Scratch even the most successful people and you’ll likely find they suffer from imposter syndrome: The inner belief that you are inadequate and mediocre, despite evidence that shows you’re extremely skilled, extremely accomplished, and extremely talented.
Like Paul McCartney. He’s written (or co-written) 32 Billboard #1 songs. He’s won 18 Grammies. He’s worth — not that money is the only measure of success, but still — an estimated $1.2 billion. Shoot: Yesterday has been covered over 2,200 times by other artists.
Yet even Sir Paul feels like an imposter:
You never think you’re good. I really ought to think I’m fantastic because I have this pile of achievements… but I’m still going, “Oh, can I do it…?’
There’s a line in a song on my latest album, ‘Everybody else busy doing better than me.’ I still think that way. I really do think that. I have to ague with myself and think, ‘That’s probably not true.’
He’s not alone; at least one recent study estimates that over eighty percent of adults experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives.
In fact, imposter syndrome tends to be more prevalent among high achievers, if only because you first have to experience success in order to feel your success was based on luck, or circumstance… or that someday soon, people will see you for who you “really” are.
That’s why most advice for overcoming imposter syndrome focuses on developing self-confidence. On sense-checking your perspective with people able, unlike you, to see you objectively. On finding ways to better deal with anxiety and insecurity.
In short, to see yourself for who you really are.
But also doesn’t make sense, especially if your problem is struggling to see yourself for who you really are. (Like telling someone who lacks confidence, “You need to be more confident.” Like that helps.)
The problem doesn’t lie with how you perceive yourself. The problem lies in how you perceive other successful people.
It’s easy to assume that highly successful people possess qualities you don’t have. Intelligence. Talent. Insight. Skill. They’re “special.”
But that’s never the case. Extremely successful people aren’t that different from you and I; they have just worked really, really hard to become exceptional at one thing. McCartney with music. Warren Buffett with investing. Mark Cuban with spotting and seizing business opportunities.
Otherwise, they’re normal. What makes them “special” is the effort, persistence, focus, and discipline they apply to their craft.
Scratch the surface of the most successful people, and you’ll likely find they too suffer from imposter syndrome.
Scratch the surface of the most successful people, and you’ll definitely find they are no different from the rest of us.
Instead of trying to see yourself for who you really are, start seeing other people for who they really are: Normal people who have worked, and learned, and trained to do — not to be, but to do — a few things exceptionally well.
Do that, and you’ll feel like less of an imposter. And more empowered to work hard to become exceptional at whatever you choose.
But with time and effort and persistence, we can all achieve special things.