Some of the smartest and most successful people I’ve known have confided to me, that their greatest fear is, the world will discover they are a fraud. Initially, I was taken aback by this because these individuals were quite accomplished. But while writing my book, I researched issues of confidence and found this was a real psychological condition known as Impostor Syndrome.
Impostor Syndrome plagues smart, successful individuals with fear and self-doubt. Victims can develop anxiety, stress and even depression. This really began to pique my interest especially when I learned that some of the symptoms were prevalent in my own behaviors. These symptoms include being workaholic, perfectionism, fear of failure, discounting praise and undermining one’s own achievement. This was me to a T. I began to wonder if I had Impostor Syndrome. To figure it out, I began to explore my own behaviors and sought to understand what drove them. This brought me all the way back to the first grade.
I went to a Catholic grammar school which did not segregate the students based on aptitude. Instead we were all taught together and were expected to keep the same pace. I can recall being among a small group of smart students that finished our work faster than the rest of the class. Once our work was completed we sat in boredom, idly waiting for the others to catch up. This format of teaching bred in me, a certain complacency and laziness, because without even trying, I was an A student. I also developed a sense of arrogance about my intelligence and became too smart for my own good.
When I got to highschool, I had more important things to do than to study. Having fun was a higher priority than academics and so I pretty much didn’t crack a book my entire four years. By now however, I had mastered the art of getting the best grades with the least amount of work. But whenever I undeservingly achieved good marks, I felt guilty because I was scamming the system. I knew it was wrong and in the back of my mind, I feared that it would catch up to me. And it finally did. In my senior year, I failed three subjects in one semester.
And that report card had an extremely profound effect on me; in my mind it represented my own unmasking as a fraud. I was called out on my own bullshit and I didn’t like it. I went from being an A student to an F student and THAT was unacceptable to me and NOT at all who I was.
I had already been accepted into college, so it didn’t alter the near term course of my future, but I was changed forever. I spent the next four years working my ass off to rebuild my credibility - in my own mind. I used hard work as a mechanism to ensure this would never happen again.
When I got my first Wall Street job, I was in the arena with the best and the brightest. In order to convince myself that I was worthy of the role, I worked with intensity and aimed to establish myself as credible. I became an information junkie and sought to absorb as much knowledge as possible. Colleagues from across the firm and the Street came to recognize me as expert in my field. Over time, I gathered a series of victories which established a track record of success. I also outworked everyone. Ultimately, I proved to myself that I was worthy and that I deserved to be there. And that is my story of how I developed and combatted Impostor Syndrome.
What's your story? I'd love to hear about it and am sure others would as well. Please share with us in the comments below.