Sammi, my miniature poodle, loves basking in the sunshine, lying on the top cement step just outside the front door. Eventually, she starts panting, but the heat and light feel too good to forgo. When she finally decides to come into the cool house, she is happy and relaxed, with every muscle loose enough to settle into a long nap. Other than wanting to be Sammi in my next life, I believe there is another message here: bringing our secrets and fears into the proverbial light of day makes us happier and more relaxed. I know from my clients, as well as from personal experience, that what we bury deep down, what we keep in the dark, seems to shrink in size once exposed to the light. It's not that disclosure solves all our problems, but it does serve to keep them proportional to their actual size.
One of the biggest secrets many of us keep is the "fooled-them-again" syndrome. No matter how smart and accomplished we are, we think we are not quite as good as other people's perceptions of us. We live in fear of being "found out."
All of my clients are educated, most having advanced degrees. All of my clients are very smart. All of my clients worked hard to attain their level of achievement. So, why do so many of them have the "fooled-them-again" syndrome?
There is no one simple answer given that everyone has a different history. Some people grew up in families where achievements were never good enough. Other people grew up with very low expectations placed on them. Still others grew up with ridiculously high expectations that were impossible for any one person to meet.
While personal histories differ, the one constant seems to be this human insecurity we all possess in greater or lesser quantity. We look around and perceive other people as smarter, more talented, more athletic than we are or could ever be. That other people think we are smart is not confirmation for us because, and here the argument becomes tautological, we have fooled them again, too. We may not be what they think we are--smart, talented, athletic--but we have been clever enough to slip by... so far.
The first time I realized how widespread this insecurity is was at my Harvard graduate school commencement. During a lovely luncheon, a world renowned retiring professor was being lauded by one person after another. When his retirement cake was wheeled out, he was asked to come up to the microphone and say a few words. There was an anticipatory hush as he made his way to the front of the room. He stepped to the microphone, and his only words were "fooled them again." OMG (sorry, but these letters are apt here), this professor, the envy of many with the admiration of all, thought, at least in part, that he reached a stellar level in his life by fooling everyone. This was the most important lesson I learned in my two years of graduate school.
The only antidote I know that helps with this syndrome is sunlight. When we keep what we think are our shortcomings and limitations buried deep inside of us, hidden in the dark, they loom large and foreboding. As soon as we share our fears with even one other person, our monster becomes more manageable. The sunlight actually shrinks our deepest fears, and in so doing, we become happier and more relaxed.
Just like Sammi.