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You are not a fraud.


I sat before a classroom of undergraduates last Friday and told a student who humbly admitted to feeling like a fraud while working at an internship that if she felt that way, then she was in exactly the right place. Pushing herself to her full potential. And she should not give up.

It felt a risky thing to say to a group of young people, all eagerly navigating their identities and the start of their careers. I wonder what I would have thought if someone told me that when I was 20 years old.

When we are poised to leap forward, and face challenges seemingly over our heads, it can feel that way. No matter how much we worked, prepared, and sought opportunity, when we get there we still can’t believe it. We feel like someone made a mistake handing the baton to us. If they only knew who we really are!

The secret is, we all feel that way RIGHT before pushing through to the other side of that feeling. When we have that moment of feeling a fraud (and it IS exactly that feeling – it’s the only word I’ve heard people use to describe it), it is precisely because we ARE real and capable.

People who are frauds don’t get that feeling. I assure you. Only real people do.

I say this confidently because over the years I have heard it from MANY people who I know to be honest and very successful. Some I would never guess to have a low confidence moment in their lives.

When I first discovered it, I was shocked. I was quickly rising in the ranks at a major advertising agency, having just earned an MBA. My best friend was a few years out of law school, similarly on a partner track at a major corporate law firm. We were wearing suits, toting crackberries, and meeting with people far senior to us with big titles in posh conference rooms across the world. We ate fancy dinners and car service drove us to and from airports in every city we hit. We nailed negotiations, presentations, deals and contracts weekly. But inside, we both still felt like arty college kids who scribbled in our journals, obsessed over love interests, scrounged for quarters to do laundry, ate too many late night M&Ms, and took Greyhound buses and rode bikes to get places. Not Lincolns.

We both thought, if they knew who we really were they’d escort us from the premises. Shut down our expense accounts. Apologize to our clients. No number of intricate deals she closed or successful campaigns I launched would prove to us that we belonged. We didn’t tell anyone – we kept the secret, figured we must be doing some form of “fake it to make it,” and hoped the feeling would pass when we finally were worthy. We didn’t even tell one another. Until one night, while lamenting our workaholism over wine, we revealed to one another that we felt exactly the same way.

Number one sign of success. Feeling a fraud.

It’s true.

So next time you feel like you don’t really belong where you are – just take my word for it – you absolutely DO.

You earned it. And if you didn’t earn it yet, you are about to.

People trust you because they know you can do it. And you can trust THAT.