The Imposter Syndrome and how to beat it

By | July 11, 2016

Some intrepid reporters interviewed me last week and, in turn, my babbling appeared in different locations around the internet. As a result, my stats are booming. The Twitter thing keeps chirping at me. I fear that my email inbox is now insurmountable with too many messages I would like to reply to, but only 24 precious hours in a day. People I haven’t talked to in years waved over the web at me to say how awesome they think I am.

me 2

Feeling up a statue in Madrid. Don’t worry, he was into it.

So I’m feeling a wee bit of pressure from all this exposure. With a lot of new eyes peering at me and a lot of old eyes moist with pride, I feel obligated to tell you something, dear reader.

I have no idea what I’m doing.

A few years ago the term “imposter syndrome” started floating around the internet and a million personal reflections and articles followed with everyone eager to show off their humble bonafides.

Imposter Syndrome is

a feeling of phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.

I can relate to this phenomenon because I’m an imposter. It’s not humility that forces me to question all the praise; it’s the terrifying thought that if I’m the template of a successful human, our species might be screwed. There are so many problems in the world and I want to solve one so freaking badly. It’s another item on that life bucket list. Unfortunately, I have no idea what to do about any of them because I have no idea what I’m doing in general.

I can only stop thinking about my Worry List when I concede to my anxiety that I’m an imposter. Someone else who is not an imposter will figure this shit out. Humanity has faced oblivion many times in the past. It’ll be okay.

This cat is waiting for the bus stop. Hehe. Silly cat.

This cat is waiting for the bus stop. Hehe. Silly cat.

Here’s part two of my confession. I’m lucky. I know I’m lucky. I know luck is 95% of the reason that I’m sitting here today.

First, my starting line was pretty good (and where you end usually depends on where you start). I popped out into existence with a yawn and sweet spot in the Universe – as an apex predator with opposable thumbs in a calm part of the galaxy. Score! I was born into the right family at the right time. You are who you are either (a) because of where you and/or your parents were born or (b) in spite of where you and/or your parents were born. I am definitely in the former category.

I’m lucky that I was in the “right” generation from that old proverb – a vantage point where I could clearly see the value of money, but not the struggle to subsist or the eventual squander. My genetic makeup, modern medicine and technology have, so far, kept me and everyone I hold super dear to my heart relatively healthy. Touch wood.

The aforementioned genetic makeup has also graced me with the love of reading and the spot in the universe indulged me with easy access to libraries. You’d be amazed by how much people have written about joy and finance and friendship and lists and everything in between. I am thankful that I enjoy reading because that makes the world my oyster. Humanity’s cumulative knowledge is written down, y’all. It’s all out there!

Malaysia.

Malaysia.

I’m lucky I did well on standardized tests. I’m lucky that I graduated college when I did. I’m lucky that I graduated law school when I did. I’m lucky that some of the books I read made sense to me. I’m lucky that I realized that “addiction to money is no less real than one to heroin.”

Sure, I’ll gleefully concede that I’m lucky. I know I made more money than the average bear when I was working as a lawyer, so it may be easy to dismiss my advice on money. But that would be stupid. Nobody is going to be in your exact same situation. You take what you can from other people’s thoughts and experiences and go from there.

I know the flashy headlines say I retired after working for 5 years, but I worked as a teenager. I worked in college. I worked after college. I worked in law school. I worked after law school. The more nuanced headline is that I worked for five years as a lawyer which allowed me to grow my nest egg large enough to assuage my own personal anxiety about money.

Maybe you won’t be able to do it as fast as I did, but so what? We had different starting points and we had different periods where Lady Luck graced us with her largesse. I’m guessing that you’re about as lucky as I am. Those are the odds about luck. I’m not extraordinary. I have no idea what I’m doing. I take from other people’s ideas and experiment to see what works for me. This is the path I’m walking and I’m enjoying the journey.

Found in Jamaica.

Found in Jamaica.

I know the second part of the title teases that I’d show you how to beat this imposter syndrome thing, but that was a lie to lure you in. Sorry.

Here’s a tiny nugget though: 95% might be luck. That 5% is still me. Okay, at least 2% is me. I also like to go all Saturday Night Live and tell myself: “You know as much as most people. You’re as lucky as most people. You work harder (or just as hard) as most people. You’re good enough. You’re smart enough. And doggone it, people like you.”

Except the haters. But the haters have to hate. If they didn’t hate, they’d just be normal people.

23 thoughts on “The Imposter Syndrome and how to beat it

  1. Diane

    You have your head where it belongs. Keep experimenting with life and enjoy your journey of new discoveries…about the world and about yourself. Ignore the haters. They’re not worth your time.

    Reply
  2. Zille

    Nice Pictures Wish you enjoy more places. I love travelling by car and see the nature.

    Reply
  3. Chris

    I love that last point: haters have to hate otherwise they would be normal people. Helps you not to take it personally. Puts the responsibility there where it is: with the hater and not with us. Helps to keep to the toltec agreements.

    Reply
  4. Vicki@MakeSmarterDecisions

    Love the quote at the end (above the haters part – which is also so true!) Love the part about Imposter Syndrome. It took me forever to think that I had something to actually offer – not really sure why. I’m here now though and loving it, although I clearly do not know what I am doing either… I too was brought up in a home where hard work was the norm and money was not squandered. We had anything we needed, but not everything and we live by that today.

    Reply
  5. Juanita Martinez

    Nonsense! You worked hard in law school, earned a degree, got a job. I understand being humble, but I think you might be in denial that you had at least more than 50% part in this. First and foremost, never feel guilty for your blessed life, it keeps you from enjoying it.

