Life Charade: We fake it, but do we ever make it?

If you are inclined to identify with international superstars, as I often am, then you may enjoy this humble quote from the much-adored Taylor Swift:  “My confidence is easy to shake. I am very well aware of all of my flaws.” That’s coming from someone with 7 Grammys, 66 million Twitter followers, and an estimated net worth of $200 million. Clearly her insecurity is misguided.

However, it may not be all that surprising. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor of business psychology at University College London, writes in his book Confidence, “Although society places a great deal of importance on being confident, there are no genuine benefits except feeling good. In fact, lower confidence is key to gaining competence…” The theory is that insecurity motivates us to constantly deepen our knowledge and hone our skills. So those who are successful are also likely motivated by their insecurity, which pushes them to strive for perfection.

In fact, this seemingly ridiculous combination of success and insecurity has a name. It’s called imposter syndrome, which is defined as a collection of feelings experienced by people who are unable to internalize their accomplishments. And it doesn’t take Taylor Swift-level success to create anxiety about being discovered as a fraud. We all mentally discount our own qualifications and inflate the accomplishments of others.

Personally, I find myself in meetings and sometimes feel like I’m there by mistake. It’s usually because I’m the youngest in the room by twenty years, so I immediately feel insecure sitting next to colleagues with years of experience and the grey hair to prove it. In that moment, I forget the professional expertise, business experience, and youthful creativity that I bring to the table. But I am invited for a reason; I bring value whether I can admit that to myself or not.

So if you have these feelings, then congratulations, you’re normal—or even better you enjoy some degree of success. If not, then you are probably too narcissistic to read an article titled Life Charade and have no idea what I’m talking about. But for the rest of us, what to do about the nagging annoyance of insecurity?

Honestly, I find it empowering to know that the term imposter syndrome exists and that it is extremely common among successful people. When you feel like part of a club, then it makes carrying the weight that much easier. Insecurity also probably indicates that you are operating outside your comfort zone. That’s a scary place to be, but it means you are pushing yourself; you are stretching your skillset and gaining new experience. So you should take solace in the fact that you are making yourself better.

Finally, we need to give ourselves permission to acknowledge some level of success. I am not endorsing arrogance or suggesting that you take all the credit for everything good in your life. No one can create or achieve anything alone. We all have a team of family, friends, and colleagues that encourage, guide, and support us. But it is healthy to look back, feel good about our accomplishments, and then push on toward the next goal.