The Imposter Syndrome: When Self-Doubt Keeps Us from Doing Our Best

Most good instructors have self-doubt from time to time. Usually, I see self-doubt in conscientious new instructors who are insecure in their knowledge. That’s OK, even good. They may be insecure but they are open to learning.

But for some, self-doubt can be paralyzing. Self-doubt can rob the fun from teaching and put an instructor in a state of near-constant fear.

In fact, there is even a name for it. It is called the imposter syndrome: the secret feeling among competent professionals that they are not good enough to hold their profession.

I help train new instructors at the Des Moines, Iowa, YMCA and I frequently see some self-doubt play out in the fears of new instructors. These instructors, fresh from certification, often suddenly realize how much they don’t know. These feelings include a fear of performing before a class, self-doubt about the particulars of teaching, and insecurity about their knowledge of the underlying exercise science.

While self-doubt is most obvious in new instructors, I also see it in experienced instructors. An experienced instructor might feel that their classes are getting stale or that they might not live up to the expectations of some students in their class. Sometimes this is the root cause for those instructors who resort to contraindications. They are trying to hide their insecurity by diverting the students’ attention.

Classes must be led with confidence in order for them to be effective and fun. But what if the instructor isn’t feeling confident? What do we do to manage our imposter syndrome and quiet those voices in our heads telling us that we don’t know enough and that we aren’t good enough?


  1. I love this Bill. I also teach a prep workshop and certification program for people wanting to become fitness instructors. Over three days I see emotions and confidence move all over the map. Then again preparing for the exam. Then again prepping for the practical exam which is an actual live class. The beautiful thing about being open to learning is that it is a never-ending journey. For ALL of us. My biggest piece of advice is to seek out a mentor or two and work closely with them.

    1. Author

      Hi Karyn. I appreciate your description of the ups and downs that new instructors feel. I agree with those thoughts. And I agree that mentoring is a huge asset if you can find one. I always value your contributions.

  2. Thanks, Bill. Great article!

    1. Author

      Laura, thank you for your note. I will be glad if it strikes a cord for some of us.

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