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What If They Figure Out I’m A Phony And A Fake?

February 26, 2014

They knew.

They must know. How could they not?

They must have figured out by now that I’m making this up as I go.

Rodney, can I see you in my office?

Uh oh, here it comes. Hopefully he won’t drag it out.

I just read your recommendations for next year’s curriculum map. You realize that your approach is pretty radically different than what any of the other Curriculum Designers suggested.

Ok. . .

I told them that I think we should adopt your plan. In fact, they will probably be approaching you for pointers on your design. I’ve asked them all to go back and rework their plans around your model. Good job.

He knows.

He must know. How could he not?

He must have figured out by now that I’m making this up as I go.

I used to think it was just me. From the time I entered business (Back To Where It All Began) I’ve always felt like everyone else is in on some secret of business that I’m missing.

Even when I went to Microsoft, (How Not To Quit A Job) I didn’t feel like I REALLY fit in. 1994, the year I was hired, Microsoft, a company of over 50,000 people hired less than 600 new employees. And I had actually been recruited away from WordPerfect. And WordPerfect was sorry to see me go.

But, that didn’t change the feeling I had down deep in the pit of my stomach that the rest of them really knew what was going on and I was simply faking it.

That’s not the type of thing you bring up in a meeting with your boss.

By the way, I don’t really feel I do my job adequately. I’m faking.

It’s also not something you bring up to your coworkers. We worked well as a team, but Microsoft back in the 90’s was a very competitive place. We considered ourselves the best of the best. Well, except I didn’t.

Then one day I was talking to Roger. Roger was a brilliant course designer. He was one of the people that gave classes to the rest of us on how to write. He’d worked directly with Bill Gates on a project. Roger and I got to be pretty good friends and so one day I confided in him.

Roger, do you ever feel like you’re not as good as people think you are? That you’re just faking it?

Oh, all the time.

Wait, what?

I was throwing out a question that I knew the answer to so that I could contrast his answer with mine. He caught me totally off guard.

Wait, YOU feel inadequate for your job?

Yeah all the time. I feel like one day someone’s going to appear at my cubicle and say, “We figured out that you really don’t know what you are doing and you’re going to have to go.”

Wow. . .

You feel that way too, don’t you?

Well, yeah, but I didn’t think that you did.

Trust me, everybody who’s any good feels that way. It’s part of what keeps us working so hard. We feel we have to prove them all wrong.

Roger taught me a valuable lesson that day. I’ve carried it with me through my career. I mentioned it to Riley. Riley had been a VP of Marketing for several companies. He’d earned hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for his marketing expertise. But, Riley always felt just a little inferior. Not in a self esteem way, but Riley never really felt he measured up to the standard he was held to.

Ironically, Riley exceeded the standard he was held to on a regular basis. But, he too felt like a fraud.

Over the years, I’ve realized that Roger was right. Anyone who’s any good at what they do has a secret fear that they aren’t good enough. It makes them try that much harder, makes them work that much longer.

I’ve also discovered that the opposite is true. People who are convinced that they deserve every bit of the accolades that are heaped on them generally don’t share credit. They are the people who are so convinced of their own infallibility that they miss out on the chance to learn and grow.

So, if you feel like your faking your way through your job, but your boss thinks you are doing great. Realize that there are a lot of us out there feeling that way. Just keep going.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife and thirteen children.

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  1. Kit permalink

    Thank you, this was very timely. I’ve been struggling with this lately. I know how far I still have to go to be where I want to be. But this has helped remind me that:

    a) Room to improve does not equal failing

    b) My bosses and/or customers define success and failure for their projects, and they haven’t complained yet.

  2. I felt this way through my whole career, and still feel this way now that I run my own business. I just shared this with my wife and told her this is what I felt like through the years. Thanks Rodney!

    • Michael, I think it’s in some ways our biggest fear. We DON’T tell others because what if they agree with us? What if they tell us, “I’ve known you were a fake all along?”

      So, we keep working like mad and we begrudingly accept the accolades that SHOULD be validating our success, but instead we worry the added attention will make our unmasking happen that much sooner.

      It’s a weird lie we tell ourselves.

  3. This is wonderful. I have a day job and a side business and BOTH of them have me in this hot-seat scenario. But my results are consistently good. Am I flying by the seat of my pants? Yes, but it’s the only way I know how to get up above the crowd. 🙂

    • And I think that’s the key Bernard. Just keep doing what you THINK will be the right thing and work like mad to make it happen.

      Good luck!

  4. Wow. Another great blog, how DO you keep turning them out, quality as well as quantity? I have to admit that I don’t suffer from this exactly – although I do worry from time to time that someone will decide that I don’t have the right credentials, or hew to the popular line, or, well, something. But competence, clarity, brilliance I’ve never worried about. I know I’m pretty darned good, and am surprised that everyone doesn’t feel the same way. That’s not to say I don’t have my failures or that there are areas I’m really bad at. Just order me to step onto a dance floor and I’m lost with literally no idea of what to do.

    My mother taught me early to think things through, and if I was right to not worry about what others thought – they would figure it out later. That advice has stuck with me for over 50 years. Sounds like you’re helping others to see things the same way, and that’s all to the good. Keep it up!

    • Thanks for the kind words Randy. When I started writing a good friend asked me “You’re not going to run out of topics are you?”

      I keep a list of topics to write about and it’s longer now than it was when I started. One of the benefits of the gift of gab I guess.

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