Last November, whilst living in New York, I went to an event on the key trends around performance management and how companies are addressing this topic within their organisations. The panel consisted of six speakers and I utterly enjoyed the debate. At the end of the evening, I went up to one of the speakers to thank him for sharing his pearls of wisdom with the audience and congratulate on a stellar progress he has been making in the field. He smiled saying it was not a big deal and that he was surprised to be chosen for the panel (especially that he was flown for the evening from San Francisco). Then he went on saying ‘I don’t think I deserve to be here, look at the other members of the panel, they are so much younger and cleverer. I’m such a fraud’. I was stunned and simply lost for words. I was standing in front of an extremely successful individual, Stanford University graduate and Silicon Valley high achiever. FRAUD? Really?
Reflecting back on my life, I must confess that I have experience the feeling of personal fraudulence many times before, especially when very little effort had given me huge results, making me feel like a cheater. I’ve done my research and found out that I’m not alone when it comes down to feeling like a fraud from time to time. I always thought that the feeling withdraws proportionally to a career progression. It turns out that it doesn’t.
Many of us experience the feeling of fraudulence, especially when we are being promoted, praised and positively singled-out. Often, when receiving such recognition, we respond with self-ridicule and influx of justifications doubting capabilities in our achievements. It seems that the higher the post we hold, the stronger the feeling. There is a lot of truth in the statement about feeling lonely at the top. Fortunately, there are some remedies for keeping the feeling of personal fraudulence at bay. Here are some of the ones that I’ve been using when working with my clients:
Assertiveness means being able to stand up for your own thoughts, feelings and beliefs in a direct, honest, positive and calm manner, without becoming aggressive (aggressively undermining the rights of the other person), passive (agreeing with the wishes of others against your own) or passive-aggressive (disagreeing with the other person without telling them about it). When you are assertive you also respect the thoughts, feelings and beliefs of the others (as well as your own). I recognised that looking inside yourself and reconnecting with your own personal values, beliefs and passions helps immensely with becoming more assertive in your relationship with self and the others.
Confidence Building through Positive Thinking means knowing your strengths and weaknesses (making a list is a good start), celebrating mistakes as catalysts for learning (Thomas Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb), recognising your own achievements (just look at the Oscar’s), enjoying a compliment (wouldn’t it be nice to receive one from Simon Cowell?), accepting criticism as a learning device for seeing yourself through another lens (Donald Trump may be immune to this one), being more childlike and reconnecting with our playful side (the good Walt Disney was a master of that).
What if you are still experiencing the ‘imposter syndrome’? Does it mean that you are one? On the contrary, people who feel like an imposter are perhaps more to be trusted than those claiming never experiencing it. I believe that a healthy dose of self-verification is good for us and for our development. Keeping a regular journal is also helpful as it provides you with a platform for self-reflections and the evaluation of past events, and subsequently contributing to feeling competent, whole and entitled.
Overall, just like me, you may feel like a fraud from time to time, but just as I am no more fraud than the next person, neither are you.