Have you ever felt like a fraud?
Like really wondered if you were capable of something – just waiting for someone to expose your faults or tell you that you’ve got it wrong.
That’s been me the past few months. If I’m honest, I’ll probably always have moments where I feel this way.
Last year, I left a corporate job and have been doing my own marketing consulting work and personal finance writing. I dealt with the little nagging feeling of being a fraud by ignoring it and just trying to push through. I’d push myself to speak up when I was uncomfortable and ask for more, even when it didn’t feel great. That strategy worked, for a while.
Since starting The Worth Project, I’ve been so excited by the feedback from readers (and the lovely emails I’ve gotten) but I’ve also been terrified that I’d get this all wrong.
Suddenly it wasn’t just me talking 1:1 with a client. It was me writing and giving advice to thousands of people.
Feeling like a fraud went into overdrive:
“Who am I to be giving this advice?”
“I’m really no expert. Other people out there know more than me.”
“I’m probably going to get it wrong. And when I do, I’ll be exposed for everyone to see.”
“What if someone doesn’t like what I say? What if someone “smarter” than me doesn’t agree with what I’m saying?”
So I retreated. I stopped writing. I let myself get in my own way.
But I didn’t fully give up. I kept telling myself that I’d learn more, get a little more experience, and then I’d have more to share. If I could just read one more book or listen to one more talk, I’d know enough to share.
I thought I was avoiding failure by taking a break until I could just learn a few more things. I didn’t want to look like a fool so publicly, right? But by telling myself I’d have more to offer when I did x, y, or z, I was giving into the imposter syndrome. I was buying into the lie that how I currently am isn’t good enough.
To be clear, I do have a lot of experience. I’ve had a successful 10-year career in corporate America working for big-name companies. I learned a lot from my finance and negotiation coursework during my MBA from a really good school. And now as a self-employed individual, I’ve had to get control of my money and speak up and ask for more.
But none of that matters when dealing with feeling like an imposter or fraud. Those feelings aren’t rational so all of the rational arguments about why you shouldn’t feel that way really don’t accomplish much (Trust me, my husband tried all the rational arguments he could think of and I just wasn’t budging).
So if rational arguments didn’t stop me from feeling like a fraud, what did help me get my groove back?
Which, by the way, was shocking to me. I am NOT a journaler.
But I’m not talking about the type of journaling that my twelve-year-old self would do (“omg there’s a cute boy in my class, I have a new favorite pen…I’m writing with it now, and Suzy was just soooooooooo mean to me today”)
Nope. Journaling about my fears, the anxiety I was feeling, and where I was feeling stuck.
I didn’t intentionally decide to start journaling. It started almost by accident. I was on a plane, I’d seen all the movies, and I was feeling a bit icky about my career. I’d lost 3 bids for new work. I’d stopped working on The Worth Project, and I’d gotten a couple of comments that didn’t quite roll off my back (side note: the internet can be mean).
So I opened up my planner and began writing. Writing about what was stressing me out, how I felt about things, and what I really wanted.
I didn’t have an epiphany from journaling, but things began to come into focus. I realized I was hiding because I was scared of failure, but by quitting out of fear, I was failing. I slowly began to start seeing what I could do to get back to a place where I felt good. I had new ideas for clients to pitch, new ideas for ways to expand the work I was currently doing with clients, and a renewed interest in sharing this all right here with you.
What I finally decided was:
I don’t know everything, but I do know some really important things.
The things that I don’t know, I’m learning and sharing as I go.
I’m not a writer, but I want to be able to share stories and ideas with you and have you (writers and non-writers alike) feel comfortable sharing your stories and ideas on here too.
I want you (and me) to ask for raises, start that side hustle, and feel good about your money – making it, investing it, and spending it.
Everyone feels like a fraud sometimes. It’s what you do about it that matters.
Since having this moment on a plane, I’ve journaled a few more times. It’s not a daily habit of mine, but it’s something I now reach for when I’m feeling insecure.
If you’re struggling with imposter syndrome or feeling like a fraud, pick up a pen and a piece of paper and see what comes out. It may help you move past it.
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Erica Gellerman, CPA
Erica Gellerman is a CPA, MBA, personal finance writer, and founder of The Worth Project: a weekly money newsletter you actually want to read. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Money, Business Insider, The Everygirl, The Everymom, and Lifehacker. When she's not writing about personal finance you can find Erica exploring Europe from her temporary home base in London.