Impostor Syndrome and Fear of Success: Feel Familiar?

In a viral, influencer-centric, digital world, everyone kind of loves and kind of hates the idea that anyone could become successful for anything. On the one hand, it’s inspiring to see regular people get recognized for good work, and you feel like maybe one day, that lottery will fall to you. But, on the other hand, it can feel really fake― or at least that’s a popular word to describe successful people.

But what does it mean to be “fake”? Maybe your success is being blocked by the belief that successful people are fake, and you just can’t sacrifice the realness of who you are right now.

That was true for me, at least. While I’m not even close to influencer status, my business has taken off in just six weeks (plus two years of apologetically trying) from the day I decided to say and do what I wanted for my business. 

This morning I woke up at 6 am, answered client messages, sorted through applications for my ongoing hiring of freelance writers, wrote an 1100 word piece start to finish, hired my first writer, gave feedback to someone who wasn’t ready to join my team yet, polished a collaborative piece to be published on another (much more successful) writer’s website, and fixed up my website so it was ready to be viewed when that guest article published. I also spent a little time with my young kids before they went to spend the day at grandma’s, all by 10:30 am.

If Kelsie from six weeks ago knew what she would wake up to today, she probably would have had a heart attack. The difference between the last six weeks and the past two years is that I decided to take a chance on successful Kelsie and see if she really was fake or not.

Fear of Succes

One of the game changers this round of my freelance writing business was deciding to find a mentor that fit me and do everything they said. For me, that was the Freelance Fairy, Alexandra Fasulo. I devoured her content, spending time every day taking notes while listening to her podcast series, and then purchased three of her courses on freelance writing through Fiverr. 

Then I did everything she said to design my Fiverr profile to be as successful as possible. And it really super worked. Surprise!

One of the best things Alex did for me, though, was during her podcast on imposter syndrome (more on that next). Within that episode, she talked about fear of failure and fear of success. She said if you thought either of those sounded like you, pause the podcast and write about why.

So I did. I was terrified of succeeding, but I had never put into words why that was. As I thought, I realized that I didn’t identify with successful people I knew (or so I thought). My perception came down to three threatening ideas:

One, I believed that successful people had to sacrifice all of life’s fun to work really hard for success. That was a deal-breaker because I love to have fun. 

Two, I had the perception that successful people were lonely. They didn’t have friends because they didn’t have fun, and that successful people are rare, so that no one will relate to them.

Three was about my kids. I had already quit a job that was interfering with my ability to be with my young kids. Nothing was or is more important to me than being a present mom. So what if I was successful and liked it too much and became a bad mom? Or what if people saw I was successful and thought I was a bad mom?

Once I had these ideas down on paper, I was able to see that these were all things that either I could control or that I didn’t want to care about anymore. I love to have fun, so I know that I will always find a way to balance work with fun. I love people and already have a great network of friends and family, and I knew that these people would be excited by my potential success. They wouldn’t abandon me, so I wouldn’t be less connected than I already was. Finally, I had already sacrificed a job to align my values with motherhood, so I knew I could do it again if I felt out of balance.

Fear of success was defined, and with a plan to navigate the fear, I moved on to the next obstacle.

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome means being afraid that someone will find out that you can’t actually pull off what you’re doing. It’s super common, and even more so in women. 

I was filled with thoughts like “who would ever believe that I can write great copy?” and “when my friends see that I think I can do this, they’ll all laugh and roll their eyes,” or “even if this did work, I don’t have the skills to hire people or manage a company! I’ll build a tower just to have everyone watch it fall down.”

One of my favorite ideas from Jen Sincero’s best-selling book “You Are a Badass” is this:

You’re already broke, lonely, and judged. So what about that isn’t worth sacrificing to see if you can at least be financially stable, lonely, and judged?

So, that brings us to what is fake? Our culture worships the idea of authenticity, but do any of us really know what that means?

As far as I have experienced, being fake means saying nice things while “I’m better than you” or “You’re stupid”  is coming out of your eyes or along that vibe. The messages don’t match. Your ability to be fake has nothing to do with how successful you are, then, because everyone can “say nice but do mean,” regardless of status. You shouldn’t be a con artist, but the average person knows when they intentionally take what they shouldn’t.

So I decided to try out Kelsie who puts her goals on her sleeve― and some of them on social media― and then work my tail off to make sure what I offer is what I deliver. That’s not fake; that’s just trying something I haven’t done before to see what happens. 

I’m not letting success topple my long game of having a joyful, fun life with my kids, either. That’s why I’m hiring people six weeks into my business. I am working too much to have the life I love, but I’m not done creating this business. So I’m taking another chance and allowing others to work with me, sacrificing some short-term money and the illusion of control to get the balance back and a chance to see what I can build. I have to tell imposter syndrome to please be quiet so I can get back to work all the time, but it believes in me more every day.


So that’s my story, now I’d love to hear yours. Comment below or drop me an email at kelswrites27@gmail.com.

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