When Fred walked up the steps and across the stage to collect his award, one thought ran through his mind: ‘I don’t deserve this’.
Standing at the podium making his acceptance speech, in front the biggest wigs in his field, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was about to be found out. Fred was convinced he had no idea what he was doing and he didn’t have what it took to be in his position. He figured pretty soon everyone else would know too.
In reality, Fred was great at his job. He deserved that award and the many accolades he has since received. He also happens to have something many of us are familiar with: impostor syndrome.
It’s normal for everyone to have bouts of self-doubt and insecurity, business and management coach Suzanne Mercier says, “but this is the far more insidious feeling where you can’t see your strengths”.
Those feelings are so deeply entrenched in your core belief system that you don’t see how you’ve earned the good in your life, despite all the evidence.
Whether it's a job, PhD, healthy family or general happiness, impostors can't shake the feeling they haven't really earned their success. Instead they believe it is all comes down to luck, charm, trickery or being in the right place at the right time.
So they live in fear that any minute now they'll be exposed as the con artists they really are.
"I often thought I was bluffing my way through my success and felt I wasn't worthy of the award," Fred says.
"It made me increasingly anxious because now people expected me to deliver, all eyes were on me, and I was bound to be exposed."
Ms Mercier also knows what it's like to experience impostor syndrome first-hand.
After being promoted to sit on the board of Australia's largest advertising agency (the first woman ever), she quit.
"I felt like I didn't have what it took to be a leader; that I wasn't smart enough or prepared enough," she says.
Despite all evidence, "I spent the next two years thinking, 'I can't do this. I don't deserve it and I'm not good enough'."
If their stories sound familiar, chances are you know what I mean when I talk about impostor syndrome. You might be waiting right now for the fraud squad to bust down your door, drag you into the main street and administer a public flogging. (If none of that rings a bell, then congratulations - you're someone who feels worthy of your achievements. Either that or you're completely delusional.)