I decided not to post this… but here we are. I told myself it wasn’t good enough. In actuality I was just scared. A reader saved it when she emailed about her own Impostor Syndrome. I sent her this post and she responded with this:

image of an email from a reader

Well, here it goes…

[Update: Since posting this, there have been a ton of people commenting about their experiences with Impostor Syndrome, their stories might be even more helpful than the article itself. Definitely check them out.]

Here's What We're Covering:

What Is Impostor Syndrome?

I’m a fraud and everyone is about to find out. I feel that every time I am about to share something. I feel that right now writing this: I don’t even have impostor syndrome. That’s how bad my impostor syndrome is. I even think I’m faking that. If it’s part of my life, it’s fake. What is impostor syndrome? It’s feeling like an impostor when you’re not. Like you’re a fraud and the whole world is going to find you out.

This makes total sense for undercover agents and people selling snake oil. It doesn’t make so much sense for people who are trying to make the world a little better or to sell something they believe in.

The first step to feeling better about anything is to realize that famous people suffer the same thing. So here are some famous people with Impostor Syndrome:

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 – Tina Fey

“The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: 'I'm a fraud! Oh God, they're on to me! I'm a fraud!' So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.” 

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 – Michelle Pfeifer

“I still think people will find out that I’m really not very talented.  I’m really not very good.  It’s all been a big sham.”

 

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 – Kate Winslett

“Sometimes I wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do this.  I’m a fraud.”

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– Maya Angelou

“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ “

Emma Watson, Sheryl Sandberg, and Sonia Sotomayor have also admitted to feeling like they’ll be found out for the frauds they are.

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But wait, these are all women… Apparently this is mostly a problem for women. I don’t buy that though. I think that guys just won’t talk about it. Or at least that’s the story I’m going with. (I don’t want to be girly.) In searching for famous people with impostor syndrome I did find a couple males. Tom Hanks and Neil Gaiman (artists of course, but they’ll do):

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 – Neil Gaiman

“The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you. It's Impostor Syndrome, something my wife Amanda christened the Fraud Police.”

Seth Godin wrote in The Icarus Deception that after a dozen best sellers he still feels like a fraud all the time. (I have a sneaking suspicion that Tim Ferriss suffers from it too, just saying.) This problem is only getting worse as more of us rely on our online presences. We’re in this weird culture where you’ve got to sell yourself aggressively while remaining “authentic”. You think you need to be perfect but you also need to feel free to fail. You need to be yourself and more! It’s all set up to make you feel like a fraud. At the end of this post I’m going to issue a challenge. If you don’t feel like reading anything else, skip down and do the thing with me! Here are the ways I keep going when I feel like a fraud:

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21 Ways To Overcome Impostor Syndrome

1. Come off it. Usually I feel like a fraud when I think I’m more important than I am. When you feel like a fraud it’s in relation to some perfection that never actually existed. Letting go of some of your excess self-importance will go a long way in helping you feel less like a fake.

2. Accept that you have had some role in your successes. We feel like frauds because we are “unable to internalize our successes”. We were given an opportunity that others weren’t. And so nothing we achieve after that opportunity was actually deserved.

John D. Rockefellar’s oldest son suffered that bad. His entire life’s work was giving away money that his dad made. Can you imagine the intense impostor syndrome he must have felt? Holy moly.

There are plenty of people born with a silver spoon that still manage to f*#$ up. They were given every opportunity and never could take advantage of them. Opportunities come to those who expose themselves to them.

It’s not all “fair”, not at all. But you did do something to get where you are. You said yes when you could have said no (or, maybe more challenging, you said no when you could have said yes.)

3. Focus on providing value. I feel like a fraud when I’m concerned about myself. What will they think of me? If I fail they’ll shun me. I don’t know as much as that other guy, I have no right to say anything on the topic. Blah blah blah. The fastest way to get over feeling like a fraud is to genuinely try to help someone else

This is hard because what if they hate you for it? What if they make fun of you for trying to help? What if your sincerity is smashed under the laughter of others? Then OUCH! That hurts bad. Not nearly as bad as it hurts to feel like a shell of yourself though. I remember the first time I wrote vulnerably. I had gone through severe depression and had benefitted from reading about others being depressed. I felt obligated to share my story. I did. It’s a couple years later now and I still get emails telling me how helpful the letter was to them. Not one person made fun of me for that. At least to my face.  

