As an executive coach, one of the most common fears I hear in my clients – especially senior managers – is the fear of being found out. The underlying dread that – no matter how successful in the external world, and by the standards of that world – one day someone will come, tap us on the shoulder and say that our time has come, it’s all been a mistake, and we are actually not who we pretend to be, with all our skills, experience and expertise.
Perhaps surprisingly to non-coaches, it’s a relatively easy fear to dismantle, as it’s almost invariably based on untrue perceptions, often drawn from early childhood or adolescence, or an early critical voice whom we’ve somehow internalized. And once that becomes clear to the client, the true process of replacing that misplaced fear – often called a ‘limiting assumption’ – and the true healing process can begin. All good coaches are well versed with dealing with it, and there are indeed many good techniques and ‘toolkits’ to unearth the limiting assumption, and then go about dismantling it and replacing it with a more positive, useful and true observation.
But observing it in others, and occasionally in myself too, made me think about the true origin of the fear: and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s based on something else too. On the often true perception that one is in the wrong job: a job that brings external rewards, but offers relatively little in the way of connecting to one’s true purpose. A job – or a position – that has been the result of many years of effort, of climbing the career ladder, with relatively little thought of how that relates to one’s deepest desires and natural strengths. A job, and a position, that is based on being better than the others, while at the same time measuring oneself by those others’ standards.
So what I try to do now with clients who fear ‘being found out’ is also to find out who it is that they really are, who they are when they are in the state of ‘flow’ (in Csikszentmihalyi’s definition of the term), who they are when they’re not worried about being the best. Because when we are in true flow, when we are being the best at who we truly are, when we’re connecting to our inner purpose and confidently exhibiting it in the external world, there are no fears. There is no competition with others, or worry that somebody else will be better than us, or will ‘find us out’: there is only peace and utter certainty that we are on the right path, the only path available to ourselves.