Imposter Syndrome & The Museum of Failure

closeup photo of primate
Photo by Andre Mouton on


Imposter syndrome is so common, you could call it normal. Some studies report that 7 out of 10 people experience imposter feelings (1). Since so many of us deal with these feelings, perhaps we can take solace in solidarity. Imposter syndrome and its attending anxieties tell us we’re not good enough and those thoughts can easily slip into a shame spiral. Which is why it’s so helpful to talk about it. Sharing with others and hearing their experiences helps us to understand that we’re not alone and there’s nothing to feel shame about.

“Shame dies when stories are told in safe spaces.”

Ann Voskamp


One of the expressions of my imposter syndrome is procrastination. I started this blog series on imposter syndrome in February of 2022, and I’m only just posting the last instalment now. I have felt the shame monster whispering mean things into my ear about this series for over a year, and about every other thing for much longer. But researching and writing about imposter syndrome has really helped me to understand where these feelings come from, what they look like, and how common they are. It’s become a pretty regular topic of conversation in my circle of friends now, and I read any article about it that comes my way.

I still hear from my imposter syndrome monster all the time, but now I can more quickly identify what’s happening, refute what it’s saying, and ignore it. With varying degrees of success. I’m always encouraging my clients to brag about themselves and make sure they highlight their most impressive achievements, but I am rubbish at following my own advice. It’s a work in progress.


Therapy helps! My own head shrinker did wonders for my anxiety by helping me deconstruct where it comes from and developing personalized coping mechanisms. Medication helped quiet the negativity storm in my head too.

Specifically, research has shown that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has had positive outcomes for people with imposter syndrome.

“CBT functions to deconstruct pathologic belief systems and dismantle negative behaviors… [It] challenges the individual’s perceptions surrounding feedback and performance to bring about sincere recognition of his or her abilities.” (1)

Your mileage may vary, and therapy isn’t always financially feasible, but there are psychological tools out there to support those of us grappling with imposter feelings. I have included a list of resources at the end of this post.


Another thing that helps me beat back the imposter syndrome monster, paradoxically, is to collect and sort of celebrate my failures. I got the idea from the literal Museum of Failure: “a collection of failed products and services from around the world… Innovation and progress require an acceptance of failure. The museum aims to stimulate productive discussion about failure and inspire us to take meaningful risks.” (2)

Johannes Haushofer, assistant professor of psychology and public affairs at Princeton did something similar a few years ago. He created a “CV of failures” to show all the things he’s been rejected from. And it resonated so well with so many people, it went viral. (3)

I think that being open about our failures, just like with our anxieties and other mental health issues, helps to shut the shame up. I don’t love the toxic positivity around “failing better” and “failing up,” etc. We don’t need to feel good about failing or pretend that we feel good about it to win social media points. It’s enough to just sit with it and work on accepting that failure is going to be part of our lives. Begrudging acceptance with a side of self-deprecating humour is the best I can do.

Museum of Failure

In the spirit of openness and embracing my failures (more or less), here is a curation of some of the things I have failed at:


My recently written travel essay, The Death of Travel, has been rejected from 4 publications out of the 6 I’ve sent it to. The other 2 I haven’t heard back from yet. It stings each time, but I tell myself it’s evidence that I’m putting the work in to get published.

A couple of examples from my rejection collection:

Thank you for submitting to [Publication]. We read every story, poem, and essay submitted to us carefully, and we delight in publishing both established and emerging writers. Unfortunately, we are not able to accept your work for publication at this time.

Thank you for sending us “The Death of Travel.” While we are grateful to have had the opportunity to read your work, we’re sorry to say it isn’t a good fit for us at this time. Our submissions queue continues to grow, and we often have to decline many excellent pieces.


A poorly knitted pink dishcloth, with a pen for scale, on a wooden coffee table background.

During the pandemic, I decided I’d start knitting.

This is my first attempt (pen for scale). As you can see, it did not go that well. But it’s functional as a dishcloth, and it’s part of my household rotation of cloths.

I have not done any knitting since, but I look forward to making more weird-looking dishcloths. Christmas gifts?!


A poorly whittled wooden spoon on a black background.

A few years ago, I was convinced to go to a whittling workshop in Oxford. I ended up enjoying it a lot, even though my final product was a wonky spoon and a bunch of little cuts on my hands.

Just like my knitted dishcloth, it’s far from perfect, but it’s functional. I use it all the time. I actually love this ugly thing.


Again during the pandemic, when I had a lot of time on my hands, I decided to anthropomorphize my anxieties as weasels and make little cartoons about them. I embraced drawing badly, since artistic skill was not the point — and it’s funnier that way.

Poorly drawn cartoon of a person chasing three "anxiety" weasels with a net and a bag of candy. The person says "Oh no you don't! Get back here". On the left, a green weasel is head first and upside down in a box that says "shenanigans". In the middle, a pink weasel says, "wheee". On the right, a blue weasel says, "You're not the boss of me"
The comic is titled "Wrangling the Weasels" by @jamie.morgen.

Celebrate Achievements

I’ve been seeing posts on social media about curating a collection of achievements and accolades to look at when you need a pick-me-up. I think this is a good tool in the arsenal against imposter syndrome. I’ve been filling a folder with compliments I’ve received for when I feel like an absolute fraud and, when I remember to look at it, it does help.

Something I have recently accomplished (and a shameless plug): I wrote and published a book!

Apropos, The In-between Places: A Memoir of Travelling Through the Unexpected, is a collection of my travel stories about the things that went wrong: the mistakes, disasters, and strange circumstances. It’s now available on Amazon.


From my research and personal experience, I have come to the vexing realization that there is no banishing imposter syndrome entirely. Like other mental health issues, it’s something you can learn to live with and manage.

Managing imposter feelings looks like sharing and finding solidarity within our social circles, arming ourselves with information, accessing mental health support, figuring out how to sit with our failures, and accepting that imposter syndrome is just a thing that lives in our brains. But it doesn’t have to be in charge.




Lisa Orbé-Austin, PhD: Psychologist & Executive Coach | Imposter Syndrome Expert | Author, Own Your Greatness & Your Unstoppable Greatness

Dr. Pauline Clance: One of the originators of the imposter syndrome concept.

30 Best Books on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

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