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4. Keep a file of people saying nice things about you. I just started this earlier this year and it’s been amazing. Every time someone writes that I helped them online I take a screenshot and put it in my folder. When I feel like a fraud I can go look through the stories of people I have helped. There is a mom who’s 18 year old boy was shaken out of being stuck because of something I had written. There are a whole series of entrepreneurs who started businesses because of articles I’ve written. There are successful entrepreneurs that were reinvigorated by something I wrote. There are a whole slew of people at rock bottom who have found life worth living again because of something I wrote. Those things keep me putting stuff out there. Because, honestly, it’s easy to forget that writing can do any good. Collect your wins, testimonials, whatever and then visit them when you’re feeling like a fraud.

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5. Stop comparing yourself to that person. There’s no good reason for you to be reading what I’m writing. There are world class biographies of Warren Buffett, John D. Rockefeller, and Einstein. James Altucher has had more successes than me. Peter Thiel just wrote a book. Tim Ferriss, Paul Graham, Kevin Kelly… these guys blog! But still, I’m writing this because I think I have something to offer. Actually, when I look at my praise file I have proof that I have something to offer.

When I compare myself to these others it’s easy to fall into the trap of “my life sucks compared to that life”. You might as well not even do anything! Your life isn’t the best life! Emerson said, “Envy is ignorance…” and he was right on. You aren’t here to live the life of another person. You’re here to do whatever life you can. Turn Facebook off, get off Instagram, stop reading biographies of “successful” people and learn to respect your own experience. Limit your stress, you’re not a fraud, you’re just you.

6. Expose yourself totally. Part of the twisted arrogance that causes impostor syndrome is the (usually unconscious) belief that you have extreme powers that the world couldn’t handle. Or maybe it’s just that you think you are a freak. You certainly have the ability to offer the world something that nobody else can… but really it’s not that wild! You are not nearly as much of a freak as you think you are. Again, come off it, you’re just not that special.

Do this: write for 30 minutes the most insane things about yourself. You will never show anybody this. Write your most ridiculous beliefs, your most terrible thoughts, your biggest fraud! Just write gibberish if you think that is crazy. Push into the deepest taboos you hold. Seeing these on paper doesn’t get rid of them but externalizing things puts them in a more sane perspective.

I have a gay friend. Everyone knew he was gay. He spent years not telling anyone. He spent a huge chunk of his life without expressing himself. If the world knew he was gay everything would be over. “So, I’m gay,” he told me. Big surprise. “Okay,” I told him. The next month I saw him he was living a totally different life. There was some kind of rusty wheel in him that was now spinning freely. His eyes shone with life. He was energetic and positive. All just from letting down his guard for a minute.

7. Treat the thing as a business/experiment. Today there is a whole slew of artist-entrepreneurs. We call part of what we do “content creation”. There has never been a time in history where so many people have a “voice”. No wonder we’re all suffering from impostor syndrome.

Start treating even your art as a business. Not to the point that you start making crap because it’s what people like, but to the point that you are honestly serving the market. In a business, if a product doesn’t sell, you stop making it.

If nobody shares this post or leaves comments then I’ll assume that nobody wants to hear me talk about impostor syndrome—so I’ll stop. I won’t wallow in my failure and think the world hates me.

I’m running a test. Looking at it this way makes it easier to create the thing freely.

8.  Say “It’s Impostor Syndrome” and it immediately becomes a little less terrible.

9. Remember: being wrong doesn’t make you a fake. The best basketball players miss most of the shots they take. The best traders lose money on most trades. Presidents are wrong about stuff all the time. The best football teams inevitably lose.

Losing is just part of the game. Don’t glorify failure, but don’t let it make you feel like you’re not a real contender either.

10.  “Nobody Belongs Here More Than You” <<That’s the title of a book I haven’t read, but I agree with it. Why do we feel we don’t deserve to be in the game? Because we haven’t won it yet? We haven’t even tried! Break people down into what they are: expiring meat sacks.

We are all going to die, we just take different routes to get there. One of the most attractive qualities in a person is acceptance.

