Have you ever had one of those moments where you were just paralyzed with fear? Those moments of self-doubt, where you question everything and feel like a complete loser in the purest sense of the word?

That was me two weeks ago. The Financial Bloggers Conference (FinCon) was approaching, and I felt stuck and scared. With the impending event right around the corner, I started to freak out. I started to feel like I wasn’t good enough, not experienced enough, and that I was just a fake-ass phony.

Even though I had quit my job two months earlier, I didn’t have to go through the requisite, and sometimes awkward, “What do you do?” chat with anyone in real life.

This would be the first time that I’d be faced with people, 600 of them to be exact, and I’d have to confidently respond and discuss what I actually do.

I’d have to accept the fact that this is the real deal, not some game that I play on nights and weekends anymore, or use as something to do in my free time (and there is nothing wrong if you choose to do that, by the way).

It was a bad case of feeling like an imposter — like a complete and utter fake-ass phony. How could I get over this?

My friend Brittany said it best when she recently told me, “When you are confident, it’s like you can accomplish anything in the world, but when you are low, you have this crippling self-doubt.”

It’s true. When I start to feel that fear, I start to doubt everything. I start to doubt my talent, my path in life, my decisions, and everything that comes along with it. My normal extroverted self turns into a wannabe hermit. I want to hide in a corner and not return to the “real world” until I feel something different.

Luckily, I was able to get over this terrible feeling and rock it at FinCon. Here’s how I was able to overcome feeling like a fake-ass phony:

You are what you say you are

I am a writer. Saying those words is still tough to say, but I am a writer. I get paid to write (holy crap!). As a freelancer, I’ve had to come up with my own job title and have had to come to terms with my new profession. There are no longer any crutches related to a “day job,” and if I want to be taken seriously, I have to own what I do and make it clear to people.

So on my business cards I put “Wordsmith & Idea Maker,” imbuing some creativity into it. When people asked me what I do at FinCon, I would say, “I’m a freelance writer and I blog about breaking up with debt.” Simple and to the point. I have realized that if I don’t take myself seriously, then no one else will either. In the end, you are what you say you are — and your actions back that up.

Be uniquely you

Everyone is unique in their own special way. We all have idiosyncrasies that make us who we are. In order to stand out and not feel like a fake-ass phony, you need to embrace all that is you — even if you are scared, even if you are vulnerable, even if you think it will offend someone. Embrace your wild side, your weird side, and don’t be ashamed of it.

While at FinCon, I let loose and sang my heart out and danced all over town. I’m sure it was a different side of me than what people expected, but that’s who I really am. I also like to speak in strange voices and fake laughs. What can I say, I am an only child with a wild imagination.

It’s easy to be shy and revert into your shell when meeting people. But if you are confident in who you are and let your real self shine through, you will stand out. When you are your authentic self, you feel at home, and you get to avoid those slimy, insecure feelings that you are a complete fake.

Get comfortable with discomfort

If you are constantly feeling like an imposter, it’s likely you are outside of your comfort zone and feel like you don’t belong. The good thing is that the more you get out of your comfort zone, the more it stretches and becomes more normal. Strive to feel uncomfortable. Push yourself. Try something new. You’ll start to feel more confident and more secure as time goes on.


If you’re feeling like a phony, start practicing and preparing for events. This means talking to yourself in the mirror, repeating mantras during meditation, writing positive notes on your hands, etc. With a little practice, you’ll start to feel more confident and less like a phony.

Realize that most people feel the same way; they just present themselves better

I would venture to say most people feel like a fake-ass phony at various times. It’s like we are all scared we are going to get found out and uncovered as a fraud. So, what is the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people in this regard? I would say confidence and presentation.

People make so many judgements about you in a millisecond depending on your clothes, your posture, how you look, and how you talk. Start faking it until you make it, and think about how your ideal version of yourself talks, walks, dresses, and approaches other people. If you are feeling stumped, think about people around you that inspire you. What is it that makes them so charismatic?

Once you realize how you want to present yourself, you can be confident and own any room.

The bottom line

It’s normal to feel scared, nervous, insecure, and like a complete phony from time to time. But it can’t be a lifestyle. To be successful, you need to get out of your comfort zone and really own the situation in order to get the outcomes you want. That means that instead of saying, “I’m just a personal finance blogger,” you say something more definitive: “I’m a personal finance writer.”

It’s all about presentation. Consider people who are successful, compared to the many talented folk who never rise to the top. It’s all about marketing. Marketing is a fancy word for presentation.

And the most important thing to overcome feeling like a fake-ass phony? Not giving a shit what other people think. This is still my hardest lesson to learn as I am neurotic and want people to like me (doesn’t everyone?). But you are wasting your precious energy if you care too much about what others think.

