The London Paper – 26 Feb 2007
Have you ever got the feeling at work that you’re gonna be found out for being the fraud that you are? That somehow you’ve pulled the wool over your colleagues and clients’ eyes for years but now it’s payback time and those around you are suddenly going to realize that you’re just a chancer who got lucky? I imagine everyone occasionally gets ‘impostor syndrome’ at work but I think it’s particularly prevalent in the City. This is because the salaries here are so disgustingly huge that you can’t help standing back occasionally and wondering how your pay can possibly be justified by anything other than good luck.
Anyway, I fell victim to a bout of this heinous self-doubt last week. I was doing a presentation to nine serious looking individuals in a stuffy, windowless room at a major fund management institution in Canary Wharf when I suddenly became absolutely convinced the game was up. In my fevered imagination, I visualized the middle-aged, bespectacled chap at the back interrupting my verbal diarrhoea mid-flow to say something like: ‘Just a minute, I’ve suddenly realised you’re talking absolute gibberish. I’m not prepared to waste any more of my precious time listening to this utter horseshit’. Such was my conviction that they could see through me that when one of them raised his arm to ask a question I had to stop myself from pre-empting him and shouting out: ‘You’re right. Guilty as charged. Not only could I not give two shits about the impending cash-flow crisis facing these companies, it probably won’t happen anyway. PLEASE DON’T TAKE ME SERIOUSLY!’
The problem is that the City demands that you give the impression of being a serious confident individual because no-one wants to take financial advice off someone who seems unsure of his views and who likes to have a bit of a giggle. That’s why the City is full of people saying serious things extremely confidently that they don’t actually believe. This, I am convinced, is why events like the tech stock-market bubble happened in 1999-2000. The buffoons involved then were able to keep up the pretence that ludicrously high share prices would keep going up because they were so used to feigning confidence in things they didn’t believe.
I’m pleased to say that after last week’s crisis of confidence I steadied myself and came to realise that pretty much all of us in the City are professional blaggers – it’s just that some of us are better at it than others. I also concluded that I can’t be too bad at the fine art of bullshitting since I’ve been successfully conning all and sundry for over ten years now. So I’ve decided to stop fretting about being found out and I think you can too. All we need to do is keep spinning a yarn that’s just a little bit more convincing than all those other bullshitters that surround us and then everything’s gonna be just fine.