Thursday, May 31, 2012

Diablo Cody and the Fraud Police

Diablo Cody - writer of 'Juno' and 'Jennifer's Body'
What do the fabulously talented Diablo Cody and I have in common? Aside from a love of that red lipstick that is . . . 

A few months ago I had an Amazing Opportunity.

It wasn’t a long term thing, just a one-off event relating about something I’ve loved and been involved in for more than a decade. Not even a big deal the scheme of, well, anything. But it had me mentally hopping excitedly, lunging, shadow-boxing and victory saluting. And as I prepared to leave for the event, I thought:

I am not worthy

Breathe in. Breathe out. Then I realised – I am as worthy as anybody to do this.

I could either shirk my way through the experience, waiting for the tap on the shoulder as I was revealed as a fraud.

Or I could embrace it, walk tall and deliver everything I had which qualified me to do it.

Apparently I am not alone in this feeling of being an imposter. The term ‘Imposter Syndrome’ was first coined in 1978 by psychotherapists Clance & Imes. There were so many people, even then, that were trying to articulate this feeling that they developed a name for it.

Back in the days when he starred in Wall Street Charlie Sheen is quoted as having said ‘Is this success all a fluke? Had I been fooling everybody so far? Will I get caught?’

Meryl Streep has also been quoted as having said 'I don't know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?'

Diablo Cody said in this interview ‘Even though I know I work hard, I’m not always sure that I’m worthy of the success that I’ve had…I certainly compare myself to other women in my peer group who, in my mind, have done “more”, and feel like a hack in comparison.’

It’s not limited to big-time Hollywood celebrities. News Editor at, Rick Morton, writes candidly in this post about feeling that he’s going to get caught out and his attempts to self-sabotage his own success. 

In this brilliant address to University of the Arts students, writer Neil Gaiman articulates the feeling beautifully:

The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you. It's Imposter Syndrome, something my wife Amanda christened the Fraud Police.

In my case, I was convinced that there would be a knock on the door, and a man with a clipboard (I don't know why he carried a clipboard, in my head, but he did) would be there, to tell me it was all over, and they had caught up with me, and now I would have to go and get a real job, one that didn't consist of making things up and writing them down, and reading books I wanted to read.

BTW – I know I referred to this address already this week, but in the 5 days since it was posted online it’s turning up everywhere. And it’s got me really inspired!

There are ways around it. Exercises and processes you can work through to relieve the incredible pressure and frustration associated with this feeling of inadequacy. Sacha Crouch, business coach, works with a range of successful business people who often reveal they feel unworthy of their success. Crouch says ‘This tendency to doubt one’s abilities leads many people to feel like they are a “fake” in their lives despite their accomplishments.’ She goes on to list a range of measures which can help overcome the self-imposed road blocks to our own success. 

But another way to look at it, according to this Forbes article, is to use that negative emotion to energise the changes you need to make. To understand that feeling that way is your mind’s way of getting you to strive harder, to reach the next level, until there is such a body of proof of your success that you can no longer deny it.

In fact, do the opposite – build a note into your roadmap that reminds you that Imposter Syndrome symptoms are a signpost that you’re moving in the right direction: into a new, expansive realm of possibility.

So I told myself, on this day when I had the Amazing Opportunity that it really was unequivocally mine. I deserved it because I was in it, doing it and living it. If you put on a pair of shoes and walk in them for a few steps, no-on can say ‘you can’t walk in those shoes’ because you have already done it.

Game over, Fraud Police. Diablo's already onto her next heist.

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