Why It’s Good To Feel Like A Fraud

Not meaning to big up my own importance, but a few years ago I won an award at work that only got given to 5 employees world wide and was based on performance throughout the year.  To this day I feel a bit like a fraud because, while I know I did a good job, I don’t really understand why it was that worthy of recognition.

Apparently, and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, this sort of thing has a name – Imposter Syndrome.  To quote Wikipedia:

Impostor syndrome (also spelt imposter syndrome, also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalise their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.  Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.

There are 4 main behaviour traits that come with this and they are:

  1. Diligence – working harder to stop people from finding you out;
  2. Feeling of being phony – giving someone what they want rather than doing the right thing (which only perpetuates the feeling of being phony);
  3. Use of charm – or as I know it, “brown nosing”;
  4. Avoiding displays of confidence – convincing yourself that you aren’t confident or clever to avoid being rejected by others for those reasons;

Sufferers are noted as being Meryl Streep (who has been nominated for 409 awards and won 157 times) and Pulitzer Prize nominee Maya Angelou among another suggested 70% of the global population.  The odds, therefore, are that I have this thing that isn’t actually classified as a mental illness, although I’m not saying I do!  As the world gets more competitive and more insecure, the idea that people can feel like a fraud is perhaps even more relevant now than in the 1970’s.

The explanation for such a phenomenon lies in human nature, and our ability to know what is going on inside our own heads but only the outside of everybody else’s, comparing our psychological reality to what others simply present to us, an issue exacerbated by social media.

I’m not sure what’s worse though – believing that you’re the only fraud or that no-one else is control either!

There are ways to escape the feeling of fraudulence.  One can always tell the truth about their shortcomings realising that it’s OK to be vulnerable.  They can also accept the fact that they can’t always change what others think of them, whether that be complimentary or otherwise.  There is also a thought that taking a risk even though you know you’ll fail can help you to realise that whatever happens, you tried and that that, in itself, is a good thing.

However, feeling like a fraud can at least keep you on your toes and so is probably better than the opposite thing – complete self-confidence.  As former Intel boss Andy Groves once said while sounding like he was impersonating Yoda, “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”

The ultra-confident may simply be so incompetent that they don’t realise how bad they are, known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.  The other, reassuring side of that coin is that if you’re self-aware enough to think you’re a fraud, you may well not be.

I guess the best thing to do, whether you’re wearing a mask already or worried about putting one on, is just to be yourself.

Hey, don’t write yourself off yet
It’s only in your head you feel left out or looked down on.
Just try your best, try everything you can.
And don’t you worry what they tell themselves when you’re away.It just takes some time,
Little girl, you’re in the middle of the ride.
Everything, everything will be just fine,
Everything, everything will be alright, alright.Hey, you know they’re all the same.
You know you’re doing better on your own (on your own), so don’t buy in.
Live right now, yeah, just be yourself.
It doesn’t matter if it’s good enough (good enough) for someone else.

It just takes some time,
Little girl, you’re in the middle of the ride.
Everything, everything will be just fine,
Everything, everything will be alright, alright.
It just takes some time,
Little girl, you’re in the middle of the ride.
Everything, everything will be just fine,
Everything, everything will be alright, alright.

Hey, don’t write yourself off yet.
It’s only in your head you feel left out or looked down on.
Just do your best (just do your best), do everything you can (do everything you can).
And don’t you worry what the bitter hearts are gonna say.

It just takes some time,
Little girl, you’re in the middle of the ride.
Everything, everything will be just fine,
Everything, everything will be alright, alright.
It just takes some time,
Little girl, you’re in the middle of the ride.
Everything, everything will be just fine,
Everything, everything will be alright.

The Middle by Jimmy Eat World

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