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When You Feel Like a Fraud Even Though You're Not

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

During 2018, my first successful business took off. As a lifelong entrepreneur-wannabe, this was extremely exciting for me, despite working 7 days a week and never taking time for myself. I was 33, and it was the first time I could buy a new couch, buy a proper bedroom set, a large screen TV, and a vacuum that actually worked. I even hired my mom to help with management, and I adopted two huskies.

I was grossing about $1 Million per year, with my personal salary being above six figures. When I shopped, I stopped looking at the price tag. I started adopting weird "eccentric billionaire" habits, such as not wanting to be seen in fluorescent lighting, or without Louboutins on my feet. Yet, then and even sometimes still now, I feel like I'm "just faking it." I still often get anxiety when speaking about my accomplishments, work history, education level, and income. It's like drinking a nauseating cocktail of pride and shame at the same time. One side of me knows that any success I get is well deserved, because I worked for it to a point of unhealthiness. But there is another side of me that thinks "You're a fraud." For years, I figured this was just another quirk of having an A-Type personality.

Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which individuals experience feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy, and fraudulence despite evidence of their competence and success. This phenomenon is often described as a "fraud complex" in which individuals feel like they do not deserve their achievements and are constantly worried about being exposed as a "fake" or an "imposter."

Imposter syndrome is often associated with high-achieving individuals, particularly in fields that are traditionally male-dominated or highly competitive. Research has shown that imposter syndrome is particularly common among women, who may face additional challenges and barriers in these fields. For example, women may face discrimination, bias, and stereotypes that can undermine their confidence and contribute to feelings of imposter syndrome.

Some common symptoms of imposter syndrome in females include:

  • A tendency to attribute their successes to external factors, such as luck or other people's help, rather than their own abilities and hard work

  • A fear of failure and a reluctance to take on new challenges or risks

  • A tendency to doubt their abilities and underestimate their accomplishments

  • A tendency to over-prepare or overwork in an effort to avoid being exposed as an imposter

  • A tendency to avoid seeking recognition or praise for their achievements

I remember when I first read about this. One word came to mind: Bingo! I finally had a word for the uneasy feelings I carry with me on a daily basis. It also doesn't help that I often hear "I don't believe you" from male acquaintances when speaking about my life. It's happened so much that I often lie about my past or present to downplay the reality. I often leave out huge swaths of my work history because I think no one will believe me anyway, and I will just come across as narcissistic.

The problem with this rut of thinking is that I realized I started to hold myself back from accomplishing even more out of shame. I started noticing over the past few years that I would falter at a certain point with projects, sabotaging them or quitting because I felt that I didn't deserve success. "Just be happy with what you have" is a common thought I have, even though I know deep down that I want more, and I know that not all of my motivation is purely financial.

When I started to burn out from my business, I didn't even bother to really try to sell it, because the first individual I spoke to "didn't believe" what I told him the company was grossing. Of course, he didn't bother to ask me for bank statements, he didn't bother to come into the office with me for one day (where he could have simply seen the daily cash intake in person), he didn't bother to speak to my CPA. It was just that same shut out: "I don't believe you." I've heard it so much, said to me with such plain matter-of-factness, that it's one of the hardest ideas to combat internally.

Writing this now, I wonder why men (as it's only ever been who have said this to me), feel that not only is it ok to say something like that right to my face, they really truly believe it. They just assume it and declare it with absolutely zero evidence. The men who have said this to me have said it in the most degrading way: as a simple fact of reality. I couldn't possibly make a good living, I couldn't possibly be successful, I couldn't possibly be financially educated, I couldn't possibly have a fucking brain. Is it just because I have a vagina? Is it because I'm black? Is it because I don't have a house in Malibu? Is it because I don't have enough followers? Is it because I only have a Corvette and not a Lambo? Are men really that shitty?

Ah, well... 'tis life I guess. In the meantime, I'm going to keep remembering that I'm not a fraud, and I work my ass off to get every crumb I have. I'm not a shitty person, and I try to help everyone around me. I try to be a part of the solution and not the problem on a daily basis. And if someone doesn't like it or doesn't believe me, fuck them. (Sorry for the language, but I recently read "The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck", and I quite like the idea!)

Imposter syndrome can have a negative impact on an individual's mental health and well-being, and it can also hinder their professional growth and success. It is important for individuals who are experiencing imposter syndrome to seek support and guidance from trusted friends, colleagues, or mental health professionals in order to address and overcome these feelings.


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