The Fear of Being a Fraud

Imposter syndrome:

an inability to internalize accomplishments commonly felt by high achieving individuals. A fear of someone suffering with imposter syndrome is being publicly revealed as a fraud.

As a chronic overachiever, imposter syndrome is something I’ve struggled with for years. It reared its ugly head years ago when I was lucky to land my first design project with car2go having virtually no proof of my ability to execute. Despite delivering a result car2go was happy with, receiving more projects from them, and growing my list of clients to include KLM Airlines, I continuously felt as though I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t. Now, years later, I sometimes find myself worrying that KLM will find out they hired a young kid years ago who wasn’t at all qualified to photograph one of their campaigns.

Of course none of these worries really matter. The things I’ve done are an intimate part of who I am and how people see me. Denial of my own accomplishments, whether big or small, only damages my own self worth and confidence, and has no bearing on how others see me. Coming to these realizations has been a slow process, was in no way done alone, and is in no way complete—I still struggle with it everyday—but I think it is valuable to talk about, particularly amongst young entrepreneurs.

Having had conversations with entrepreneurs with many more years of experience, I’ve been learning that personal and professional growth are intimately intertwined. The very nature of creating a product or business from nothing, often through sheer grit and with your own two hands, is an exercise that puts your self on the line—often in front of every single person you know. That takes a huge amount of confidence. Feeling uncomfortable, particularly around successes, big or small, is natural, especially since most ventures have humble beginnings in messy bedrooms or a parent’s garage.

One of the major challenges I’ve found with imposter syndrome is that we rarely see it in others, particularly those we look up to. The very nature of its existence means we hide it from the public eye for fear that revealing it would reveal our own fraudulence.

Joining Mount Royal University’s entrepreneurship community felt like one of the most fraudulent things I’ve done. As a sociology and art history student, it appeared at face value that I had no business being amongst business students who were ultimately competing for a share of $70,000. My peers had companies they were making progress with while I struggled to make sense of my own startup. For some reason, and not helping the matter, Ray DePaul paired me up with the Institute’s superstar entrepreneur whose story I’d heard a dozen times. This is the narrative that ran in my mind during my time in the LaunchPad Accelerator course and it’s entirely accurate; however, it didn’t capture the full picture.

At the time, I was co-running my software company where we were working with our second major client and scrambling to capture other clients who had approached us. I wrote off all my successes with my software company as irrelevant to the LaunchPad course, only to have my peers later reveal to me that I should have ran with that.

I share this story only because it was critical to me learning the value of internalizing my accomplishments, no matter their size. I often felt I was being humble by minimizing accomplishments, but had someone wise help me recognize that my traditional tactic of effectively putting myself down does not equate to humility. A polite and genuine thank you is both healthy and sincere. I’ve enjoyed practicing true humility as I’ve seen it modeled by my mentors and peers, as well as the subsequent confidence critical to entrepreneurship that follows. As with most things, I’m certain that not feeling fraudulent is a learning process that will take time to achieve—good thing today is as good a day as any to start.

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