One of my clients told me the most fascinating thing the other day, and I’m surprised I hadn’t heard it before.

Every year at Stanford, the incoming freshmen are asked to, “Raise your hand if you think you are the one mistake the admissions committee made.” As in … whoops, the admissions team messed up, said yes to the wrong person, and you ended up here by accident.

Every year, a full two-thirds of the students raise their hand.

It’s become known as the “impostor syndrome,” and it’s actually most common among high performers. Go figure. It describes, as you can guess, people who are actually entirely competent, but who are constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop and be exposed as the “fraud” they really are.

THIS HAPPENS TO ME ALL THE TIME

I was nodding my head the whole time my client explained this to me because this is exactly how I feel about coaching sometimes.

In fact, recently another client of mine (who’s in training to be a coach, herself) just coached someone for the first time and shared with me, “Oh my God … I was so afraid that I was doing a terrible job. I felt like a fraud! I’m guessing this feeling goes away with time, though?”

I laughed and told her, “Um, I worry almost every time I coach you whether or not I’m doing a good job. And I’ve been doing this for years!”

She stopped and asked, “Are you serious?! I’ve never thought that about you. I’ve always walked away feeling like I got so much out of our sessions!”

I told her, “Well, I guess that proves that you have nothing to worry about, either!”

It makes no sense why I should be worried about being a bad coach. This is my chosen profession! I’m doing it in large part because I’m naturally good at it. It comes easily to me … so it doesn’t logically follow that I’d be constantly worried about being “found out” as a fraud.

THE SAME IS TRUE OF THOSE STANFORD STUDENTS

Historically, kids who get into Stanford are presumed to be incredibly bright. To us, it makes sense that they were accepted. If they were the best and the brightest, why shouldn’t they have gotten in?

Well, because it feels too easy.

Here’s the deal. You are habituated to being you. Which means that when you’re talented at something, you won’t recognize that what comes naturally to you is often really hard for other people.

Doesn’t matter if it’s getting into Stanford, playing basketball, coaching someone, or coding new software … if it comes naturally to you, it won’t feel that difficult.

But, because it’s almost impossible to gauge how easy something is for you compared to other people, when you succeed … you’re prone to doubt your results. You’ll think things like, “Wait, how could this have been so simple?” You’ll presume that you must have been wrong, because things can’t be that easy … right?

LIFE IS HARD, AND THEN YOU DIE

What intrigues me most about the imposter syndrome is that, silently underlying the whole thing, there’s this unspoken assumption that life can’t be easy.

It’s like that part in The Princess Bride where Westley says, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” We’ve all bought into the belief that life is, in fact, mostly a big struggle.

So much so, in fact, that when something comes to us easily, we can’t wrap our heads around it! Whenever something is easy … we must be doing something wrong.

Another client told me recently that her boss had taken a chance on hiring her. My client doesn’t yet have the certification she technically needs to do her job, but is in the process of getting it. She said, “I feel like I’m constantly worried about my performance because they took a risk by hiring me.”

I stopped and said … “Wait. Out of everyone they could have hired, they hired you, even without your certification. Which must mean that instead of being terrible, you’re actually really worth it. They must have seen your talent and known that they had to have you, regardless of your certification status.”

It had been too easy to impress them and get the job … and now she was waiting for the other shoe to drop, unnecessarily.

LIFE IS NOT MEANT TO BE A STRUGGLE

This is not to say that life will not have challenges. Because of course life is going to have challenging moments. But that’s just it … challenging moments! Not a constant, never-ending struggle that drags on and on into eternity.

Life is not meant to be a slog, drag, or struggle (and if it is, you’re doing something wrong). Biting, clawing, and sweating your way to success doesn’t mean you’ve succeeded; it means you’re forcing things too much and are very likely trying to do something that doesn’t come naturally to you at all.

Life is actually meant to be pretty easy.

This is a wild theory, I know. But what if … ease is simply a natural consequence of being in your flow?

twitter-birdWhat if ease is a sign that you’re doing something right?

What if there is no other shoe waiting to drop? What if you’re not a fraud or an impostor at all … you’re just naturally gifted?

EASE IS ACTUALLY NORMAL

Let me remind you, as I wrap this up, that ease is the most normal, natural thing of all.

Life is supposed to flow. You’re meant to do things you’re gifted at and to get results without feeling like you had to try that hard. You thrive when you’re “in the zone” and enjoying yourself.

We’ve just forgotten that life is supposed to be this way.

We’ve muddled it up so much that now “struggle” is the norm. We celebrate stress, and anyone who doesn’t is open to criticism.

So here’s the deal: You’re no longer allowed to doubt what comes naturally to you. You’re no longer allowed to obsess over being a “fraud” or worry that someone made a “mistake” about you.

