“My impostor syndrome is at an all-time high”

Those were the words that spilled out of Daniel Kwan’s mouth at this year’s Oscars as he accepted his Best Director award.

Of course it is. Impostor Syndrome – the experience of feeling like you’ve fooled people into thinking that you know what you’re doing – happens to most of us at some point in life. In fact, the research consistently indicates that at least 70% of us experience impostor feelings related to our work or other significant roles in life. As a person of Asian descent, Mr. Kwan is especially susceptible. Studies show that Asians are the highest percentage of any group to report having this experience.

Daniel Kwan is also a creative – one that works in an industry where others make money criticizing his work. Of course, standing in front of the world accepting an award that is the pinnacle of achievement in your profession and as the youngest person to do so, a person might feel a bit of impostor syndrome.

What stood out to me was that he said it. He put it right out there. Not in a negative kind of way, but in a “I’m owning this” kind of way. And just like that, the imposter syndrome loses its power. Daniels ability to see it and name it how it is has allowed him to keep going, and to quiet all the “you’re an imposter” voices in his head enough to take risks and step into the spotlight on the big stage.


This was refreshing to see because a lot of the time that mean voice wins.

In nearly every coaching engagement I have with a leader, we find ourselves talking about that voice. Indeed, I’ve had a long relationship with the voice in my own head. For so many of us, we find ourselves using coping strategies like playing small instead of owning both our competence and our “not there yet-ness”. Keeping these things in plain sight (instead of spending enormous amounts of effort to keep it hidden) is the power move.

When Daniel Kwan named this experience for himself, he helped the rest of us a bit too. I’m happy for him. I hope he celebrates well and is able to move with confidence and humility into his next challenges.

What do you need to name about your experience right now?
How might doing so help someone else?

Just some food for thought.


Photo: Daniel Scheinert, left, and Daniel Kwan accept the award for best original screenplay. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)