Acceptance of themselves and acceptance of you.

Not in the surrendering kind of way, in the “seeing clearly” kind of way. If you can admit that nobody belongs here more than you (while maintaining the belief that you don’t belong here any more than anyone else) you will find yourself making connections with people in powerful ways.

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11. Realize that when you hold back you’re robbing the world. If you walk around feeling that you should be someone else or that you don’t deserve to be here then all your crappy vibes rub off on other people. Your stunted expression means that you can’t be there for people who need you.

Everyone has doubts, the best gift you can give the world is to move forward regardless of the doubts—because it gives us the permission to move forward as well.

12. You’re going to die. Do you want to be on your deathbed regretting that you spent your entire life stopping yourself because you felt like a fraud? Maybe you can’t shake the feeling that you’re a fraud. You can force yourself to move forward despite the feeling.

13.  Stream-of-conscious writing. I suggested something similar in #1. This is aimless though. Do this: write for 30+ minutes nonstop. You can’t put your pen down. If there is no thought in your head then write “I can’t think of anything” until you do. This will constantly put you in touch with what’s going on inside yourself.

It will show you how silly the impostor syndrome is. It’s awesome.

14. Say what you can. We are often put in the position of “expert”. When this happens people look at you like you should know everything about a topic. We can’t know everything about anything though. If I’m in a situation where there is potential to actually be a fraud—ie bullshit about things I don’t know—I just say what I can instead. People respect this much more. Admit that you don’t yet have the answer but you’ll find it.

Admit that you haven’t found the perfect solution but you’ve come close enough.

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15. Realize that nobody knows what they’re doing. Most startups fail. Even the ones that you hear about raising millions of dollars fail all the time. Nobody knows exactly what’s going on. There are a ton of people who will tell you they know the answers. These people are liars.

The world we live in is the result of a lot of brave people tinkering, failing, and succeeding once in a while. Nobody knows what’s next: some are willing to play ball in the face of uncertainty and some aren’t. You’re not an impostor for trying something that might not work. You’re a hero.

16. Take action. Impostor Syndrome lives in abstraction. It’s not about stopping being lazy, it’s about massive amounts of action.  It is impossible for it to survive when you’re taking action. Taking action proves that you’re not a fraud. It tests your mettle in the real world.

Impostor Syndrome cannot do damage to the person who consistently takes action. (You still might feel it every once in a while but you won’t let it stop you.)

17. Realize that you are never you. You’re constantly changing. You’re constantly becoming a new person. Your opinions change with new information (I hope). You spend 6 months eating donuts and then you spend 6 months at the gym. Last year you were obsessed with Call of Duty, now you don’t understand video games. Maybe you were in a terrible mood this morning. Maybe you’re a bit brighter now.

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– Michel de Montaigne

“There is as much difference between us an ourselves as there is between us and others.”

You are growing into something different. You are getting better. How? By trying to do something better than you actually can. That’s not a lie, that’s valor.

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18. Authenticity is a hoax. What is being authentic? I’m not going to write to my grandma using the same words as I use to write to my sister. I’m not even going to emphasize the same interests I have.

If I’m selling security systems, I’m not going to pitch a Mormon the way I pitch a rock star. It just wouldn’t make sense. There is no person you can be other than you. Ever. The impostor syndrome will have you believe that you are being inauthentic. That you are a liar. If that’s true then where is your true self!?

The impostor syndrome doesn’t give an answer because it doesn’t have one. Tell it to eff off.

19. See credentials for what they are. They don’t mean much. “Expert” means someone decided to call them that. “PhD” doesn’t mean someone knows more than you, it means they spent more time in college than you. (And actually do know way more than you about some uselessly specific topic.)

“As seen in The Wall Street Journal” means they knew how to use HARO. Don’t measure yourself by credentials. It takes the focus away from actually doing good things. And it won’t shut up the impostor syndrome for long either.

20. Find one person you can say, “I feel like a fraud” to. Being able to say that out loud to another person can be a huge help. Especially when they laugh at you for it.

21. Faking things actually does work. Sometimes faking it doesn’t make you a fraud. If you smile your body will be more generous with happy chemicals and actually make you happier. Neuroplasticity means that you can shape your brain by pretending.

