Reminder: Everyone is a fraud

Photo courtesy of Gregory Strakos

 

One of my first jobs was working for a (now-defunct) department store. I was assigned to the warehouse, when I would be in charge of retrieving items from the shelves and bringing them to the cashier or to people’s cars.

I was 17 years old and still living at home, so I was just doing this as a way of making some money for living expenses. The job itself wasn’t very taxing (at least not mentally), but it was still a grown-up job in a grown-up store and filled with other grown-ups. Customers who bought their TVs and microwaves from this place would be relying on me in some small way.

In short, I felt a little bit like a kid given the keys to a plane. Behind the cockpit door, no one knew it was me trying to fly. I was a total fraud.

Luckily for all of us, this is a condition shared by approximately everyone.

When do we become grown-ups?

I used to think that companies were filled with professional, competent, qualified people, who all were secure in their duties and committed to their tasks.

At every job I’ve had, there’s a point when I look around and wonder how in the world I’ve been entrusted with this level of responsibility. It’s not that I’ve shirked my duties, only that I just find it wild to think that I’m part of what makes a given organization work.

But the logical leap is small: if I don’t feel truly qualified to do what I’m doing, then I can’t be the only one feeling that way. Maybe we all feel incompetent and unqualified.

Casual interviewing of people around me confirms this: we all feel like frauds at what we do.

The world still turns

I don’t know about you, but understanding this is intensely relieving on multiple levels.

On a personal level, if everyone feels like a fraud, then it’s okay for me to feel that way too. There’s nothing special or unique about my insecurities. I’m statistically unlikely to be somehow “more incompetent” than everyone else.

But the more pleasing revelation, at least to me, is the large picture: the world still turns, even when run by frauds. If everyone is a fraud, and here we all still are, then how neat is that?

I don’t want to minimize the problems we have. Things most assuredly aren’t perfect, and that there is certainly room for societal improvement, both in the way we treat and take care of our fellow citizens and preserve this blue dot we live on.

But it takes only a brief swing through dystopian fiction to realize how bad things could be. And therefore we can be grateful that all that has not come to pass.

So if you ever feel like a fraud, you probably are. So am I. So is everyone. Welcome.

Mike Pumphrey

Mike Pumphrey

I'm the founder and author of Unlikely Radical, a site to help people succeed with money, achieve their goals, and live intentionally.

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Mike Pumphrey
Posted on November 27, 2014
  • Great points Mike!
    Just came over from your guest post on Puttylike.

    I agree that most people fake it till they make it. It has been that way in the last company I worked and I experience this over and over again now being self-employed. Unfortunately there are many scammers out there claiming to know the secret to over-night success.

    While working in companies, I think it’s natural to think you’re a fraud from time to time. Depending on the industry (I was a business consultant for IT) you’re presented with new challenges almost daily, so it’s normal to be insecure.

    Engaging in the online world however, I feel there’s only one way to be successful: being honest about your achievements.

    I still share every mistake I make and every success I encounter. I don’t say I know all the answers, because I don’t. But I share that I’m becoming more skilled in what I do, by making mistakes. That’s how humans learn after all.

    All the best,
    Jan

    • Hi Jan. Welcome! I think you make an excellent point, which is that it’s okay to share your struggles as well as your successes. Michael Hyatt calls this the “Sherpa” role in blogging (the trusted guide who has made mistakes but learned from them). And some of my more popular posts have been the ones about my travel hacking blunders.

      So with that in mind, I do think I will endeavor to say more about those sorts of things in the coming year. Thanks for the inspiration!