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?
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!
Rachel (+ Kristen)