You do you. And forget the rest.


Melanie is a freelance writer currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy, and empowering people to take control of their finances. She writes about breaking up with debt, freelancing, and side hustle adventures at DearDebt.com.

Currently she puts more than 50% of her income towards debt, while living a frugal, fun life. In addition to her love of personal finance, art and music, she is also a karaoke master. Follow the adventure @DearDebtBlog.

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40 responses to “How to Overcome Feeling like a Fake-Ass Phony”

  1. Kirsten says:

    I’m a project manager and I don’t even like telling people THAT. We have very novice techniques at our company and don’t always do things “right”. But I have to tell customers and suppliers I’m a PM and believe it so I can get respect and do my job. Fake it till you make it 😉
    Kirsten recently posted…Live Like They Are DyingMy Profile

  2. I think you’re awesome at being uniquely you. I always have the fear of phoniness in the PF world. I mean, hello, I’m a professional actress. Meanwhile I’m supposed to be some finance “expert”. I dunno, guess you just gotta own it!
    Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life recently posted…Real Estate Comparison: What Can You Buy in New York City?My Profile

  3. I want you to read this post whenever you get in this place again, because I know you will. It’s true, we all feel like fake ass phonies from time to time but if we can’t believe and invest in ourselves, how do we expect others to as well? I am so happy that you rocked FinCon, and the biggest reason why is that you were yourself. And despite the fear that may come with being yourself, it is also a beautiful thing and people are drawn to beauty.
    Shannon @ Financially Blonde recently posted…Music Mondays – FancyMy Profile

    • Melanie says:

      Awww, thanks! I will look at this and some other things I’m saving. I have actually created an “Ego” folder of nice things people have said about me or my work and I file it away there. Haha, I know it sounds pathetic, but when I’m feeling low or like I don’t know what I’m doing, I just look back there for a little boost.

  4. Kassandra says:

    Great post Melanie. It took me years to be able to really feel good with who I am and what I stand for. I also know that not everyone will take a shine to me and likewise so that has taken quite the pressure off of me mentally. All I care about is that people make an effort to respect one another.
    Kassandra recently posted…The Moment I Outgrew My MoneyMy Profile

  5. “You are what you say you are” <– I really like this, but I have trouble with it. I wasn't runner until a few years ago, but I still have such trouble saying I'm a runner now, even though I run every day. I think saying what you want to be is a powerful tool to getting there and having confidence in what and who you are.
    Natalie @ Financegirl recently posted…Getting Started With Retirement: The Roth IRAMy Profile

    • Melanie says:

      If you run every day, you are a runner! I wish I could say the same. I feel like I’m dying if I run a mile 🙁 I want to change that. Saying what you want to be is such a powerful tool!

  6. Great post! We are on the same wavelength and I also think we’d get along great. I know we’ve met, but I mean on a deeper level. Underneath it all I feel very odd and make strange faces and voices all the time. lol! I don’t always feel the most confident, but when it comes to my blog, that’s where I can say I feel most proud because I’ve been 100% authentic. It may not be the best, I may not have won any awards, but it’s truly me!
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted…Making Bold ChoicesMy Profile

    • Melanie says:

      I think you are so funny and your authentic self comes across really well, which is why I LOVE your blog. I’m coming home to LA for 2 weeks in December. Let’s hang more 🙂

  7. As someone that is unemployed, I can relate A LOT to being able to “confidently respond and discuss what I actually do” – like you said. Obviously our situations are different, but I’m sure that fear is the same! I know my friends and family get it, but I’m so scared of being judged by my answer to the “what do you do?” question. What am I supposed to say – “Ugh… I do nothing?” But you are right, I am wasting my energy worrying about when I should be using this energy to change it. 🙂
    Amanda @ My Life, I Guess recently posted…So, How Did Your Job Interview Go?My Profile

    • Melanie says:

      In your situation, I would say, “I’m currently transitioning to being ______” or say what you want to be! You are what you say you are after all 🙂 If you want to be a writer, educator, theater person, whatever, just say that you are! Your title doesn’t necessarily have to be what you do to make money. I believe in you, girl!

  8. Good for you! Confidence is not something I used to lack, but having been through some tough things, and having been torn down by someone you cared deeply about can really hurt your self confidence. I am still working on rebuilding it, but it’s getting better all the time.

