Feel like a fraud? Join the club!
“I’m a fraud. It’s only a matter of time before someone finds out.”
Does this sound familiar? Do you ever feel less worthy of success than everyone else in the room? Do you fear your cover could be blown? Does the success of others make you feel inferior?
You are not alone.
I have had an inferiority complex throughout my professional life. From that first temp job when I realised I was completely out of my depth, through to a board position in a recruitment consultancy – I have always felt fear, compared myself to others unfavourably and been looking over my shoulder, waiting for the arrival of the blagger police.
This particular brand of fear has a name, it’s called ‘Impostor Syndrome’ and was coined in the 1970s to describe how we can feel like frauds who do not deserve success, despite all the evidence to the contrary. People suffering from Impostor Syndrome often dismiss their success as luck, or being in the right place at the right time.
Recently, high profile, high achievers Emma Watson and Sheryl Sandberg have both admitted that they feel like impostors, with Watson saying: “Any moment someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud – I can’t possibly live up to what everyone thinks I am.” So we’re in good company.
Now that I’m self-employed, blogging and a partner at Comms Leaders, I’m no longer under any obligation to put myself in any vulnerable situations. I could quite happily lock myself away in my office, communicate with everyone by email, compare myself unfavourably to all my peers and quietly trundle along.
But seriously, where’s the fun in that?
During the last year I have embraced – no, inhaled – self-development books. Believe me, I’ve read a LOT of them, starting with Susan Jeffers’ Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. And I’ve learned to ‘lean in’ to fear.
If you want to learn and experience something new, you will feel fear. The only way to feel better about that fear and overcome insecurity, is to just push through and do the thing that scares you. As Susan Jeffers says, “the ‘doing it’ comes before the feeling better about yourself.”
I have started to train myself to replace the ‘what ifs’ with ‘so what, I’ll handle it’. There can be satisfaction, even joy, in walking towards the things that make you fearful in your professional life. So instead of shying away from situations where I will feel like an impostor, I now walk towards them.
For example, last October I gave my first University lecture. When the invitation came through I said yes immediately. My thought process was ‘Oh my, how scary, but this could be an amazing opportunity’.
Yes it was scary, but I did it anyway. And the feeling of achievement was amazing.
The fact is that everyone experiences fear. Even the most composed and accomplished people, those who you admire for their nonchalance and ability to do seemingly anything, are also scared about the next big challenge. It’s just human nature.
Each time you do something scary and smash it, it increases your self-esteem. So the pay-off for feeling the fear is huge. Not only the sense of achievement that follows it, but the knowledge gained in learning that new skill, or doing something that initially feels uncomfortable.
Here are a few tips I’ve learned during my journey into self-employment which have helped me deal with my Impostor Syndrome:
- Embrace the small failures, they are steps towards your success. If every toddler that fell down decided not to get up again, we would have evolved into a species of crawlers.
- Know that everyone feels the same way as you do. So, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” (Plato)
- Stop comparing yourself to other people. You are unique. No one communicates with your voice except you. As Dr Seuss said “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.”
- Surround yourself with positive people and read books about positivity when you’re feeling low. People are either drains or radiators. I know who I’d rather be, and be with.
- Remember, you have been asked to do your current job for a good reason. Someone, somewhere has seen something great in you. As the adverts say: you’re worth it.
- Don’t make perfection your goal. Trying your best is good enough.
This is the year that we can all pick ourselves up again. Let’s stop comparing ourselves to other people, be proud of our successes and use fear to help us rather than letting it paralyse us.
Written by Vicki Marinker