😳Are You a Fraud? No, You Are Not.

I’ve felt like a fraud countless times in my life but the most pivotal was freshman year at Cornell University.  My brother, the genius, had graduated from Cornell in Electrical Engineering the year before I matriculated. He graduated with over a 4.0 grade point average.  If he received less than an A+ his average went down. There I was rooming in Donlon Hall, the same dorm as his freshman year, in Ithaca New York, friendless and wondering what I was thinking leaving all my friends and family behind in suburban Wilmington, Delaware.  This is the Ivy League!  My dad isn’t here to proofread my papers.  My mom isn’t here to make sure I get to class on time.  And why is this campus so damn big and does every other student’s father work on Wall Street? Fast forward four years, working too many hours at Noyes Lodge, several all-nighters and a “2.0 to go” (a C average) and I made it through with lifelong friends and a love for upstate New York with its lakes and gorges. I can’t tell you how many times I thought I would falter.

My freshman roommate Julie and I on graduation day from the Cornell Hotel School

I can blame my getting accepted to Cornell on my brother paving the way, or random luck or that they had a quota on accepting folks from the tiny state of Delaware.  It certainly wasn’t my SAT’s or my GPA from my high school years based on the number of times I cut school.  It wasn’t my parents bank account, my father’s connections as a high school history teacher or a legacy of Ivy League ancestors. Frankly when my mom called me at my after-school job of working at a discount retailers shoe department and told me that there was a thick envelope from Cornell in the mail, I was shocked and dumbfounded. Why the hell would they want a fraud like me? Well, it’s taken me a lifetime but I’m not a fraud.  And neither are you.

Here are the symptoms of feeling like a fraud and what to do about it:

Perfectionist.  Perfectionists feel that if they make even the tiniest of mistakes they will be unmasked. As Abigail Abrams wrote for Time, ““Perfectionists” set extremely high expectations for themselves, and even if they meet 99% of their goals, they’re going to feel like failures. Any small mistake will make them question their own competence.” Rethink and recalibrate your expectations. It’s like planning a car trip, figure you will drive only 300 miles instead of 400 and it will not take 8 hours but 10 hours to get there. Embrace making a mistake and be open to feedback without shaming yourself.  Reframe your self-talk diatribes into how you talk to your favorite family pet. Unconditional self-love can be a powerful tool in embracing your authentic self.

Natural Genius. The belief that everything should come easily and without a lot of effort.  So, the minute anything takes time and hard work, you can throw your hands up and say, “There you go, I’m not good enough.” I remember that school work was easy in elementary school and my parents told me I was bright.  Imagine how I felt when I got a C on a test in 6th grade math. I decided “whelp” my parents are wrong, I’m not bright. I learned many years later that this is what Carol Dweck refers to as a fixed mindset.  I have since embraced the growth mindset which focuses on hard work, constantly testing assumptions and investing in learning more. Mastery does not come without effort. Put in the effort, you are a constantly evolving piece of art.

Expert. As Abrams wrote, “Experts feel the need to know every piece of information before they start a project and constantly look for new certifications or trainings to improve their skills. They won’t apply for a job if they don’t meet all the criteria in the posting, and they might be hesitant to ask a question in class or speak up in a meeting at work because they’re afraid of looking stupid if they don’t already know the answer.” I can remember hiding in the back of a lecture hall at Cornell.  I never wanted to be called on.  I might be found out. You and I don’t need to know it all and it’s OK to ask a question. There were about ten years where I chased six different certifications and I finally realized that the investment of time in trying to be “the expert” was just too much and once I had a certification, I had to re-certify every 3 years. Yes, I learned a lot of skills and I’m a better writer and coach because of it, but I’m not an expert and…that’s OK. 

Soloist. Being a soloist means that you can just go it alone and help is a four-letter word. I see new managers fall into this when they don’t know how to delegate and fear that if they do, they will be found out as lousy managers.  So, they focus on keeping all the plates spinning and their direct reports feel micromanaged and diminished. In the remote working world this means that you end up attending every meeting without thinking through whether this meeting could be of value to someone else.  This also has shades of perfectionism in it as well, since you might have the belief that only you can do this job. Reframe “help” as a way to invest in someone else and imagine the synergy that can be created by more than just one mind. 

Superwoman. As espoused by Abrams, “Superwomen push themselves to work harder than those around them to prove that they’re not impostors. They feel the need to succeed in all aspects of life—at work, as parents, as partners—and may feel stressed when they are not accomplishing something.” I am a recovering superwoman.  There was a time when I worked full time, taught at a university part time, cooked nightly meals for my family and drove around eastern North Carolina attending marching band, football, soccer and track competitions. I needed to be the best mom, wife, daughter, HR professional and teacher. That time in my life is a blur and I ended up being spread way too thin and burned out.  It’s hard to be present for anything when you are thinking about the next destination or event.  I hung up my cape a while ago. 

