The fear of being exposed

Do you sometimes worry that—any minute now—you’ll be exposed? That others will realize that you’re a pretender, that you don’t know what you’re doing?

This fear is known as impostor syndrome. The more you push yourself, the more likely you are to suffer from it. As far as I can tell, anyone who frequently pushes themselves out of their comfort zone experiences impostor syndrome sometimes.

And that’s okay—fear is part of life, and so is the fear of being exposed as an impostor.

But a problem arises when you compare yourself (a beginner) to experts.

For example, I write to you every day. So does Seth Godin, who has written 17 books and whose blog is among the most popular in the world.

If I compare myself with Seth Godin, I’ll find that his posts are more inspiring, funnier, cleverer, that they’ll make you think more, etc. And all this while Seth’s posts use fewer words than mine!

But I have written perhaps 80 blog posts in my life. It would be fairer to compare my posts to Seth’s first 100 blog posts. And even then there might be all sorts of confounding factors.

Now, you and I both know that it’s better to focus on ourselves than to compare ourselves with others. Compare Present You with Past You and see whether you’ve made progress.

But if you’re going to compare yourself with others—I definitely do sometimes—then compare yourself when the beginner version of those others.

If you’re a musician, compare yourself with the Beatles when they were playing in a bar every night. If you’re a neuroscience student, ask your famous professor what he worked on when he was doing his master’s degree.

There’s nothing wrong with being new to something. We all start there. And towards others, simply be honest and tell them what you can do and do have experience with. They’ll trust you and want to work with you for your honesty.


— Peter

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