There are lots of people who suffer from a fear of failure. What I’ve noticed is that almost as many people suffer from “Imposter Syndrome” – or fear of success.
I was one of those people. Several years ago, I wrote about how I declared at a workshop that I was “more comfortable with failure than success.” And, at the time, it felt true.
If something doesn’t work out – if you “fail” – there is an initial, inevitable period of disappointment, lack of confidence, guilt and perhaps even anger, before you feel able to start again.
So it’s quite understandable that people are afraid of failure. But being afraid of success? That doesn’t make any sense – until you realise that fear of success is actually fear of failure in a different guise.
I’ve realised that, when I was afraid of being successful, it was because I didn’t think I would be able to keep it up. I thought I might have a moment of brilliance, that led me to being successful, but I wouldn’t have the staying power or the resources to keep delivering.
I was afraid that people would find out that I was really a fraud – that I had nothing to offer, and that I had somehow managed to hoodwink them into believing that I was much cleverer and much more talented than I actually was.
Imposter Syndrome is quite common among people who have all the skills and qualifications to be immensely successful – and yet even if they are successful, something holds them back. Valerie Young is something of an expert, and has written a book on the subject.
From my own experience, the more I learn, the more I realise there still is to learn – so if anyone asks if I’m an “expert”, I usually say “no”, even if it’s not true. It’s about setting a level of expectation – if people don’t expect too much of me, then they can’t be disappointed in me.
So what is the purpose of Imposter Syndrome? Everything we do – or don’t do – is for a reason. There’s an underlying benefit. So what is the benefit of playing small, of holding back, in case you get “found out”?
The answer is in the question. By playing small, we don’t have to achieve great things – we don’t have to suffer the humiliation of being exposed as a fraud. But what if you’re not a fraud? What if you really ARE that brilliant? Don’t you owe it to yourself – and to the world – to show that brilliance? To fully be the special person that you are?
I’m now recovering from Imposter Syndrome. I realise that I do have something to offer – and that, even if someone were to call me a fraud, I would know that’s not true. Quite the opposite in fact. I might not be perfect, but if I’m being true to myself, I can never be an Imposter.
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