These aspects are just part of limiting beliefs that hold me back.  I like Brene Brown’s outlook that we are all just trying our best.  Being my best is being imperfect, learning, inexpert, seeking help and able to coast. You are not a fraud; you are trying your best as well and that’s good enough.  

6 Ways to Get Unstuck Today

You meant to start that exercise program this morning but hit the snooze button instead.  You were going to reach out to your friend for a referral and blew it off–and your thought was probably along the lines of, “He doesn’t know anyone who needs my kind of services.”  You had to start on that big gnarly project but decided to scroll through Facebook instead for an hour or so.  You just never seem to get unstuck.  It feels like your days are quicksand and the new normal is sucking you in.A photo by Jared Erondu. unsplash.com/photos/j4PaE7E2_Ws

I was in that place some four years ago.  I never seemed to have forward momentum.   I also had an aversion to change.  Most people do.  I’d rather watch television all day with my free Saturday or bake the perfect loaf of bread than take on a project.  I also didn’t think that I had anything to share with the world.  I had just finished up my coach training with the Neuroleadership Group and I was being coached by my fellow students on a weekly basis.  I had the revelation that I was stuck.  With the help of my fellow coaches, I finally was unstuck.  So this what I learned.

6 ways to get unstuck today:

1. You are not an impostor.  Practically everyone feels like an impostor.  Someone will find out that you aren’t the greatest mother, accountant, teacher, writer, or cook.  This can be paralyzing.  My coach was working with me recently.  I felt like I wasn’t an author.  She reflected back to me what the source of that limiting belief was.  I realized that I had been writing for over four years, have been read in over 100 countries and had over one thousand followers.  She asked me to say it.  “I am an author.”  I owned it.  What do you need to own?

2. Path of least resistance.  Figure out what the project or activity is that you need to break out of and create the path.  I keep my sneakers, shorts and t-shirt in my bathroom closet.  I can get up in the dark, dress and head out before my husband wakes up.  If I had to turn the lights on in my bedroom and scour around for my walking garb, I likely would roll over and hit the snooze.  If you want to take up the guitar again, get it out of the closet and put it in plain sight.  If you want to walk during your breaks at work, take your spare sneakers to work and put them under your desk.  Basically, you’re eliminating the excuses you would normally come up with.  Create the path to your new goals.

3. Clear the decks.  When I write or work on a project, I clear my desk of any clutter like post its, papers, books, magazines, invitations or mail.  So if I’m in the middle of two projects, I put one of the projects away.  It’s out of mind.  This frees me up to work on what is in front of me without visual distraction.  There is no excuse.  I don’t end up going down some rabbit hole of “Should I go to the conference in Austin?”  “I wonder what that letter is about.”  “Why did I buy that book?”  The only thing on my desk right now is my computer, a lamp, a glass of water and a picture of my kids.  So before you get started, stash the clutter.

4. Digital sabbatical.  I have not tried to go without social media and email for a day except for when I was caught in the Berkshires a month ago without power and Wi-Fi.  It is really freeing to not be constantly checking for notifications.  But I DO put my phone in my purse or another room when I am writing.  Like right now.  My email and social media on my computer is shut down.  No bings, chimes or pings to bother me and veer me from my focus.  About two months ago, I turned off all notifications on my phone except for text.  My reasoning is that my kids and my husband typically are the ones who text me, which may end up being important.  For you, it might be something else.  Seeing a little red number 4 in the corner of my Facebook app used to drag me right back into opening the app to check out the latest Like.  Now I do that when I am free and not trying to accomplish something.  Set up Digital-Free Times.

5. Is it important?  When my fellow student coach would work with me, if something wasn’t accomplished, they would ask, “Is it still important?”  Say you didn’t sign up for that 5k or start going to the gym like you said you wanted to.  Maybe it’s not important any more.  Maybe it is.  It’s still a good idea to reflect on.  What is the “why” of what you are doing?  What is the higher goal?  I used to run in the morning because I was training for a marathon.  Now I walk in the morning to just get outside, listen to a book and feel refreshed.  It’s like that task you’ve moved 5 times on your task list.  Is it still important?  If not, delete it.  If it is, do it.

6. Start.  I am amazed what I can get done in 5 minutes.  Before I taught Franklin Covey’s ‘5 Choices’ class, I used to procrastinate if I had five minutes before a meeting started.  Now I’ll return a phone call, finish an email or make a hotel reservation.  I am amazingly more productive.  Any free time is an opportunity to start.  At home, I will pick up a book and read a page or two or put my grocery list together.  The point is, I start.  If I don’t get it done before another commitment, no sweat.  I’ll get back to it after the meeting is done.

I got unstuck through working with a coach.  There is a perception that asking for help is a sign of weakness.  It’s really a sign that you are ready for forward motion.  What do you want to get started on?