Yes, I know your secret, but keep it to yourself or else the world as you know it will crumble around you: you’ll have finally been discovered as the fraud that you are.
How did I know? Because you and I and almost everyone else feel the same.
Studies show that up to 70% of people feel like impostors or frauds in the workplace, that most of us feel it’s only a matter of time before we're found out. Anxiety and low self-esteem feed our fundamental belief that our achievements in life are somehow a fluke.
But, take solace, we flukes are amongst great company, Maya Angelou famously said:
‘I have written 11 books but each time I think ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’
And, of course, we all think ‘Well that’s preposterous, Maya Angelou was awarded over 50 honorary degrees for her work…whereas I on the other hand…’ But that is how she felt, just like you.
And then there was John Steinbeck who proclaimed:
‘I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people.’
Or even Albert Einstein who said:
‘…the exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.’
They were all phenomenal leaders in their fields who doubted the authenticity of their success in the same way that we do our own successes. But why?
Well, and this is the crux of it, it’s because people who: have active minds, are constantly thinking, analysing, assessing, questioning and seeking self-improvement almost all have it …those good for nothing frauds!
In fact, the more successful people with such high standards and aspirations become, the worse it gets, because ‘the lie’ compounds into dizzying proportions and the secret weighs on them all the more greatly.
Bertrand Russell summed it up when he said:
‘The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.’
The doubt you feel is actually a sign of your heartfelt desire to be the very best you can be, and considering you now know that 70% of those around you also feel this way it’s more normal than feeling self-assured, so you’re certainly never alone. You also cannot all be right, or your organisations wouldn’t be achieving much would they?
So, if the vast majority of us, including some of the greatest thinkers and innovators of all time feel the same as we do, how should we be dealing with this deflated sense of self belief we burden ourselves with? What can we do to alleviate Impostor Syndrome for ourselves and those we work with?
Well, there are some incredibly kind gifts that you can give yourself and those you work with, that will help you to believe in your own validity:
Ask for feedback from your colleagues, but make me this promise, you won’t spend the time they’re responding with positive comments waiting for them to move to any areas for improvement that you can use as validation for your ‘fraudulent status’.
Share your insecurities and witness people’s responses to see just how absurd they find this insecurity to be.
Give yourself time to take the pressure off, go easy and take care, anxiety feeds itself, you need to take time to be kind to yourself and stop it from growing.
If you’re higher up within your organisation, then it would be a great gift to share your insecurities with those who work in your teams, to bring them comfort that they are not alone and to ensure they see you as human and someone they can share their own insecurities with. I know that when I mentioned writing this blog, several colleagues said that they felt this way all the time…and I’d never have known because they are excellent at what they do.
And most of all remember, you’re not alone in this, the highest achievers feel the way you do. And there you have it: you’re just like Albert Einstein.