Are You For Real?

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Do you ever feel like you are living someone else’s life? Turns out this phenomenon has a name and is prevalent in 70% of high-functioning women in today’s society. Men, I don’t mean to exclude you as there are indications that you too suffer from impostor syndrome.


What is Impostor syndrome, also known as fraud syndrome?

According to Wikipedia, in 1978 two clinical psychologists named Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes coined the phrase while referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to accept their accomplishments as true and had a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”

Despite evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. They see proof of success but dismiss it as luck or timing. They attribute success as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. People with impostor syndrome tend to be perfectionists, which means they’re likely to spend hours working overtime to make sure they excel in every single field.

Fraud syndrome is also an equal opportunity employer. From Broadway stars to Silicone Valley boardrooms to the Supreme Court, no one is immune. Stars like Michelle Pfeifer, business tycoon Sherly Sandberg and even Supreme Court Judge Sonia Sotomayer are all afraid that one of these days they will be found out.

I recall some simple advice given to me way back in the day when I started my career. “Fake it ‘til you make it.” Could that have been the start of my journey as a phony? Once you start to buy into the self-doubt, the cycle becomes a slippery slope of inauthenticity creating a drive to be perfect followed by a fear of being exposed. Then one day you wake up and realize nobody’s perfect!

Here are my top five tips on how to stop fraud syndrome in its tracks.


Embrace and accept yourself.

Claim your success and own it. I have a dear friend who built a successful business and sold it for millions of dollars. The selling part didn’t go off a smoothly as it could have, but nonetheless she built the company from nothing and made a major impact on people’s lives along the way. One day I brought this up to her and she just shrugged. I looked at her and said, “You don’t think you are successful business women do you?” She said, “No, I just lucked into it.” You have to be able to accept the success you have and embrace the fact that you deserve some of the opportunities provided to you.


Being perfect is impossible.

Admit you’re not perfect. No one is and there is no shame in admitting it. Sometimes we win in life and sometimes we lose. Being wrong on an issue or losing a job doesn’t make you a phony it makes you human.


Don’t take shortcuts because they only derail your long-term confidence.

One of the roots of my fraud stem from grade school. I have a math phobia. My teacher was a yeller. Every time I asked a question or didn’t understand something he would yell at us. Thus, I stopped asking. As a result I never properly learned my multiplication tables. I would carry a laminated times table grid around in my pocket in case I was picked on to answer a question. If I didn’t have the grid I would be overcome at the thought of being exposed. Instead of using this little short cut, the laminated grid, I should have addressed the issue with tutors and extra help. This issue festered well into my college years.


Be authentic!

I am a little quirky! There I said it. Some people will like me and some people won’t, that’s life! If you walk around being the shell of the person you could be your cheating yourself and the world out of the true you!


Shift from self-focused to others focused.

When you remove the self-focus and begin to serve others, you will find you can’t continue to wallow in impostor syndrome. By serving or helping others, you are moving into action and it becomes virtually impossible to keep up the novella of comparisons, worries about measuring up and fears of unequal social status. Stop comparing yourself to others, your uniquely-made quirks and all.

As it turns out, you’re not an impostor after all. You are a brave risk taker who may fail on occasion but you always get back up and can fake it ‘til you make it one more time, and make you will!


Jodi Cross is a marketing strategist, speaker and writer and can be reached at jcross@crossnm.com.


[1] Wikipedia, the Definition of Imposter Syndrome, 1978. “The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: dynamics and therapeutic intervention.”. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice by Clance, P.R, Imes, S.A.


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