The tradition of Halloween and costumes in October offers a great opportunity to talk about the very common feeling of “being a fraud.”
Do you often think, when someone gives you a compliment, that what you did that they are complimenting “wasn’t really all that” and that you don’t deserve the praise? Do you also feel a bit furtive, like you’ve just pulled off some sort of scam? Are you embarrassed or ashamed because you’re “getting away with something” and feeling guilty for that? But do you stand there with your “Happy Mask” on, pretending that you’re NOT thinking and feeling any of those things?
This is like that moment in the movie Good Will Hunting when Robin Williams (RIP!!) says to Matt Damon, “It’s not your fault.” And Matt Damon shrugs and says casually, “I know.” And Robin Williams says, “No, really – it’s not your fault.” And Matt Damon says, somewhat embarrassed now, “I know!” If you haven’t seen the movie I won’t spoil the rest of that scene for you (and I encourage you to run out and rent it asap!). Those of you who have seen it I’m sure remember the power of what happens next.
This is like that – it runs so deep, you don’t even know it’s there. And it’s a potentially very powerful moment for you, if you recognize it in yourself.
I know I’ve written and talked about similar concepts over the last year, including the importance of giving and receiving compliments, and the practice of really taking – and giving yourself – credit for the full value of your accomplishments and traits. But this is a phenomenon that hits a whole different nerve when it comes up.
It’s the hidden belief that you are a total fraud – and while you LOVE getting complimented and rewarded for things, you also live in fear that people will find out that you’re a fake, and don’t deserve any of it!
Well, I have good news for you – you are NOT a fraud!
Believe it or not, some of the most accomplished people in the world are walking around right now feeling the same way! Even though they may have daily proof of their competency, success and generosity, they still have that deep inner suspicion that they’re “not a good person,” “not deserving,” or just “not enough” – the same sorts of self-doubts and inner criticism that you are probably dealing with!
I heard a story about an investment banker in a senior position at an important financial institution, whose peers nicknamed him “Cool Hand Luke” because he seemed to have ice in his veins when it came to negotiating huge, lucrative deals. They admired his ability to seem completely detached from the emotions everyone else felt – all the eagerness, anxiety, stress and pressure that naturally goes hand-in-hand with such transactions.
Little did his colleagues know that he was actually terrified, most of the time, that people would “discover” that he “wasn’t really qualified” to be in that role and “shouldn’t even be there.” This of course was only the case in his own mind, since every external factor, from his education to his experience to his past performance, gave clear evidence to the contrary!
This very senior level professional lived in almost constant fear, and probably had since early childhood. He had learned to keep his expression and demeanor stoic so as not to reveal it to anyone around him. Because, after all, whether it’s the class bully or Wall Street bankers, when you’re “swimming with the sharks” as he was, the last thing you want is to look vulnerable, right? In that highly competitive world, someone who saw that perceived “weakness” would quickly take advantage of the situation by trying to oust you and take your job!
His fear was clearly what we would call “irrational.” But it was immensely powerful and real to him nonetheless.
Why is this the case? Because it’s the way humans are designed. What a legacy, eh? In order to protect ourselves against criticism, rejection, abandonment, ostracism and/or injurious attacks – in short, not being securely included in our “wolf pack” as it were – we stay alert to the slightest imperfection we perceive in ourselves. We fear that imperfection, if detected by someone else, could result in some sort of threat to our well-being, so it seems imperative that we see it first!
Once perceived, we then try to kill off that imperfection by criticizing or beating ourselves up for it. We actually, naively, believe that approach might work! (Sadly, it doesn’t, or we would all be perfectly behaved, perfectly happy specimens of our species by now!)
Luckily, we have the power of conscious thought so that we can instead neutralize the power those fears have over us. We can learn to recognize those inner suspicions, and substitute more realistic and self-loving thoughts whenever we notice that inner critic has started haranguing away at us again!
Stay tuned for next week’s post, when I’ll teach you some powerful ways to replace your misguided self-criticisms with effective and inspiring self-acknowledgment!