How I stopped feeling like a fraud in one easy lesson*

Is a fear of failure or embarrassment holding you back from making your big idea happen? In this guest post, Rachael Lonergan reveals how she overcame stage fright and fear of being called 'a fraud' to go all-in on her biggest and most personal project ever.

“You think, ‘Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?'”

– Meryl Streep, 19 time Academy Award Nominee, three-times winner


I’ve been thinking a lot about imposter syndrome recently. In case you don’t know – but of course you do, because we’ve all been there – it’s a phrase that describes the inability of successful people to internalise their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’.

Even the most powerful and accomplished people suffer from it. Last year I was invited to hear Oprah speak and she said something that continues to resonate with me today.

She said that in literally thousands of interviews, the one consistent thing that people said at the conclusion of an interview whether they were grieving mothers, presidents, prisoners on death row or pop stars, was a version of the question: “Was that okay?”.

We’re all a bit unsure that we know what we’re doing, and we’re all of us seeking validation. The asterix on the headline above is because there are still many days where I feel like I’ll be exposed as a know-nothing numpty. But I’m not worried about it too much, and here’s why.

I’m working on a personal start-up project that has the potential to be ‘a thing’ in the not-for-profit space (no, I am not leaving my day job that I love) and because I’m the ideas person and founder of ‘the thing’ the weight of potential failure sits heavily on my shoulders.


Sometimes I wish I’d kept my idea to myself and my life would be much less stressful. I have days that I worry that ‘the thing’ will launch and the people it’s intended for simply won’t care.

Now, if ‘the thing’ is successful (you’ll hear more in coming months), there is the potential to help a lot of people in need. So despite my anxieties, I battle on, taking with me a growing band of followers and an actively-engaged financial backer who have all bought into my vision. Please don’t get me started on the stress of spending someone else’s money on your idea.

It used to be thought that imposter syndrome was more prevalent in successful women, but we now know that not to be the case; it’s true that women are more likely to talk about their fear of not being up to the task, whereas men internalise the same feelings.

Whether this dynamic is a function of nature or nurture is unclear, but as is the case with most negative behaviour, recognising it exists is the first step to change.

In my experience, perspective is the key to overcoming imposter syndrome.

Years ago I was a singer, and I trained myself out of stage-fright by focusing on the idea that even if I didn’t sing at my absolute best, most people in the audience would think it was great.

I sang at a lot of weddings and my goal was always to make the old ladies cry at my rendition of Ava Maria. As long as I saw evidence of tears, no matter if I’d sung a little flat or forgotten a line, job done.fraud ahead of roadsign

Similarly, when a junior colleague is scheduled to present to an external audience for the first time, I remind them that no one else knows the material they way they do, so even if they fumble their presentation a little bit, they will still be ‘the expert’ in the eyes of the room.

I also encourage them to take as many opportunities as possible to step outside their comfort zone. As the saying goes, ‘confidence is a muscle’.

In both these examples, it’s about looking at the bigger picture and not focusing on the detail that most likely, no one else is going to notice.

You have to keep your eye on the finish line. And it’s totally okay to admit that there’s something you don’t know and seek out people who can help you with knowledge gaps.

I now have a team of skilled advisers helping me bring ‘the thing’ to fruition and I’m not expected to know every detail (although my need to be in control is in conflict with that, but that’s another story…).

If you look at the challenge ahead of you as an opportunity to learn with room to make mistakes, it is a much easier road than if you demand perfection from the get-go. You’re more likely to embrace opportunities if you let go of the idea of perfection.

The most successful entrepreneurs often have a string of failures behind them before they found the thing that clicked. If they can live with often very large and public failures, can I live with a small to medium sized one? Well ideally, no. But what’s the worst that can happen?

So even though sometimes there are days I want to curl up into a ball and forget I ever had my brilliant idea, I also know, in the rational part of my brain that seeks to quiet down the emotional ‘fraud’ that lurks within, that with help, hard work and persistence I CAN DO THIS, and that, once done, it will be the greatest achievement of my life… so far. I’m not discounting something even more amazing happening in the future.

Stranger things have happened.

This article appeared originally on Linked In

Rachael Lonergan is the head of strategy at Foundation


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