  9. Love this, and I am bookmarking it for future reference, because I definitely had doubts going into FinCon. You’re such an inspiration. =) I’m all for weird voices and funny laughs and goofing off. It’s how I amuse myself as an only child, too. We are awesome, and no one can take our quirks away from us. We just have to own them.
    Erin @ Journey to Saving recently posted…Being Grateful: Forty-Fifth EditionMy Profile

  10. anna says:

    Have you ever read “The Alchemist”? I finished it fairly recently and this post really reminded me of it – that in order to succeed and find your ‘personal legend’, you have to step up and have courage in order to do so. There’s always the alternative (i.e., your old day job), and you know you can always come back to that. But it’s going out and finding your personal truth that takes not only guts, but can give you so much glory. I truly feel you are on your path to your Personal Legend, Mel, and that it is uniquely and genuinely you! 🙂
    anna recently posted…Pregnancy Notes Round 2!My Profile

    • Melanie says:

      I have not, but I heard it’s really good! I love that idea of finding your personal legend. How intriguing. Thanks for the awesome comment, Anna. You sure do know how to make a girl feel swell. 🙂

  11. Ben Luthi says:

    So glad there was someone else who shared my anxiety before FinCon lol.

    As I was there, though, I said to myself, “I am a writer. And that’s what I’m going to do from now on.”

    It’s a crazy change when you make that decision and stick with it.
    Ben Luthi recently posted…Investment Noise and Why You Should Ignore ItMy Profile

  12. Aldo @MDN says:

    Well said. You do you and don’t worry about the rest.

    One of the best advice I ever received was “fake it until you make it.” Everybody does the same thing, so why not you.
    Aldo @MDN recently posted…Our Trip To Philly – Part OneMy Profile

  13. Lauren says:

    I love this. I’ve been getting paid to write for several years now, but I still have moments where I feel like a fraud calling myself a writer. It has taken me a long time to truly own it.
    Lauren recently posted…Fall Spending Freeze ChallengeMy Profile

  14. Kara says:

    Have you seen the Amy Cuddy TED talk? She talks about faking it until you become it. It’s quiet amazing and inspiring.
    I was just thinking this weekend about how to bring up my blog/free lancing when people ask where I work/what I do. Since it’s such a big focus of what I do I feel like including it when talking about my work, but I’m not sure how.
    Kara recently posted…Budget Tales: We Bought a New CarMy Profile

    • Melanie says:

      I’ll have to look that up! I think you could tell people that you are ______ & a freelance writer/blogger. Just add the ‘and’. You can be multiple things and rock them both.

  15. There have been times I’ve felt like this at my day job. I think the key is being confident. If you doubt yourself, others will too.
    Brandy @ Busted Budget recently posted…Travel the World in BooksMy Profile

  16. Robin says:

    I feel like you wrote this article for me!
    Robin recently posted…That One Time I Bought a YachtMy Profile

  17. So we need to define ourselves first. We need to get really clear on who we are, what we are, and where we want to be. This post came at the perfect time. I think I’m going to meditate on it tonight. Thanks! 🙂
    kay ~ frugalvoices.com recently posted…The Realtor’s Coming! The Realtor’s Coming!My Profile

  18. mwelisa says:

    great article, yes as writers we have to overcome self doubt and inadequacies. I also agree with you in my write up that debt is an enemy. http://mwelisa.wordpress.com/2014/10/01/debt-is-an-enemy/

  19. Meghan says:

    Oh, does this sound familiar or what. I love the concept of acting like your ideal self, even when you don’t feel it. That’s especially important, I think, in a world that hasn’t totally embraced freelancing yet (though we’re getting there!), and sometimes people don’t take you completely seriously when you tell them what you do.

    Anyway, I’m glad you wrote this post. I needed it this morning.
    Meghan recently posted…Feeding Others: Why We Should Do It & How to StartMy Profile

  20. Lisa says:

    Mel, I really needed this today! I always feel like a phony, especially in the pf blogosphere, because my blog isn’t “big enough”. But all that stuff doesn’t matter – I love blogging and that’s all that really matters!
    Lisa recently posted…September 2014 Net WorthMy Profile

    • Melanie says:

      Glad it could help! We’ve all been there. And I’ll be there again, too. Your blog is awesome and it doesn’t matter what size it is. You make your blog what you want it to be and don’t feel pressured by what others are doing.

  21. Taylo says:

    FYI, again… I love you and your blog. 🙂

    I feel the same way on a regular basis especially when explaining what I do to my grandmother and my dad who are probably the most cynical people I know.

    The best explanation I can come up with is – people pay me to write for them.

    You’re right sometimes I do feel like a phony, especially when people assume I’ve graduated college without a real “job.”

    It’s just something I try to take in stride. Because the flexibility of making your own money from being creative is sooo worth the grief.
    Taylo recently posted…5 Easy Ways to Stay Fit Without a Fancy MembershipMy Profile

    • Melanie says:

      Awww, thanks! You’re a doll. I love your blog and writing style too 🙂 It’s hard to be around people that don’t understand what you do, but the flexibility is so nice!

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