Being Unmasked as an Imposter

As you might expect, failure isn’t all that popular an activity. And yet, not everyone reacts to it by breaking out in hives. While many of the people (in a recent study) hated tasks that they didn’t do well, some people thrived under the challenge. They positively relished things they weren’t very good at—for precisely the reason that they should have: when they were failing, they were learning.  

For growth people, challenges are an opportunity to deepen their talents, but for “fixed” people, they are just a dipstick that measures how high your ability level is. Finding out that you’re not as good as you thought is not an opportunity to improve; it’s a signal that you should maybe look into a less demanding career, like mopping floors.    

This fear of being unmasked as the incompetent you “really” are is so common that it actually has a clinical name: impostor syndrome. A shocking number of successful people (particularly women), believe that they haven’t really earned their spots, and are at risk of being unmasked as frauds at any moment. Many people deliberately seek out easy tests where they can shine, rather than tackling harder material that isn’t as comfortable.

Megan Mcardle writing in the Atlantic

Why you make terrible life choices

In a classic experiment, Princeton and Dartmouth students were shown a game between the two schools. At the end, Princeton students remembered more fouls committed by Dartmouth, and Dartmouth students remembered more fouls committed by Princeton.

You seek evidence that confirms your beliefs because being wrong sucks. Being wrong means you’re not as smart as you thought. So you end up seeking information that confirms what you already know.

When you walk into every interaction trying to prove yourself right, you’re going to succumb to confirmation bias-the human tendency to seek, interpret and remember information that confirms your own pre-existing beliefs.

Researchers studied two groups of children in school. The first group avoided challenging problems because it came with a high risk of being wrong. The second group actively sought out challenging problems for the learning opportunity, even though they might be wrong. They found that the second group consistently outperformed the first.

Focus less on being right and more on experiencing life with curiosity and wonder. When you’re willing to be wrong, you open yourself up to new insights.

Lakshmi Mani

Looking back on failure

When you look back on your choices from a year ago, you should always hope to find a few decisions that seem stupid now because that means you are growing. If you only live in the safety zone where you know you can’t mess up, then you’ll never unleash your true potential. If you know enough about something to make the optimal decision on the first try, then you’re not challenging yourself.

James Clear

enthusiam makes the difference

As part of an experiment, midcareer executives competed against one another by pitching business plans to other execs at the same level. After the presentations, the executives rated all the plans. MIT researchers discovered they could predict which plans would be well received, just by observing the presenter’s tone of voice. The greater the presenter’s excitement and confidence, the more likely the plan would be met with approval. Think about that: The enthusiasm and charisma of the presenter was as critical to the plan’s success as the facts he or she was presenting.

The MIT researchers also found these elements played a critical role in a fruitful outcome:

* a consistent tone and motion

* confidence and practice

* mirroring the interviewer's gestures

* acting active and helpful

Stephen Goforth

seeing victory

A plank 12” wide laying on the floor would be easy to walk. Place the same plank between two ten story buildings and “walk the plank” is a different matter. You “see” yourself easily and safely walking the plank on the floor. You “see” yourself falling from the plank stretched between the buildings. Since the mind completes the picture you paint in it, your fears are quite real. Many times a golfer will knock a ball in the lake or hit it out of bounds and then stop back with the comment, “I know I was going to do that.” His mind painted a picture and his body completed the action. On the positive, side, the successful gofer knows that he must ‘see’ the ball going into the cup before he strokes it. A hitter in baseball sees the ball dropping in for a base hit before he swings at the ball, and the successful salesman sees the customer buying before he makes the calls. Michelangelo clearly saw the Mighty Moses in that block of marble before he struck the first blow.

Zig Ziglar, See You at the Top

I just thought I would call and tell you

Your telephone rings and the voice at the other end says, “Friend, don’t be disturbed. I don’t want to borrow any money and I have no favors to ask. I just thought I would call and tell you that I think you’re one of the nicest persons who ever draw a breath of air. You are an asset to your profession and a credit to your community. You’re the kind of person I like to be with because every time I’m around you, I feel inspired and motivated to do a better job. I wish I could see you every day because you motivate me to be my best self. That’s all I want to say, friend. Look forward to seeing you soon.”

Now, if a close friend called you and said those things to you what kind of day would you have? Remember, you know the words are sincere because they are coming from a close friend.

If you were a doctor, would you be a better doctor? If you were a teacher, would you be a better teacher? Regardless of who you are or what you do, you know in your own mind you wouldn’t only be better at your job, but you would be happier wouldn’t you?

How much more would you know about being a doctor? Or a sales person? Or a lawyer? How much more would you know if you had gotten that phone call? The answer obviously is you wouldn’t know any more. Still, in your own mind you know you would be better and happier.

You would say, "I’m an asset to my community and a credit to my profession. That old boy said so and he is one more smart cookie."

You wouldn’t argue with him for one single moment. You would see yourself in a different light. Your self-image would change and at that instant an interesting thing happens. You confidence goes up and when your confidence goes up, you r competence goes up at the same time.

Since you know what this kind of phone call would do for you, why don’t you do the same thing for someone else?

Zig Ziglar, See You at the Top

wired to blunder

We're hardwired to make blunders and avoiding them requires nearly superhuman discipline. Four tendencies conspire to sabotage our decisions at critical moments:


We think we're smarter than we are, so we think the stocks we've chosen will deliver even when the market doesn't. When evidence contradicts us, we're blinded by...


We seek information that supports our actions and avoid information that doesn't. We interpret ambiguous evidence in our favor. We can cite an article that confirms our view but can't recall one that challenges it. Even when troubling evidence becomes unavoidable, we come up against...


