5 Reasons You Feel Like a Fraud and What To Do About it

mindset Oct 13, 2020

I always wanted to be a professional speaker and a consultant, but I always doubted my ability to capture people’s attention. I would stand on the stage wondering if the audience can hear the voices in my head, “You are not good enough to be a speaker, why should people listen to you.”

I got to where I felt like a fraud and the next person I work with will expose me. I would smile and pretend that I’m confident, but deep down I was battling demons that are telling me, “You don’t belong here.” It was not a stage fright or nervousness, it was a deep belief that I did not earn the right to share my knowledge or experience with others.

I used to think I’m the only person who felt this way until I learned that over 70% of people felt this way in their lives. At that point, I did not become more confident overnight, but I learned that I was not alone. So, if you are feeling like you do not deserve your success, or you do not belong, you are not alone.

I’m fortunate enough to have worked for elite organizations, spoke on big stages, consulted many businesses, graduated with my MBA, but interesting enough I had trouble internalizing my accomplishments. I divorced myself from the accomplishments on my resume, and I gave imposter syndrome full control over my emotions and mindset.

I finally got sick of feeling like a fraud, so I learned more and more about this phenomenon. Two American psychologists, Pauline Clance, and Suzanne Imes coined in 1978, but people have always struggled with imposter syndrome. It manifests itself, with different feelings and voices such as 

  • I’m a fraud. One day, they will discover that I’m fake, and I don’t deserve this. I’m only here because I got lucky.
  • I’m not worth this much money or attention. Why are they paying me this money? I barely know enough to keep my head above water.
  • My education is not good enough. I did not graduate from a good college, and I barely graduated. Why should they listen to me? How can I start this business?
  • My experience is lacking. I have a few years of experience in a non-related field. Why would they offer me this job? Why would invest in my startup?

Most days, you feel like everyone is more confident than you. Everything comes easy to them. They exude confidence and self-assurance. They can perform any task, and you are struggling to wake up on time. It does not help that people believe that you have to fake it until you make it, so you struggle silently longer than you should.

It is even harder for males because for a long time psychologists only studied the impact of this phenomenon on women. Men were embarrassed to talk about their feelings and self-doubt. They stayed quiet and their issues became part of their silent identity. In 2012, Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy released her book “Presence” that shed the light on men and women at the same time. She states that many people have the feeling that they are inadequate and undeserving of success. This feeling is more widespread than most people like to think.

Michael O’Brien is an executive coach at Peloton Executive Coaching who almost refused to be promoted to National Sales Director because he felt that he did not deserve the job. His leadership style was unique, and he was not sure people will accept his style. Liz Forkin Bohannon Co-founder of Sseko Designs talked about her experience with imposter syndrome and how she felt incompetent. She lived in fear of being found out; she stopped taking risks and started to exist in her comfort zone only. She was leading a multi-million dollar company, but yet she felt unsure about her ability. If you have any self-doubt and you feel like a fraud, you are not alone.

I’m going to share with you five steps you can take today to overcome this feeling:

  1. Name it. If you want to defeat your doubts and overcome imposter syndrome, name the feeling. If you have self-doubt about starting a new business or start any project, identify your inner thoughts as imposter syndrome. Tony Schwartz wrote an outstanding article in NYT about the importance of naming your emotions. He stated, “Noticing and naming emotions gives us the chance to take a step back and make choices about what to do with them.” You can not contain and manage your emotions unless you are willing to name them.
  2. Challenge it. Do not let your inner thoughts bully you. If your inner thoughts are telling you not to be a professional speaker, challenge your inner thoughts, get a piece of paper, and write 50 reasons you should be a public speaker. Your inner thoughts do not have the ability to challenge words on a piece of paper.
  3. Read your accomplishment list. Anytime you reach a new goal, write it on a piece of paper, keep adding to your list. When you have a moment that you do not feel you can achieve another goal, read your accomplishment list. Remind yourself of how powerful you can be.
  4. Measure your progress and not perfection. Stop expecting yourself to be perfect. Aim to be 1% better than you were yesterday. James Clear talks about measuring progress often. He states that “If you get one percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done.” Aim to improve a little bit every day, and stop holding yourself to unrealistic standards.
  5. Find a friend. Surround yourself with people who are invested in your success and you are invested in theirs. If you are trying to start a business, surround yourself with people who are willing and capable of holding you accountable with care and candor. Life and business are a team sport, do not work alone. Your network will help you overcome your imposter syndrome and it will help you increase your net worth.

It is important to remember that if you have any feeling of being unworthy, or inadequate, you are not alone. If you are struggling to get started with a project, reconnect with an old friend, or start a business, and you have any self-doubts, use the five tips I mentioned above and you will be one step closer to your success.

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