THE FRAUDULENCE PARADOX – The more you try not to feel like a fraud, the more of a fraud you feel.
The harder you try to convey an impressive or likable image of yourself so that other people won’t find out what a hollow, fraudulent person you really are, the more hollow and fraudulent you feel.
The more time and effort you put into trying to appear impressive or attractive to other people, the less impressive or attractive you feel inside.
A Guilty Secret of High Performers
It was David Foster Wallace who first named the Fraudulence Paradox, in his short story, Good Old Neon:
“My whole life I’ve been a fraud. I’m not exaggerating. Pretty much all I’ve ever done all the time is try to create a certain impression of me in other people. Mostly to be liked or admired.
It’s a little more complicated than that, maybe. But when you come right down to it it’s to be liked, loved. Admired, approved of, applauded, whatever. You get the idea.
I did well in school, but deep down the whole thing’s motive wasn’t to learn or improve myself but just to do well, to get good grades and make sports teams and perform well…”
I know this one so well.
And I’ve seen it in clients, from a multi-millionaire who ran a billion dollar hedge fund, to a British Special Forces Operative, to a Senior Vice President of one of Hollywood’s top film studios.
The Perpetual Fraud Paradox
Wallace goes on to explain a secondary paradox that states even when you realize that you’re being run by the Fraudulence Paradox, you can’t escape its grip:
“Logically, you would think that the moment a supposedly intelligent nineteen-year-old became aware of this paradox, he’d stop being a fraud and just settle for being himself (whatever that was) because he’d figured out that being a fraud was a vicious infinite regress that ultimately resulted in being frightened, lonely, alienated, etc. But here was the other, higher-order paradox, which didn’t even have a form or name — I didn’t, I couldn’t.”
There Is A Way Out
My name’s Rich and I’m a fraud.
I’ve spent much of my life trying to look good and trying to impress you (whoever you are).
I scan Facebook for “likes” and then feel empty inside.
I hope you’ll like me. Even if I don’t like you. Sometimes especially when I don’t like you.
I pretend to feel comfortable even when I’m not.
I pretend to fit in even when I don’t.
I smile a lot as a way to stay safe.
I smile when I’m scared in social situations. I can feel lonely in the middle of a crowd.
I’d rather support you than allow you to support me. I even built a career around doing so.
In AA they have a saying, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.”
Real freedom is on the other side of your secrets. When they’re no longer secret.
And that’s the way out of the Fraudulence Paradox.
Call yourself out.
Own how you’re a fraud.
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