We like leaving things the way they are, even when doing so is objectively not the best course. Plenty of theories attempt to explain why, but the phenomenon is beyond dispute. And supposing we could somehow fight past these crippling biases, we'd still face the mother of all irrationalities in behavioral finance...

LOSS AVERSION (and its cousin, regret avoidance)

We hate losing more than we like winning, and we're terrified of doing something we'll regret. So we don't buy and sell when we should because maybe we'll realize a loss or miss out on a gain.

These tendencies are so deep-rooted that knowing all about them isn't nearly enough to extinguish them. The best we can do is wage lifelong war against them and hope to gain some ground.

Geoff Colvin (from his Fortune Magazine article "Investor March Madness: We're Wired for Blunders, but can Improve Odds")

stomping of the foot (before storming out of class)

I'll never forget the student who charged out of one of my first philosophy classes. The professor had challenged the student's view of religion and the young man stomped his foot, turned red, yelled, and left the room.

Why such an emotional outburst? Perhaps his beliefs were built on a weak foundation. A little rhetoric from an authority figure threatened to topple the structure. When we accept the conclusions of other people, never figuring out the "why" for ourselves, weak lay a weak foundation. Should we intentionally avoid opposing view points? It turns out we naturally steer clear of conflict.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found the less certain you are about what you believe, the more likely you’ll stay away from opposing viewpoints (and freak out when you run across opposing opinion). After reviewing nearly 100 studies, they came to the conclusion that people tend minimize their exposure when they are less certain and less confident in their own position. In fact, we're nearly twice as likely to completely avoid differing opinions than we are to give consideration to different ideas. For those who are close-minded the percentage jumps even higher. Three-out-of-four times the close-minded person will stick to what supports their own conclusions. Details of the study are in the Psychological Bulletin by Researchers.

Stephen Goforth


Labels are shortcuts. They allow us to easily dismiss the people to whom they are attached. If you ask a blind person what he would like more than anything else in the world (aside from regaining his sight) you’ll invariably get an answer like this: I want people to accept me as a person in spite of my handicap. I don’t want to be defined as a blind person. I want to be known as a person who happens to blind.

What the blind person is asking sounds suspiciously like something from the Sermon on the Mount. “Don’t label, and then you won’t be labeled.”

Labels not only can be turned outward, they can be turned inward. Labeling ourselves can start a pessimistic, downward spiral. “I can’t tell good jokes at parties” soon becomes “I’m no fun at parties” and eventually “People don’t want me around.”

People who overeat soon find themselves saying, “I’m the kind of person who overeats.” It’s a subtle, but damning difference. Or it can be “I’m the kind of person who has to keep smoking.”

The label becomes a shortcut way to deny the possibility of change.

Stephen Goforth

The creative process

The creative process is often not responsive to conscious efforts to initiate or control it. It does not proceed methodically or in programmatic fashion. It meanders. It is unpredictable, digressive, capricious. As one scientist put it, “I can schedule my lab hours, but I can’t schedule my best ideas.”

Creative individuals have the capacity to free themselves from the web of social pressures in which the rest of us are caught. They don’t spend much time asking “What will people say?” The fact that “everybody’s doing it” doesn’t mean they’re doing it. They question assumptions that the rest of us accept. As J. P. Guilford has pointed out, they are particularly gifted in seeing the gap between what is and what could be (which means, of course, that they have achieved a certain measure of detachment from what is.

It is easy to fall into the romantic exaggeration in speaking of the capacity of people of originality to stand apart. Those who are responsible for the great innovative performances have always built on the work of others, and have enjoyed many kinds of social support, stimulation and communication. They are independent but they are not adrift.

John Gardner, Self-Renewal

How to Shape the Future

The future is shaped by men and women with a steady, even zestful, confidence that on balance their efforts will not have been in vain. They take failure and defeat not as reason to doubt themselves but as reason to strengthen resolve. Some combination of hope, vitality and indomitability makes them wiling to bet their lives on ventures of unknown outcomes.

John Gardner

Mental shortcuts work until problems get complex

Franck Schuurmans, a guest lecturer at the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania, has captivated audiences with explanations of why people make irrational business decisions. A simple exercise he uses in his lectures is to provide a list of 10 questions such as, “In what year was Mozart born?” The task is to select a range of possible answers so that you have 90 percent confidence that the correct answer falls in your chosen range. Mozart was born in 1756, so for example, you could narrowly select 1730 to 1770, or you could more broadly select 1600 to 1900. The range is your choice. Surprisingly, the vast majority choose correctly for no more than five of the 10 questions. Why score so poorly? Most choose too narrow bounds. The lesson is that people have an innate desire to be correct despite having no penalty for being wrong.

Gary Cokins writing for icrunchdata News

Have Confidence!

Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself succeeding. Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade. Do not be awestruck by other people and try to copy them. Nobody can be you as efficiently as YOU can. Remember also that most people, despite their confident appearance and demeanor, are often as scared as you are and as doubtful of themselves. 

Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking

Have Courage!

Happiness is not enough to insure a fulfilling life. It is imperative to have courage, not merely happiness. To be fulfilling, happiness must derive from the courage that leads one to face stressful circumstances and to do the necessary hard work of transforming them from potential disasters into growth opportunities.

One particularly relevant study by my research team and me showed that hardiness was more effective than optimism (happiness) in helping people cope with stresses by growing through them, rather than stagnating. This showed how happiness, devoid of courage, can be laced with naive complacency.

Salvatore R. Maddi