The Fraud Syndrome

The prolific author Neil Gaiman once said, “The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you.” Surprisingly, Gaiman suffers from impostor syndrome. Someday, when he least expects it, the “fraud police” will knock down his door and reveal him for what he really is: less than. Less than his sixty-seven published novels and comic books. Less than his Newbery and Carnegie medals. Less than his devoted fans and fond critics. If one of the most successful postmodern authors of the century admits to suffering from self-doubt, it begs the question: How many other people feel like a fraud?

The answer may surprise you. About 70 percent of people from all walks of life — men and women — have felt like impostors for at least some part of their careers, across a variety of career paths.

So what exactly is this seemingly ubiquitous affliction? Fraud syndrome is not an empirically defined disorder. You won’t find its description within the pages of the DSM-V. It is essentially an extension of self-doubt. It is the tendency to attribute your accomplishments to good luck, fortuitous timing, or a lack of legitimate competition — anything except your own hard work and innate skills. Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, who pioneered research on this topic, define it as an “internal experience of intellectual phoniness.”

In layman’s terms, if you experience fraud syndrome, you may feel like you don’t deserve your success. At any moment, the-powers-that- be will realize you aren’t as talented as they thought.

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