Fraud Syndrome

Perhaps I repeat myself.

But this is what I have to say today about Fraud Syndrome. You know this syndrome; that moment when fear that everyone around you will notice that you don’t have the chops, or ability, or expertise that is on your business card. Or worse, that they may think you’re a nice person but you know what you’ve done and what if they find out?

What if they find out?

That is always the question that rises with a constricting panic inside of us. It makes our hearts race and we might sweat. When we dodge being found out, there is relief for a time.

I had a friend in high school who was an amazing basketball player and was also super skinny. He made the skinny jokes first. Everytime. I asked him why he did this once, and he said it put him in control of the situation. Skinny jokes were going to be made, so why not make them himself so he didn’t get caught by surprise.

Brilliant strategy.

And this is the strategy for Fraud Syndrome. Get out in front of the very thing you fear others will discover. If you are indeed a fraud, then go get help. If you’ve been hired and promoted beyond your actual knowledge and ability, get training. Own it with your bosses. Own it with those beneath you in a way that shows that growth and achievement walk hand in hand. For myself, I can’t do math. I’ve written about that before. I got out ahead of it. I owned my inability to do math well; adding, percentages, whatever. I was recognized for what I could indeed do well, so when I needed to ask for mathematical help, there was zero derision. And then, my boss began asking me to look over letters she had to write because that was not a strong suit for her.

One person identifying a deficit with confidence, led to another asking for help with ease.

I think Fraud Syndrome is like a puff of air at the eye doctor. You feel it, but its gone. You can’t touch it or organize it. It comes and goes. Fraud Syndrome is a figment, a fiction. It is never true. What may be true is that you need to help your training catch up to your promotion. What may be true is that you are a real person who has lived a real life and what you are living now is an outgrowth of that.

And this may be where I want to arrive at: Our whole lives are one step at a time leading us to our now. This very instant. Our acts of childishness, insecurity, bad decisions, excessive partying are points for us to learn something about ourselves. That learning from reflection is what gets us the promotion and keep it. If we are selling something we are not, then we’ll lose the privilege after a while. There will be discovery. And then that is a point of learning as you continue.

But most of us are just good people with certain skills and a desire to do well in this world. Our past should not invalidate our present if we have learned and moved on and upward. Our past should not be a melodrama that we have to present time and again in order to pacify who we are today.

So, go for it. Claim it. Let your story, your learning, your vulnerabilities be present in the fullness of your life. You are not a fraud. You are you. And that is amazing.

With belief,


PS…if you do want to take a bounding leap beyond where you’ve been, that is possible. Let’s do that together so that you can redefine what it means to be an expert in your own skin.