Because while you’re busy wondering if you’re an impostor, you’re going to miss out on your greatness.

Had you ever heard of the “imposter syndrome” before? Tell us what you think in the comments!

Much Love,

Rachel (+ Kristen)

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  1. I have heard something similar in the past, but nothing that explained it this well. I have struggled (by my own doing) with this my whole career! I have naturally been very good at most of the jobs I have had and so much comes easily to me in these areas (office work, written communications, training, computers and general abstract concepts) that I have often wondered when the other shoe would drop. After years of educating myself from many wonderful authors and enlightenment gurus (you all included 🙂 I’m understanding that I’m more than okay – I’m pretty darn awesome! And yes, life is meant to be fun and easy!! One note on another article – the celebration of stress. I too have actually had supervisors say to me that I was ‘too happy’ and ‘laughed’ too much. I was supposed to appear miserable like most others I guess. This person absolutely tortured me until I moved on. What’s even sadder, is I hung on to that abuse for over 8 years and dreaded ever bumping into him again. Well I saw him at my new job about a week ago – he didn’t even remember me! I had tortured myself all those years with holding on to the negative experience and not really allowed for forgiveness. After the last encounter, I have not only let it go but I have accepted and fully embraced the lessons from it all. Thank you so much for the Passion Test!!

    1. Hey Tricia — You make an EXCELLENT point about how much power we inadvertently give other people. It’s wild that the person who made you so miserable didn’t even remember you … totally puts into perspective how much power we really have to think differently about things, and not care so much in the moment about what other people think. Unhappy people will always want to bring a happy person down, if only because they don’t know how to be happy on their own and don’t want to be “alone” in their unhappiness. But we certainly don’t need to join people in their misery. We’re allowed to be happy, and proud of who we are, and to think that we’re awesome. That’s what life was meant to be like! Glad you agree!

  2. Loved this post! I feel and hear this all the time. It’s like that inner voice that is asking… Who are you to do that? From now on…that voice will be encouraging me instead!

  3. Yes, I’ve been wrestling with this a LOT. Recently read The Big Leap and can see that I have an upper limit problem, but not sure why. Here’s a mantra the author recommends, “I expand in success, love and creativity every day as I inspire others to do the same.” Working on it!

    Resources on the topic:

    http://www.levo.com/articles/lifestyle/are-you-sabotaging-yourself
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PBiCR9rO4I
    https://experiencelife.com/article/overcome-your-upper-limits/
    http://www.marieforleo.com/2010/08/upper-limit-problem/

    Thanks for the timely post!

    1. Hey Leah! I can totally second The Big Leap as a great resource for anyone who’s interested in halting self-sabotage. It’s a really interesting read! 🙂

  4. Yes, I have heard of Imposter Syndrome, and definitely have those moments! Although I am 1 1/2 years into a great company in my chosen career field (Marketing & Communications) and have 6 years of total experience, I do have moments of doubting myself and thinking I’m not “enough” for this position and it’s only a matter of time before they realize it and can me (“So they can try to hire and train someone else with your skills and experience?! Good luck!” my rational brain replies)

    I love this quote: “Life is supposed to flow. You’re meant to do things you’re gifted at and to get results without feeling like you had to try that hard. You thrive when you’re “in the zone” and enjoying yourself.” I agree completely! I hate the fact that stress and struggle have become a badge of honor. We were not meant to toil away in jobs that burn us out, kill our spirit and decrease our motivation! But so many people have become resolved to live the struggle.

    1. I think so many people are “resolved to live the struggle” (which is a great way to phrase it, by the way!), because they have no idea what else is possible. It blows my mind how many people never even realize it’s not necessary to opt-in to the culture of stress and struggle. Glad you know you don’t have to!

  5. The jobs themselves have come pretty easy to me. The part I’ve always struggled with is the politicking, which seems to be required to move up within companies.

    1. Cheryl — I think you’re right that in most corporate culture, politics are part of the deal. HOWEVER, I don’t necessarily believe that we have to play the game along with them. I’ve coached many clients who, when they altered their own perspectives and mentality, felt that they could still participate in the working world without feeling like they were at the mercy of politics of bureaucracy. It has a LOT to do with our own mentality and awareness, which is good news I think!

  6. As a black woman I’ve felt this way countless times – feeling that someone overlooked my inadequacies and I just got lucky, and that it wouldn’t last, that I had to work harder or couldn’t be myself because I didn’t really belong.
    Last year I found Thandie Newton’s TedTalk ” Embracing Otherness, Embracing Myself ” and it changed my life. This is the first time since then something has touched me the same way.

    Thank you.

    1. You’re so welcome, and thank you for quite a big compliment! I’ll have to check out that Ted Talk … sounds like it’s definitely worth watching!

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