I’m driven. I work hard. I try to do my best. I’ve fought for what I believe in… and yet… at times… I feel like a fraud.
It’s interesting how one thought can strip away my strength and eat at the core of who I am. I don’t feel this way all the time, but I also won’t pretend it doesn’t exist in my thought-life.
Until recently, I didn’t know I was in a group of people who have felt the same way. How big is this group? It’s significantly larger than you may think.
In the early 1980s research showed an estimated two out of five successful people consider themselves frauds and other studies have found that 70 percent of all people feel like impostors at one time or another. It is not considered a psychological disorder and is not among the conditions described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The term was coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978. *
Think about this for a moment. Let’s use me as an example. I currently live in Austin, TX which has a population of approximately 1 million people (and growing). That means in my city alone, ONE CITY, 700,000 people have felt like a fraud at some point. So the odds are pretty good and you’re not alone when you’re having that thought.
Where the Thought Originated
As a human race, we are hardwired to advance in life. Just look throughout history and you’ll see a compound effect of humanities push to move forward. The internet was created in 1990. In 27 years we went from something new to 3.8 billion users as of April this year.
I understand my example is something outside of our internal reality, but you have to take more than your current internal emotions into consideration when looking for a root cause of something.
Look at Adam and Eve for another example. One of the first commands after being created was to “fill the earth and subdue it”. God said that to two naked people in a garden. It’s pretty much impossible to have less than that to start with. Their first action item, if they if they didn’t get distracted by the tree of life, they would have been able to explore beyond the place they were comfortable with.
How the Origin Makes You Feel Like a Fraud Today
The only way we advance is by going beyond what we currently know, have experienced, or at times even fully believe. If you choose to simply stay within the boundary of what you’re spoonfed, then you’re in for a long and miserable life. Not only will it violate the very nature of how God made all of us, but…. Really? Do you want to passively let life force you forward?
The reason I want you to stop and think about the reality of what that statement means is that “I feel like a fraud” is almost always followed by “I’m all alone”. Loneliness is what a real fraud experiences because no one really knows them. They have to wear a mask and never let down their guard in fear of being found out. To show you’re not alone, here are some people you may recognize who have felt the same way.
- Academy Award-Winning actor, Tom Hanks
- Best-selling writer, John Green
- Business Leader, Sheryl Sandberg
- US Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor
- Actress, Emma Watson.
And just to drive this point home, here’s a quote you may find interesting.
“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.'” — Maya Angelou
If you’re saying “Great, some famous people have had that thought, and it doesn’t help you snap out of it” then read on.
How to Fight the Lie “I’m a Fraud”
Feel empowered by truth – As simple as it may sound, at times just understanding the reality of a thought, emotion, or experience will diffuse its power. I’ve had clients meeting with me say “I feel like I’m going crazy since meeting with you!” and my response is “That’s perfectly normal. It won’t be your new reality… with examples based on their own life”.
I have seen people’s face completely change from panic and anxiety to hope. The only thing that changed was they found out what they were feeling what others are feeling. This empowers them to keep moving forward in their process. They’re normally the people who have suppressed their emotions for years and are in the journey of getting connected to their heart.
Risk inviting people into your process – Let me give you some examples from my own life that may help. There were times I felt like a fraud and mustered up the courage and chose vulnerability in that moment, I told someone. When I did, almost every time one of two things happened.
- Just telling someone helped snap me out of the funk. Sharing with someone forced me to confront the shame of the thought. When I did, I felt empowered to see it as the lie it is and keep moving forward.
- I heard something like this in response… “Oh yeah, I’ve felt that several times”. I have to admit, the first few times this happened I was shocked. Especially when it came from someone I had high regard for. When you hear the truth, that 70% of us feel it at some point in our life, it instantly diffuses the shame you feel for even having the thought and confronts the lie that says you’re all alone.
Understand that it’s an indicator of a good thing – The irony is having the thought, ‘you’re a fraud’ is a good indicator. It means you’re hitting a stage in areas of your life that require you to make mistakes to grow, take risks, and not have all the answers.
When you look at the four stages of competency you’ll see how the thought of being a fraud can easily slip in. It means you’re somewhere between stage 2 and stage 3 of conscious competence. You’ve taken enough action to be familiar with where you’re at, but you can still make mistakes or not know exactly how to achieve something.
In case you’re unfamiliar with the four stages, here they are with a brief explanation of each. *
- Unconscious incompetence – The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognize their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage. The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.
- Conscious incompetence – Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, they recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.
- Conscious competence – The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.
- Unconscious competence – The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending on how and when it was learned.
As you can see, the thought of feeling like a fraud can actually be a positive as long as you understand what it represents. Hopelessness and self-hatred forms when you feel trapped in the feeling and cannot see it as a positive indicator of growth.
So next time you feel like a fraud, see it for what it really is and remember a few things.
- You’re not alone in this thought.
- It’s an opportunity to strengthen your existing relationships.
- It’s an indicator that you’re moving forward in life.
- It means you’re on your way to mastering a skill.
The Challenge: Next time you recognize you’re feeling like a fraud, reach out to at least two people and tell them. Yes, it’s a risk, but I believe you’ll be surprised by the response and some of your relationships will find a new level of trust and connection. If need be you can consider it a selfish act because it’s ultimately for your benefit.
* Imposter Syndrome Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome
* Four Stages of Competence Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_stages_of_competence