing it again from the TEDx stage – may not be what you choose. Find a friend — or a stranger — and share your secret.  Just simply say … “I’m struggling with Impostor Syndrome and I have a secret. Can I share it with you?”

Second – The most important role you can play in stamping out Impostor Syndrome is to be an encourager.

If you know someone who could benefit from having their skills and abilities recognized, don’t just think it — say something. A simple word of validation goes a long way to helping someone see themselves as others see them.


Do NOT hesitate to push back on the Impostor Syndrome and its lies.

I wasted 25 years of my career believing the lies that I was not good enough. Do not make the same mistake I did.

What lie have you been believing that is telling you that you are not good enough?

The opposite of the lie is the truth.

And the truth will always be more powerful than any lie we tell ourselves.

So what is the truth about your amazing self?

Start believing that…and a new future will unfold.

Watch the full TEDx talk at

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Phil McKinney is an innovator, podcaster, author, and speaker. He is the retired CTO of HP. Phil's book, Beyond The Obvious, shares his expertise and lessons learned on innovation and creativity.


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