Impostor Phenomenon

Have you ever felt like an impostor?

A research paper studying high-achieving professionals found that a surprising number felt like they got there through luck or chance, and that it is just a matter of time until they are exposed as frauds.

Impostor Phenomenon is defined as a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments.  Regardless of external evidence to the contrary, these people do not feel deserving of the success they have achieved.  These “ impostors” can’t shake the feeling that they’re a little kid playing dress-up in a grown up world.

I admit it, sometimes I have these feelings as well; but you know what they say, “fake it till you make it,” right?

Time magazine recently published a list of the Top 10 Impostors of all time, who took faking it to the next level!  Their amazing stories can be found through your local library or online at

How are you at faking it?  Could you be such a great impostor that you could convince people your lies were the truth? Here are some of the most incredible true stories from the list:

Clark Rockefeller

Using the false name Clark Rockefeller, German immigrant Christian Gerheirtsreiter posed as a business consultant, married well-to-do Sandra Boss, and lived quite prosperously on her income.  It took her eleven years to confirm that her husband was lying to her.  After losing a custody battle in 2008, Rockefeller abducted his daughter.  Rockefeller pleaded insanity, but was eventually sentenced to five years in state prison for assault and kidnapping.  You can read about his amazing true crime in The Man in the Rockefeller Suit.

Frank Abagnale

abagnaleFrank Abagnale may be the best known impostor on Time’s list.  His career as a forger, impostor and escape artist inspired the film Catch Me if You Can, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, also available in book and audiobook formats.  Abagnale posed as a pilot for Pan Am Airlines at the age of sixteen, then posed as a doctor in Georgia and an attorney in New Orleans.  He was finally captured in 1969, and paroled on the condition he’d help federal authorities uncover cheque forgers.  He eventually became a millionaire advising banks on how to avoid fraud.

Anna Anderson

Two years after the Russian royal family was assassinated, a young woman appeared claiming to be the czar’s youngest daughter, Anastasia.  Despite skeptics, she found some supporters including Grigori Rasputin’s daughter.  Modern DNA evidence has  proved she was not related to the royal family.  Check out A Romanov Fantasy, the  true story of Anna Anderson today.

James Hogue

In 1991, Princeton sophomore Alexi Indris-Santan,  was recognized by a fellow student as actually being James Hogue, an ex con from Kansas City.  He was eventually arrested and charged with forgery, wrongful impersonation and falsifying records.  He spent nine months behind bars and had to pay back nearly $30,000 in financial aid.  In 1993, he reappeared as a guard in one of Harvard’s museums, was arrested and charged with stealing gemstones worth $50,000.  In 2007, he pleaded guilty to having stolen 7,000 items worth approximately $100,000 from Colorado homes over several years.  He is currently in prison.  Read The Runner; A True Account of the Amazing Lies and Fantastical Adventures of the Ivy League Impostor James Hogue.

Colton Harris-Moore

While a mere teenager, the Barefoot Bandit, as he would become known, stole aircraft, boats and cars, and burglarized at least 100 private residences in the Pacific Northwest and Canada.  In an effort to avoid being caught, he fled to the Bahamas in 2010, stealing a plane from Indiana.  He was arrested in the Bahamas after police shot out the engine of the boat in which he was trying to escape.  It’s believed that he learned how to fly small planes by reading aircraft manuals, handbooks, watching a ‘how to fly a small airplane’ DVD, and playing flight simulator computer games.

Interestingly, Impostor Phenomenon, in which competent people find it impossible to believe in their own competence, is viewed as the flip side of the coin to the Dunning-Kruger Effect, in which incompetent people find it impossible to believe in their own incompetence.

For most of the people on this impostors list, it seems as though ‘fake it till you make it’ didn’t always work out.  But aren’t people fascinating?

– Chris

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