When you were a baby you tried to walk and fell down every time. Were you a walking impostor? Who are you to walk!? You can’t even do it! It’s absurd!

Silicon Valley has been built by people trying to do things that probably weren’t going to work. We need them to keep trying. We need you to keep trying. We need you. Whether you feel like an impostor or not.

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Impostor Syndrome: The Challenge

You have the opportunity right this very instant to overcome your impostor syndrome. This is what we’re going to do. A Blog Confessional of sorts.

Write in the comments one thing you’ve avoided because you feel like a fraud. (If this is too much, you can email me… commenting will be more powerful though.) You can even stay anonymous if you want. Maybe you haven’t started that blog because you feel that you couldn’t do it as well as the people already blogging about a topic. Maybe you haven’t started your business because you don’t think you’re an “entrepreneur”. Maybe you haven’t talked to that pretty girl/guy. I don’t know. There are all sorts of thing. I’ll give you mine in a second.

**BONUS ROUND** Do something about it! If you don’t know what to do, I’ll give you a suggestion. The comment itself will be a huge step for sure. It’ll be even more huge to take the thing head on.

Wrapping It Up...

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If you’re looking for a guide to take action I put together this awesome course on taking action!

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Author

Avatar for Kyle Eschenroeder
Kyle Eschenroeder

Thanks for taking the time to read this! Let me know what you think - the good, the bad, the ugly - in the comments below.

I'm an entrepreneur (more in the StartupBros About Page) in St. Petersburg, FL

  • Avatar for Jennifer Jennifer says:

    I think my entire body image suffers from impostor syndrome. I’m afraid to get into any kind of relationship because I don’t feel physically pretty enough…even worse, I feel like there is nothing about me that is attractive, therefore even starting a relationship would be entrapment. Sad face 🙁

  • Avatar for anonymous anonymous says:

    writing a book…i feel like perfectionism gets in the way of even starting anything…thank you for this post – really helpful and validating! i particularly loved the baby as a walking imposter example 🙂

  • Avatar for technosonu technosonu says:

    Amazing and wonderful post friend. It will inspire many people for sure.Thanks author..

  • Avatar for Guest Guest says:

    I’ve always wanted to do something with math. I love it, at least when I don’t feel like i’m faking being good at math. I’m afraid that I won’t live up to the expectations of others, as well as the fact that I don’t think I can do the classes next year (going into sophomore year with ap stats and pre calc honors). In clearer moments I know I can, but I’m afraid. I get the syndrome when I run cross country too. I’ve been on varsity for 3 years and every time I run I feel like I don’t deserve to be there and that I’m just faking being a runner. I still go out and do it, but on some days I just want to cry. I get it with almost everything I do and I’m tired of it. I just want to be proud of myself and feel like I belong. I get the same thing with cheerleading. I have trouble being with others as well. I talk and ramble because I just want to fit in. I want to not take every little thing as a sign that no one wants me there. I’m just tired of being afraid.

  • Avatar for Brit Brit says:

    I’ve been sewing since I was twelve. With the skills I’ve acquired since then, I have felt confident enough to call myself an experienced seamstress at 31. It’s a dying art with sentimental memories for me. My great-grandmother taught me, and she passed away just two months ago. I took my biggest leap three years ago when I made a flower girl dress for one of my friend’s wedding. I was nervous, but I did it. She cried when she saw it. I was so proud!

    Everyone has been telling me that I need to turn my passion/hobby into a business, and I have everything mapped out for it. It really started to appeal to me because I wanted to have the ability to generate income from home while being able to be here with my children. Marketing strategies, logos, designs for the line I’m going to introduce, etc. are all ready to be used, but I’m having the hardest time pulling the trigger and create.

    It’s such a big move. I’m afraid that what I create won’t hold up to the standards of a buyer or that they’ll be disappointed with my products. They might see every little flaw and be unsatisfied. Perhaps I won’t be able to create a substantial enough income from it to do it full time.Maybe I’m just not as good as everyone else thinks I am. I draft patterns from scratch, creating my own designs. I’ve even taught workshops to instruct people how to make simplistic, yet custom, patterns for themselves. I’ve created elaborate costumes, tailored dresses, jackets, you name it. Yet, as the day passes, I stumble at the opportunity to use my designs to create something tangible.

