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For My "Fraudulent" Friends Who Aren't Frauds At All

Ken - I have a secret fear that people will discover I am a fraud!

...said a friend of mine, who isn't.

I have to say, I was nonplussed. How do you answer something like that? Agree and you're saying your friend is a fraud. Disagree and you are minimizing her feelings.

I'm not allowed to disclose this friend's identity. Suffice it to say that if you know her, you know she's not a fraud: genuine through and through, exceptionally talented, beautiful...I know, it probably seems like I say this about all my friends. What can I say? I have genuine, exceptionally talented and beautiful friends.

Looking into this, I discover something called impostor syndrome. It's especially common among high-achieving women. Neither a mental illness nor a personality trait, it is instead a reaction to certain situations. The list of people who live with impostor syndrome is long and impressive. Kate Winslet. Maya Angelou. Margaret Chan, the chief of the World Health Organization. Tina Fey, Jodie Foster, RenĂ©e Zellweger. Meryl Streep. Michelle Pfeiffer. And countless more women: about two in five successful ones.

Since I have so many successful female friends (roughly, um, all of them, in one way or another), I'd venture to guess I don't have to address this solely to the one friend who confessed her "secret".

The damnedest thing about impostor syndrome is that there is no evidence you can bring forward that the "impostor" won't twist into proof of her fraudulence. Any achievement is a matter of good luck, timing, or someone else's contribution, never something she earned through her own grit, talent and determination. If you point out something incredible she's done, she'll tell you it's nothing, and besides, there's so much more she hasn't done.  It's like a conspiracy: the more you try to rebut a conspiracy, the more the True Believer will tell you that you just don't understand what's really going on.

The psychiatrists say that banishing impostor syndrome is a matter of (a) owning your successes and (b) facing your fears.

OWNING YOUR SUCCESSES

Consider the possibility you didn't get shit lucky with that promotion...that you actually earned it. Why consider this? Because to say otherwise heavily implies the person who promoted you is, in fact, an idiot. Give her a little credit: she doesn't promote people just "cuz". Likewise that big sale--most people don't throw their money way on crap. You certainly don't, right?

Owning your successes isn't being cocky. Don't let your mind tell you it is. You're allowed to own your success and be modest at the same time: really, all it takes is not crowing about it. "Thank you, I put a lot of work into that", whatever "that" is, and then walk away, knowing someone has appreciated your effort.

FACING YOUR FEARS

This one's harder, because one of those fears is the impostor syndrome itself: the fear that you're going to be found out.

Put that one aside for the moment and look at what other fears you have. I guarantee you there's at least one big one, and more likely a few of them:


  • FEAR OF NOT BEING GOOD ENOUGH
  • FEAR OF NOT BEING AS GOOD AS _____
  • FEAR OF FAILURE

None of these are worthy fears to have. NONE OF THEM. 

Fear of not being good enough. This one probably comes to you direct from childhood, when one parent or another, perhaps both, didn't take the time to celebrate your achievements because they thought you might rest on your laurels. Crappy parenting, that: also once ridiculously common. Nowadays, of course, it's more common to celebrate every last niggling "achievement", even the things that aren't achievements at all. That won't end well, either, trust me. As with so much else in life, the key is that bubbly woman who talks to the dead. The happy medium, I mean.
Strive to discard that mother-voice (it's usually a mother-voice, though it doesn't have to be) in your head that tells you you're not good enough and can never be good enough. How do you discard that voice? Engage it! Ask it "for what?"

I'm not good enough FOR WHAT?
I'll "never be" good enough FOR WHAT?

It'll rant and rave at you: mother-voices don't like backtalk. Since it's a mother-voice and not your actual mother, feel free to give it a suggestion involving sex and travel. Do this unfailingly, every single time the mother-voice tries to sabotage you, and eventually it'll shut up and go away.

Fear of not being as good as somebody else. Being polyamorous, this is one I am intimately familiar with in another context. You know what worked for me, and might for you? ADMITTING IT! AGREEING WITH IT! "Nope, I'm not as good as he is at thus and such." That's undoubtedly true for a whole series of thus-and-suches, BUT NOT FOR ALL OF THEM. Simple logic dictates that: you just can't be worse than your metamour (or your sister, or your colleague at work) at everything. Believe it or not, your metamour/sister/colleague is almost certainly thinking the same thing--she'll never be as good as you are! Both of you...are right!

NOTE WELL that admitting this will only work if you do so to get past it, rather than to fixate on it. To quote A Course In Miracles, "what you resist persists". So accept that you're not as good as she is, and resolve that this does not matter. Why doesn't it matter? Because it's (sorry, I love this)...what's that thing that's not a pachyderm?....that's right, it's irrelephant. STOP COMPARING, it'll get you nowhere.

The goal is NEVER to be better than anyone else: the goal is to be better than you were yesterday. 


Fear of failure: the hardest fear for most of us to conquer. I know I haven't done it. But "you teach what you have to learn", and so...

Everybody fails. Everybody is humiliated; everyone falls flat on his face. Repeatedly. That's called "life". Being the high achiever that you are--trust me, people who set the bar low don't suffer from impostor syndrome--you're probably quite familiar with the feeling of failure. Now listen closely and realize that you know this already: failure is integral to success. You know this because you weren't and aren't content with failure: you're driven to succeed. It's likely that you just haven't framed the relationship between failure and success properly in your mind.

Don't feel bad about this, because very few people have.

FAILURE IS NOT THE OPPOSITE OF SUCCESS the same way "hot" is not the opposite of "cold".

(What, you thought "hot" was the opposite of "cold"?)

It isn't, though.  We seem predisposed to think in binary terms: hot/cold, black/white, success/failure. Reality isn't like that. Reality is a whole bunch of continuums. Cold is a lesser degree of heat (or, for that matter, heat is a lesser degree of cold). There's a whole world of greys between black and white. And even the most utter failure contains, at the very least, an element of success called "effort".

Seen in that light, failure is nothing to be afraid of. It is, in fact, something to welcome: now you know that doesn't work. You didn't know that didn't work before it didn't work, ergo, you learned something. Congratulations, that's a degree of success. There's two ingredients for success you've assembled: effort, and knowledge. Keep going!

And while you keep going, recognize that it's YOU doing the keeping going. In other words, own your success!

Trust me, dear friends: you are not frauds. I wouldn't bother being your friend if you were.

Lots of love,

Ken









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