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Get Out of Your Own Way by Taming Your ‘Fraud Monster’

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Image via Albert Ziganshin/Shutterstock.com

What Fraud Monster you ask?  If you don’t have some idea of what I’m talking about this article isn’t for you and I’d invite you to spend your time reading one of the other great blogs on Excellence in Government.

On the other hand, if your first reaction to my question is:  “Oh wow – you have one too?” then you may find some comfort knowing that you are not alone in the war you wage against the demons that hold you back, hijack your success, and have you play small in the world. 

Making Friends With My Fraud Monster

In spite of 17 years working in the same field, with some noted success, I still suffer from the fear that I don’t know what I’m doing, that my luck is going to run out and that people are surely about to find out that I am a fraud. It’s a terrible affliction I seemed to have sentenced myself to early in my career.  It wasn’t until recently that I started to figure out how to make peace with what I call my Fraud Monster. 

A few years back a longtime colleague and friend, Joe, called me to talk about doing some work with one of his clients who was the CEO of a fortune 500 company.  The client wanted to do some work with his leadership team. I half listened to Joe as he laid out why he thought I was a good fit to work with the team.  Simultaneously, the other half of me waged the familiar, silent war of confidence with my Fraud Monster who laid out all the reasons this was a really BAD idea:  you don’t know what you are doing, you’ll be found out, you’ve just been lucky up until now.  If you are still reading, you know what I am talking about and have undoubtedly had this same conversation with your Fraud Monster. 

In somewhat of a panic at the mere idea of doing the work Joe wanted me to consider doing I hung up the phone, a slight bit of nausea overtaking me (I realize this sounds ridiculous).  I don’t know what propelled me to do this but I had an immediate and quite serious “get real” moment with myself.  What did I have to lose?  I wrote my friend an email and pretty much laid out what I thought I could contribute. It was the first time I can remember shedding the ‘shoulds’ of what I thought I was supposed to say and instead being totally me, in my own words, and with my own different take on what was possible.  I read what I wrote about what I could contribute and thought – well, clients don’t pay for that stuff.  I sent the email anyway.  My friend responded right away saying “this is exactly why I want you to work on this project.” As we concluded our virtual conversation I had what for me will go down as an “aha” moment in my life and the real point of this story:

I realized I’d spent the better part of my career creating what at that point was a full-fledged Fraud Monster.  He (yes it’s a he) was big and scary and I kept him bolt-locked away in a dark closet - but I knew he was always there.  He would often bang on the closet door, roaring to get out, rarely a moment’s peace would he allow me.  He would sometimes escape from the closet and chase me around, creating fear, intimidation and rendering me powerless; my only option was to run away from him lest he catch and destroy me.

I was tired of waging war.  My energy was depleted.

In a moment of inspiration and with a belief that waging this war was fruitless, I decided to create a game instead.  The game was “make friends with your Fraud Monster.” I recreated my Fraud Monster as being small and instead of being in a closet I imagined that he sits with me, next to my laptop as I’m working. He is (in my mind) small enough that I control him and I can pick him up at any time and move him.  He won’t ever go away, he’s always been with me—it’s just that I’ve spent energy trying to keep him locked in a closet instead of embracing the possibility of making friends with my Fraud Monster.  So, I wouldn’t say he’s a friend though he is with me nearly every day and in some ways he helps me remember to never let my ego take over.  It’s been extraordinarily powerful for me to now relate to my Fraud Monster as being manageable.  Having accepted that I am bigger and more powerful than he is allows me to be peaceful as he sits by my side as I navigate the world. If he gets out of hand, there is always that dark closet!

How Can You Start to Tame Your Fraud Monster?

If you, like I, have suffered under the threat of an escaped Fraud Monster, I hope you find a way to make peace and don’t let him or her hijack the contributions you have to make.  If I was still trying to keep my big scary Fraud Monster locked at bay in some fictitious closet I can wholeheartedly guarantee I wouldn’t be, among other things that I love to do, sharing this story with you right now. 

If you are still reading, invest five more minutes and try the following:

  1. Give a name to whatever is holding you back (what you are afraid of?)
  2. Imagine (and in your mind create) whatever that thing is as something that could actually physically exist (for me, my Fraud Monster is about 7 inches tall with wild scraggly hair and three big buggy dissimilarly sized eyes)
  3. Make sure the image you create is small enough that if it were real you could control it – so you feel you in fact have control over it
  4. Don’t try to make it go away – instead, find a way to be peaceful about whatever it is and trust that creating this new relationship may help shift this thing from holding you back to helping you thrive.

How do you manage feelings that you’re not good enough?

Image via Albert Ziganshin/Shutterstock.com

Sarah Agan is a regular contributor to Excellence in Government. She has spent the past 17 years working with clients across the federal government with a focus on helping individuals and organizations thrive.

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