Imagine you're pre-Shark Tank Barbara Corcoran. Your beginnings are humble. You've worked a number of jobs, including as a receptionist at a Manhattan real estate firm. Then you use a $1,000 loan to start your own business.

Yep: $66 million.

When I sold my business for $66 million and I had made it from scratch out of nothing and the whole world applauded me, written up in all the papers, "Oh she's a genius. Oh, she's this. Oh, she's that."

Do you know what I thought (after) six months? That the whole thing was a fluke. (That I was lucky to) hire the right people, the right offices, promote the right people ... (that) it was a fluke that I was able to fight my competitors and win the number-one market position with the old boy network going against me.

You would stand there and say to me, "Barbara, you actually really believe that?" And I could honest to God on a stack of Bibles say, "I did believe it."

Even after two decades of achievement and an extremely successful exit, Corcoran still felt like an imposter.

Which makes her just like most of us. 

Imposter syndrome is the belief that, despite objective evidence proving you're highly skilled and extremely successful, inside, you feel mediocre at best.

According to Valerie Young, the author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, there are five subgroups of "imposters":

  1. Perfectionists. Set impossibly high goals for themselves, and if they fail to reach those goals, assume they don't measure up. 
  2. Superwomen/supermen. Assume working harder than everyone else is the only thing that will keep them from being exposed as a fraud. 
  3. Natural geniuses. Believe success is based on talent rather than effort, so having to work hard to achieve something is a sign of inadequacy.
  4. Rugged individualists. Feel having to ask for help is a sign they're less capable, skilled, and talented than everyone else.
  5. Experts. Even though other people see them as experts, they assume it's only a matter of time before they're exposed as hacks or quacks.

(Surely you can relate to at least one of those, especially since self-confidence is more situational than absolute.)

Yet Corcoran doesn't try to overcome imposter syndrome. In fact, she embraces it:

Thank God you doubt yourself, because the one thing that I have learned that is true of every single person who is exceptional in whatever they are doing is self-doubt.

Without it, you become big-headed, arrogant ...

The curse of being competent is self-doubt, because competence rides on your own self-doubt. It's the edge of doubt that makes you a performer in anything you do.

Granted, imposter syndrome can be destructive, especially if it causes you to turn down opportunities because of fear of failure. Or to step back when your skills, talent, and experience make you the perfect person to step forward. Or to fail to reach your potential because you're waiting for someone else to discover or "select" you.

But refusing to feel like you've made it -- even when everyone around you celebrates your achievements -- can help you become even more successful. 

Corcoran may have felt like a fraud after selling her real estate firm, but that feeling pushed her to start other businesses, invest in other businesses, and to never stop learning, evolving, and working to become an even better version of herself. 

Instead of trying to overcome imposter syndrome, embrace the fact you'll probably never feel like you've made it -- and use that feeling as fuel to turn "good enough" into great.

And then do that again and again and again. 

Because success isn't a destination. Success is a journey -- and if you've "made it," that means your journey is complete. 

No one wants that.

Published on: Mar 13, 2020
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