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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss


It’s a curious thing. Interviews with thousands of high achieving individuals reveal that many have felt at one time or another that they were imposters. On the face of it this seems contradictory at best, bordering on the bizarre. Why should individuals who are accomplished leaders feel they are undeserving? It is not borne out of a sense of humility, those who confessed to this feeling say that they have been filled with crippling doubt and insecurity despite a record of achievement most of us would envy. They not only felt their success was undeserved, they lived in fear that one day they would be found out; exposed for the losers they really were.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since a good friend told me that he had experienced this feeling. Without revealing too much detail, let me say that my friend is a very successful individual, a self-made man in fact, who runs a billion-dollar business employing thousands. What’s more, he is well liked and respected by his peers and competitors alike. It would be a mistake to regard him as an isolated case, however, I know a number of men and women like him. In fact, I learned from the former CEO of a national recruiting firm that this is a not uncommon affliction.

Clearly individuals who have experienced this sense of insecurity are neither losers nor imposters. I suspect they may share in common a different trait; the belief that their accomplishments are not their own but the result of others, good fortune or fate. If we believe that the world is simply a construct of happenstance it makes sense that our good luck can be swept away in the blink of an eye. While I will leave deeper psychological analysis to those better equipped, I might be tempted to offer yet another explanation. Perhaps these individuals have set the bar so high they fear they will fail? That would certainly account for their anxiety.

One thing seems clear, those folks who have succumbed to such insecurity see themselves as agents of their own undoing, and that is what I want to explore. If we unpack these explanations a bit further, we can see that they all begin from the assumption that accomplishment rests entirely with the individual. Either we are fortunate or not, capable or not, responsible for our own success or not. After all we celebrate self-reliance. Even the expression I used earlier, self-made, suggests that the entire credit for our accomplishment’s rests solely with us. I submit this is not the case.

This is not to say that we play no part in our fortunes. In fact, we play an instrumental part, seizing on opportunity, willing ourselves to undertake the effort to learn and do what is necessary to succeed. When we fall prey to doubt and fear, it is because we fail to credit any other agency beyond ourselves. Deep within us we know what we may not be willing to confess. We are not entirely on our own. There is within us that higher self, the being that drives us forward appealing to our best nature, desiring nothing more or less than that we become the very best versions of ourselves we are able. When our confidence slips it is because deep within us, we intuitively understand that by ourselves we are not able to accomplish the things we have. Our doubt stems from this recognition, that by grace as well as our own fortitude we have done what we have done.

There are those who believe otherwise; who think they alone are the captains of their destiny. I have no quarrel with them, they are welcome to their view. I fear for them, though, knowing that we all must reckon one day with forces greater than our own. Thrust back on themselves, unable to overcome obstacles beyond them, to what or whom will they turn? That day has come for me before, and surely it will come again. When it does, I will not hesitate to look beyond myself for the strength to prevail, and the wisdom to understand that I am able to do all within my power and nothing more. I cannot be unmasked, I am just a human being endowed with all the limits and frailties of my kind, but there dwells within me one that is greater than me, and that is the one to whom I turn.

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