    Reading this blog helped. Writing this comment helped. I always felt silly for believing myself an imposter. I would tell myself that I had to appear good to be an imposter in the first place. I’d look at other peoples’ work and feel like I could never do something so difficult, even though I already had. This blog, this article, woke me up. I wrote down a few of the suggestions, and I plan to exercise them tomorrow when I’m feeling inadequate.

    Afterall, nobody belongs here more than you.

  • Avatar for Amanda Amanda says:

    Thanks Kyle! I’ve written all this down as I’m about to embark on a massive step out of my comfort zone. I will need to re read every time my courage fails me! 🙌

  • Avatar for Sarah Sarah says:

    All the time I feel embarrassed when talking to others , I know answers of questions but I feel I’m always wrong , I revised each word when talking in a conversation ,and I feel that people would make fun of me , I feel that I’m a fraud and don’t deserve my job, I feel that I should be a perfectionist to be accepted by others , so I take a lot of time finishing tasks, I always compare myself to others and I feel that I’m nothing.

  • Avatar for Micha Micha says:

    Just want to thank you for this article, it truly resonated with me. Impostor syndrome can be paralyzing and have you doubting yourself at every turn.
    In my case I am a mom, manager and hard worker with twenty years experience under my belt but somehow I never feel I deserve to be in the bigger leagues, with every promotion comes the wave Of anxiety saying “now you’ve done it, you’ll be exposed for the fraud you are”. This is crippling and limitating in so many ways, since it’s definitely keeping me from reaching my full potential and being my true self at work.
    Working on overcoming this day to day, your article and ways to move forward are a guide I repeat myself everyday to stay focused. Thank you truly for sharing

  • Avatar for GMC GMC says:

    I feel like I have hit a brick wall and not progressed much in the last few years. I recently tried organising a school reunion of old classmates and I think I inevitably ended up comparing myself to them. I need to take action to kick-start my life again, nothing crazy or radical but just enough to start believing in myself again. I know I have amazing potential it seems to be on hiatus at the moment due to some comfort zone that I feel protected in. Thanks for your inspirational words. I hope to write a comment in 6 months time about how much I have improved.

  • Avatar for Mandy Mandy says:

    This post has exposes everything I have been fighting with for years now, even more so now. I’ve been a pediatric nurse for nearly 14 years working in hospitals all over the state and will also be graduating with my masters degree in nursing education in 4 months. In a couple years time it’s expected that I will transition from a bedside nurse to an instructor in an educational setting. And I absolutely believe I am the wrong person for the job.

    This all could be chalked up to reaching the point in my life that I believed as a child made you “old” but out of habit I tend to come up with so many other explanations or false truths that are unintentionally designed to prove what a fraud I actually am. Nursing wasn’t my dream career but life’s circumstances have nonetheless put me here. It took me years to accept that even though I wasn’t doing what I really wanted, I was actually doing the best I could for the sake of humanity and helping others, especially children, live healthier lifestyles. I , along with my team, have jumped in and performed CPR or bagged patients (hyper-oxygenated breaths with a AMBU bag) from as young as 2 weeks old to 22 years old and didn’t need to question my role in the thick of it and have saved lives. I’ve been nominated and awarded special honors in my career and have helped initiate and develop new ways to improve practice along the way. I’ve been told by those I have helped train and teach that my methods and ‘against the grain’ tactics have actually helped them see past the superficial and mundane work nursing CAN be and actually find empowerment, joy, and purpose in what they COULD be. I’m often resourced by leadership teams to carry out projects because I “always put everything I have into it and deliver my work in a timely and effective manner”.

    And yet I to this day believe that I’ve chosen the wrong role within the wrong specialty in the totally wrong career because I don’t know anything about what I’m talking about. Because of this crippling mindset, I’ve not so much avoided but FEAR the day I will actually need to teach what I am “supposed” to know to the next generation of future nurses. The idea of being the one others will listen to and come to for help frightens me because I’ve convinced myself that if I’m not careful in what I say to them, I could lead them down the wrong path and screw up their own futures and dreams in the process. Even now when I’m teaching experienced nurses new or updated policies or procedures, I fear that I myself will completely forget what exactly I’m supposed to be teaching and they will put it together that I’m not as competent as I’ve led on. A bit dramatic, I’m fully aware, but I can’t get the feeling to “eff” off.

