We’re going to do something really different today. I’m going to tell you exactly why I feel like a Liar and Fraud.
But first… I’ll give you some context that explains why this is going to help you, a lot.
According to research at Georgia State and other places, more than 70% of us have experienced the Impostor Syndrome. That’s the feeling that, no matter what we accomplish, we don’t really “deserve it.”
Worse, the more accomplished and highly educated we become, the statistically more likely we are to suffer from feeling like an impostor.
It is not healthy self doubt, it is corrosive self doubt. It saps progress – in careers, on grant proposals, everywhere.
It causes many of us to put up a shell of “perfection” and “strength” – a tough rawhide veneer through which few (if any) people ever penetrate.
To underlings and colleagues we put on the front of the “tough professor” (or the “tough postdoc” or whatever). We show no weaknesses, because we’re afraid that those will be the chink in the armor that finally exposes THE TRUTH of our incompetence and impostorhood once and for all.
This same thing happens with entrepreneurs. It is similarly devastating for them. It prevents taking risks. It prevents exposing vulnerability. It inhibits creativity. It saps likability. It makes employees hate working there. And it causes businesses to fail.
People in science don’t talk about this. Even my top grant writing clients are mostly mum about it. But whenever I see confidence issues (which I see a lot), I suspect that this could be an underlying cause.
And these confidence issues cause rejections. They cause failures. They cause problems with administrators. I know, because I’ve had all of those… and more.
Well, a really brilliant mentor of mine (and I don’t use the word brilliant lightly), the irascible Leela Cosgrove, gave me an assignment to help me overcome my daemons once and for all. I had already made tremendous progress on this front over the past four years, but still at times felt like a Liar and a Fraud (an impostor). It was sapping my progress and development in areas such as my book writing.
The exercise was simple: write about how and why you feel like an impostor, a liar, and a fraud. Get it out in the air. Post it publicly. Then, if people STILL accept you, you know that you have nothing to hide. And if they don’t accept you, you know who you’re dealing with and that you have nothing to hide, even from your un-friends.
My Liar and Fraud story is unusual. I know it will be shocking to and alienating to some people. That’s fine with me. I am not on this planet to please everyone, and neither are you.
I hope this inspires you to wrestle your own feelings about being an impostor to the ground, once and for all.
I am a liar and a fraud. Or at least that’s what I’ve thought through much of my career, first as a professor then in business.
I mean, really, who am I to teach others how to live a better life and write better grants? It’s not like I’m perfect. I have my problems. I have my struggles. I have my challenges. I certainly don’t know everything.
I spent 10 years of my life earning a PhD, another 4 years as an intern, and then 7 more years “proving myself” before my university anointed me as “qualified” to be a permanent member of the faculty.
That taught me one really bad, 21-year long lesson. The lesson was that in order to have authority, “they” have to give it to you in terms of certifications, fancy job titles, and all that shit.
But it’s BS. The authority never comes from the fancy title or degree. It comes from a FEELING of authority, from stepping up and being a leader. I see many professors who advanced further up the ladder than I did, who still have no authority with their students and peers. They haven’t built it up internally, so people respect them little more than if they were just a random person on the street. I thought that being a “tenured professor” would give authority, but it did no such thing. I was still the same person inside, feeling like an impostor all along.
So when I started my business, I asked: who am I to be teaching people skills in grant writing? What if I screw up? What if I say the wrong thing? Because of those fears, I played small. Really small. My first grant writing class was priced at $147. I was teaching people how to bring in $1 million dollar+ federal grants and charging them 0.01% of that.
I often felt like a liar and a fraud. But slowly, I got feedback. I was helping people. That grew confidence. Then more feedback. I was really helping people. There were a few big successes (and some failures, too). My confidence slowly grew.
But underneath it all was always that question: am I REALLY qualified to be doing this?
Because of that questioning, I’ve very often committed self sabotage. Many times when on the cusp of success, I’d do something “stupid” to let it all slip away. That’s why I previously had 5 unsuccessful businesses. That’s why, after working for 7 years earning the Tenure at my university, I gave it all up in one email to my boss saying “I quit.”
I didn’t feel worthy of success… at all.
Maybe that’s because of my deepest darkest secret.
Did I mention that I’m a transsexual – one of those guys who couldn’t hack it as a man and had the manly bits taken off? Yes, I’m one of those freaks like Dr. Frankenfurter from Rocky Horror, or that maniac killer from Silence of The Lambs.
No, I’m NOT ACTUALLY a serial killer and/or weird late night horror show freak. Nor was it that I couldn’t hack it as a man. It’s just that that he wasn’t me. I can’t really explain that. It just IS what I was born to and I had to deal with it.
So, that has made me sometimes (oftentimes), deep down, feel like a freak. Why would anyone trust me to help them if I’ve done that?
Worse still: I went from being a man to being a woman, yet I never got into all the girly stuff. I am still a geek. I still like doing crazy stunts in my kayak like going over waterfalls. I like watching sci-fi and action flicks. I mostly hate shopping.
So I don’t fit in with the girls, and I’m no longer “one of the boys.” It’s lonely.
Out of that loneliness I had to find strength. It was a matter of survival. I had to find massive strength, to pull me through the many suicidal moments. Massive strength to face all my scientific colleagues and to tell them what was happening to me and not loose my job. Incredible strength to tell my wife that I am really a girl inside, and risk loosing my marriage over the changes I was going through.
I had to find the strength to face each and every day as a person who doesn’t “fit in” anywhere – either with the guys or the girls. A person who has very few true friends who can relate to me.
Last year, I finally faced down the fears of sharing this. In front of a roomful of scientist clients – who had each paid me four figures to be there – I told my story openly. None of them rejected me. Instead, they seemed to have a deeper affinity, they saw me as more truly human.
Encouraged, since then, I’ve been learning, slowly, to come forth and admit who I really am! I am not a liar and a fraud anymore.
If nothing else, I have strength.
I am just now finally realizing the value of that strength (even as I get teary eyes writing this). I am stepping into the role that was meant for me – the Warrior Princess (like Xena) – who’s there to fight the difficult fight, whether or not people “like me” for it. I’m there to fight the fight against confusion, misdirection, overwhelm, and fear that’s been foisted on us in this world.
And that strength is what my clients need. The world is such a confusing, overwhelming place these days. There are so many messages, systems, formulas. And worse, there’s so much bad news and despair. But there are very few people who exhibit true strength, true leadership – especially in a gentle, serving way .
That’s who I am, inside, but it’s taken me 46 years on the planet to start owning up to it. I’m sure there are more hard battles to fight. I’m sure there are more confidence issues to face down.
But I will do it. Not just for me, but for my family. For my clients. For the world.
I am no longer a liar and a fraud. That was a deception that I allowed to be perpetrated on myself by bad beliefs. I am better than that. We are all better than that.