Guidance — Designer’s Water Cooler: The Imposter Blog

Last week I mentioned that I was going to be talking about designing purposeful mechanics today, but I’ve seen the topic of “Imposter Syndrome” fly around the internet a lot lately, so I wanted to take a week to talk a bit about the topic. Here’s to you, content creators. You are not alone.

What’s Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome isn’t a cutesy thing I invented for this blog. Similar to the Sunk Cost Fallacy, Imposter Syndrome is a real psychological phenomenon that was coined by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978. Boiled down to its basics, Imposter Syndrome is essentially a persistent, internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud resulting from a personal doubt in one’s accomplishments. People experiencing Imposter Syndrome usually find ways to explain away their succeed and talent using some or all of the following:

  • Dismissing success as luck, timing, or deception.
  • Specifically, deceiving others into overestimating one’s personal intelligence or competence.

Who Gets Imposter Syndrome?

So maybe the above description sounds like you or a creative friend you know. Naturally, you are probably asking yourself, “Well, who is susceptible to Imposter Syndrome?” The answer? FREAKING EVERYONE. Here are some statistics on the topic*.

  • Imposter Syndrome is not gendered. In their original study, Clance and Imes concluded that Imposter Syndrome was more prevalent in high-achieving women then in men, but additional study has proven this claim false. Imposter Syndrome happens just as frequently in men as in women.
  • Imposter Syndrome is particularly common among high achievers, especially graduate students and tenure- track professors.
  • People belonging to minority / oppressed groups are more likely to experience Imposter Syndrome. A study by Queen Hoang suggests that people of color experience Imposter Syndrome more often then white people. Suspicion that they only received their position due to Affirmative Action is the most often cited fear in regards to Imposter Syndrome. Asian Americans are more likely to experience Imposter Syndrome than African Americans, who are in turn more likely to experience Imposter Syndrome then Latinx Americans. (This is based on a study conducted on college students at the University of Texas in 2013. Your mileage may vary.)
  • 70% of people will experience at least one episode of Imposter Syndrome in their lives.
  • Famous People: Famous people who’ve documented their experiences with Imposter Syndrome include Neil Gaiman, John Green, Tom Hanks, Michelee Pfeiffer, and Emma Watson, among many others.

Managing Imposter Syndrome

To manage your Imposter Syndrome is to accept that everyone experiences anxiety about their accomplishments, and to try and allow yourself to feel pride in your work while acknowledging that you always have room to grow. Illustrations by Jacob Blackmon, Copyright Everyman Gaming LLC. Used with permission.


So, you know what Imposter Syndrome looks like, so how do you manage it? Well, psychotherapy, especially group psychotherapy is a common and often successful way of alleviating Imposter Syndrome if you’re willing to pay for it. Another common therapy involves creating “permanent products” of your successes that you can use as indisputable proof that you’re not a fraud. The most common permanent product is writing, specifically a writing journal, and is called writing therapy.

However, discussing your feelings of inadequacy with trusted and respected members of the field in which you’re feeling like an imposter is by far the most effective management technique according to studies. Mentors can help you identify where your Imposter Syndrome is prevalent and where there is a legitimate need for growth. This sounds mean and unhelpful, but the combination of being told that you’re overexaggerating your shortcomings, but aren’t entirely wrong, actually seems more helpful to your overall mental state based on psychological findings because these discussions help foster growth. Along the same lines, reflecting upon your feelings of imposterdom is crucial, as is making a list of accomplishments, positive feedback you’ve received, and success stories you’ve experienced.

Remember, if you’re experiencing Imposter Syndrome then the best thing you can do is talk about it. Don’t let yourself hide in the shadows for fear of being fraudulent; it is only by confronting those fears and identifying where you can improve that you will improve! But that’s it for this week’s topic. Next week I’m going to go back to talking about purposeful game design, the idea that things you write serve strong mechanical and flavorful purpose in the context of your game world. But until next time, I’m Alex Augunas and I’m always here for YOU when you need a little bit of Guidance. Take care!

Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alexs Twitter, @AlJAug.


*- I pulled these statistics from Wikipedia. Before I did, I read all 19 reference articles that Wikipedia has listed. They’re all legit and pretty fascinating to read. If you want to know more about the research on Imposter Syndrome, head to Wikipedia’s Imposter Syndrome page, scroll down the References, and give those articles a read.

Alex Augunas

Alexander "Alex" Augunas is an author and behavioral health worker living outside of Philadelphia in the United States. He has contributed to gaming products published by Paizo, Inc, Kobold Press, Legendary Games, Raging Swan Press, Rogue Genius Games, and Steve Jackson Games, as well as the owner and publisher of Everybody Games (formerly Everyman Gaming). At the Know Direction Network, he is the author of Guidance and a co-host on Know Direction: Beyond. You can see Alex's exploits at, or support him personally on Patreon at