    It’s gotten to the point now where despite all the positive and great things I’ve done in my career, I’m struggling with sticking with it and moving on or jumping ship and doing something completely different. With my history of low self confidence, social anxiety, and depression, I already know changing careers will lead to the same constant struggle that I’m just not in the right place.

  • Avatar for Ryan Griffiths Ryan Griffiths says:

    I have never really failed at anything – good academic results, passed my driving test first time, had an offer from every job interview I’ve ever had. But rather than giving me confidence this has led to a massive fear of failure. I have avoided exam style situations where possible. I stayed at a company with a toxic working environment for far longer than I should have for fear that I might not be able to get a job elsewhere. I’m overly self critical of everything I do which holds me back from blogging, writing music and so on.

    I know I should push myself to do more, and the only way to do this is to put myself in a position where I might fail. But I worry about how I’ll deal with that, and the implications it might have on my future. Plus the over preparation/procrastination phase of the imposter cycle would make me a nightmare to be around for my family.

    I feel like the only way to deal with it is to sort of try less hard, almost like driving a car but taking your hands off the steering wheel and just seeing what happens. But that sounds terrifying!

  • Avatar for Oliver Sutton Oliver Sutton says:

    So… A fair few months after this was written I’ve stumbled across it. Mainly because having talked to my amazing mum about my day, she suggested that this was actually what was happening. Judging by your article, she was pretty damn accurate.

    So, I was a health care assistant in the Emergency Department for years. Then, I duel trained as a nurse/Paramedic, mainly focusing on critical/emergency care. Having done that, I managed to get a newly qualified job right back in the Emergency Department as a band 5 qualified practitioner.

    When I was a HCA I found myself feeling like I knew way more than I was allowed to actually do. And it frustrated me! I know how to count.. Why can’t I sign the controlled drug book when I’ve counted? I know how to draw up drugs so why can’t I do it?! So I went to uni.
    Now that I’m qualified and I can do all those thing…. I’m terrified! I spend so long telling people that I’ve had this training and that.. And that I’m qualified for all of the critical care and emergency care tasks.
    However. I feel like a fraud. I feel like actually I’m not qualified at ALL to make those life changing decisions (and sometimes, decisions that make the difference between life and death!)

    Put me in that place unqualified, or even as a student and I’m all over it. Now, wearing my new blue nursing scrubs, I have absolutely NO idea. And all I can think is “how the hell did I end up here and why do people think that I actually know what I’m doing?!”

    Due to the training I’ve had, I am constantly pulled into resus for the sickest of patients and I feel like I absolutely should not be there. Yeah I got through uni, but everyone gets through eventually and it was just a case of shutting my eyes and waiting for it to finish. I don’t actually know what I’m doing?!

    I absolutely adore my job and I want to do everything perfectly (unfortunately sort of necessary) but I just don’t feel competent to even take someone’s blood… Something I’ve done for 8 years now!

    Yet I smile and do it, because that’s what’s expected and just hope to hell that nothing goes wrong and I don’t get called out for the fraud I feel I am!

  • Avatar for Anonymous soz... Anonymous soz... says:

    Hey sorry I’m a bit late on this but it’s never too late to try to tackle imposter syndrom right? I’m the founder of a startup and I genuinely feel like a fraud all the time. I think it’s mainly got to do with the fact that I don’t have a background in the industry that we’re evolving in. I can absolutely justify it and if I’m being rational it actually bothers no one that I don’t know much about The industry because it’s not that crucial for this specific startup and I got pretty cool skills from my previous job/background. But I do feel that imposter syndrom pretty badly. If I don’t have an answer to something I’m like “well yeah obvs you don’t, you’re a fraud” and when something good happens/ if I got complicated: have succeeded at something, I’m like buzzing a bit then quickly after that I’m thinking “fuck when are they gonna find out, when am I going to disappoint everyone”. So yeah… fun fun fun!!

  • Avatar for Aby Aby says:

    Thanks for this. I can finally say with honestly that I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing, but that’s ok because the ends justify the means

    The means is me being happy.