    Reply
  6. jlcollinsnh

    You did what many do not. You made the most of the luck that came your way and, importantly, avoid the traps that come with it.

    I think our mutual friend, Mr. Money Mustache, has the best response to the naysayers:

    “But there’s also no doubt that many people, with fewer advantages than you, have overcome them to achieve much greater things”

    I’m in the “you’re awesome camp.” But you know that already! 🙂

    Reply
  7. vangie lee

    A friend once said to me ” If you don’t have haters in your life, you are doing something wrong”.
    So experiencing haters in the walk of life is normal in my view. There are those who love you and
    those can’t stand you. The Yin and the Yang of existence.

    Reply
  8. Harmony @ CreatingMyKaleidoscope

    Thank you for this honest post and your uncensored humility. I definitely struggle with imposter syndrome – in more than one way. It often feels like I’m making it up as I go along with work, writing, and parenting. However, interactions with people in real life often feel disingenuous as well. I try to have normal conversation with people, but they want to discuss topics related to their consumerist and status-related goals. I don’t want to reveal my true intentions just yet, because we need my income to pay off debt and achieve financial semi-independence. So I’m left struggling to have a normal conversation, and it just feels really wrong.

    Reply
  9. tt

    if grey hair counts for anything, tis the conclusion the over-confident & those lacking humility create the lions share of difficulties for all.

    Reply
  10. mike

    I believe I saw your story in The Daily Mail. So, like when stories are written about MMM, I go to the comment section. Evidently, success really can’t be had, and you along with MMM are not telling the truth.

    In regards to the impostor syndrome, I have another syndrome, though I think it’s related. I believe I’m so wealthy, that I’m not deserving. For the rest of my life, I don’t need to lift a finger and I’m fed, housed, clothed and with Visa hacking, next to free world travel. Amazing what a life of frugality and common sense can accomplish.

    Reply
  11. Alex9803258722

    Wow, I read some of the comments in that Daily Mail article… The haters are prolific. The fact that so many of them fail to understand (what is otherwise pretty simple math) is what makes you exceptional and worth writing about. Keep doing what you’re doing!! I have recommended my friends read your blog, along with MMM, jlcollinsnh, and gocurreycracker, so I think you’re in pretty good company :-).

    Reply
  12. Rajen

    hi,
    don’t doubt yourself. sure luck plays its part. you are on the right track. now, you may be your time has come. enjoy it…

    Reply
  13. Leigh

    My parents paid in full for my college education. A lot of people believe this makes people lazy. Yet I graduated from college with just over $30k in the bank. I don’t know anyone else whose parents paid for college who graduated with savings. There may be some luck, but I still chose carefully what to do with my money: grow wealth. Just like you did. I took my cards and ran with them. Not everyone does that. Own your success, Anita!

    Reply
  14. Peyton

    Boom! You knocked it out of the park with this post. I’ve been following a while, but this post clearly stands out and I admire you for ‘putting it out there’. Keep living the dream and occasionally updating/encouraging others on it!

    Reply
  15. JoSo

    You don’t give yourself enough credit. I know many well-paid, middle-aged attorneys. The majority don’t like their jobs, but none are near financial independence because they spend most of what they make. You should be very proud of yourself. Bravo. Also, I read all the negative, nasty comments about you on Forbes. It takes a very humble, patient person to write a response like this. You obviously have your head screwed on straight.

    Reply
  16. Biglaw Investor

    Another great post Anita!

    You should be very proud of what you’ve accomplished. Many people outside of Biglaw won’t get it (although you only have to read the comments above to know that quite a few people do understand).

    As a fellow Biglaw lawyer, the execution of your plan is simply marvelous. As Peter Thiel said about working in Biglaw, “Everyone on the outside wanted in, and everyone on the inside wanted out.”

    Not only did you get out, but you left with a ton of money and you’ve been brave enough to put yourself out there as an example for other lawyers.

    Thanks for that!

    -Josh

    Reply
  17. Millionaire Confidential

    Just a matter of to what extent.

    There are those who will covet your life, appreciate what you have done and aspire to emulate. The petty push it too far and raise doubt and suspicion because if what you have done is real, it simply highlights what they don’t have.

    Curious of any guilt for the good fortunate you have… have any? how do you deal with it?

    Reply
  18. zeejaythorne

    Starting on third means nothing if you never try to steal home. You are definitely running and understand how the game works.

    I’ve never met a successful woman who did not have imposter syndrome.

    Reply
  19. Marty

    You are only an impostor if you pretend to be greater/smarter/richer etc. than you truly are.

    Scale back your claims to the truth, and you are a roaring success.

    And the truth is that you are an accomplished human who does not do intentional evil, and tries to assure that the rest of humanity has a better chance for success because of (not in spite of) your efforts.

    Ta-da! (P.S. This works for everyone.)

    Reply
  20. DougM

    I’ve been a reader of your blog for the last year (you’re a terrific writer!) but I very much enjoyed the Daily Mail article too. I did something similar, saved a pile of money & stuck it into Vanguard index funds in 2012, left the workforce in 2014. Not sure what I’ll be doing down the road & not too worried about it–but sure am enjoying your view 🙂

    Reply
  21. walter

    if you are an example of a screwed human template, i’ve been waiting in this virtual blog line, along w/everybody else, to be likewise screwed. whatever Kool-Aid recipe your peddling, i’m drinking it by the gallon. the uniqueness of what you have accomplished, lucky or not, i would think we’re all imposters on the outside looking to get in. and by getting in, i mean getting out of the grind. sorry about the haters. i’ve been blissfully imbibing your Kool-Aid, it didn’t even occur to me you had any.

    Reply

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