Imposter Syndrome Feels
Let me give you two scenarios from a recent week.
Life is fabulous – and a picture of me on Instagram smiling confirms it. I’ve updated not only my insta, but twitter, Facebook and my blog, I’ve posted a picture, too, of my latest article for a nice brand. I am wordy, jolly, upbeat. I am a working journalist, full of beans about her career, sharing her words and hoping to inspire people. The sun’s out in my world, and it’s there in picture form. Hey, I’ve managed to launch a new blog that is doing ok – how DO I get the time to do that? I must be superwoman! Well, that latest insta post which looks all design-y confirms it, right? Typewriter font – I’m so creative and such a do-er. All in all, I’m a huge success as a journalist right now. And it’s likely I’ve given someone, somewhere, a bit of imposter syndrome. They’re feeling like I’m a success, they’re not – I’m doing well, they’re not worthy.
As I wait (late) for a bus to go dog sitting (my side hustle because I don’t get paid on time often enough for journalism!), I mither with myself for not getting out of bed sooner as I finish off a slightly hurried blog post about commuting and how it makes us feel. On the bus I take lots of deep breaths because suddenly I need the loo and my tummy is cramping. I manage to get a coffee before I head to the dogs, where I then sit in the kitchen urging myself to open the computer and make the most of this early start. I am make up free, hair tied back, feeling a bit scruffy and thinking even the dogs are judging my velvet scrunchie and fluffy ponytail. I look at other people’s instagram and think over and over ‘she’s doing well’ ‘she’s started a podcast in the time you’ve been thinking about it’ and ‘She’s got thousands of followers!’. I’ve got a huge case of imposter syndrome, not feeling worthy, feeling like a fraud who is cobbling together a living while sitting with furry friends.
Sound familiar? Yes, there’s imposter syndrome right there – from both sides! The classic ‘comparing your behind the scenes to everyone’s highlights reel’.
Imposter Syndrome is a subject that came up recently among freelance colleagues and I wanted to address it from my own point of view. Partly, to make sense of it, too. To see where I stand with it – and to muse on whether it can be a driving force, sometimes. It gets a bad rap, but is that always fair?
So what is imposter syndrome? Well, for me I’d say it’s ‘not-feeling-worthy-enough syndrome’, I guess. Here’s an example: In a new Facebook group for female journalists, we began introducing ourselves and putting short bios of our work or the areas we work in. I posted about Freelance Feels, because, well, I want to spread the word! But as the bios kept coming, so then did the worry. People posted that they felt inadequate, by comparison, to the other women there. That some had an amazing bio while others had nothing of merit to post. People were listing myriad clients – big name magazines and websites – but saying ‘I don’t feel worthy’ at the same time. ‘Daring’ to post about themselves. But these weren’t even opinions about our successes, they were facts. ‘I write for Glamour magazine’ is not a boast, it’s a fact. So why does it feel like a boast and bring on some of that imposter syndrome?
I think it’s often a lot worse for freelancers who are working from home or a space where they have no sounding board for this, too. In an office you might say to a colleague ‘oh look at so-and-so’ and they’ll immediately say ‘hey! You’re ace too!’. The four walls of the home office don’t afford such imposter-syndrome slaying skills!
This is a classic scenario and I know not restricted to women. But do men get it as much? This does feel like a female thing but I wonder if that’s because of the echo-chamber of the female-only Facebook journalism groups I’m in.
For me, imposter syndrome manifests much more in real life than it does online. I do compare, constantly, with other people on instagram. I tag people I admire, feeling like a school girl who is asking the cool girls if they want to play. But we all have it. (If you don’t, I’d like to hear from you! Is this a myth that we all suffer?!). Why are we no good at shouting about our success, and not then turning someone else’s into our own failure?
Everyone says they get imposter syndrome, but then we all post things online, too. We can’t resist playing chicken with how it might make us feel to say ‘I did a thing and I’m proud of it.’
I also feel we fuel our imposter syndrome by giving a voice to the idea that we get it. Because even by saying ‘I get imposter syndrome’ it’s like you’re saying ‘I am aware of the feeling, which makes me more self aware.’ So the other person then thinks ‘oh they know they have imposter syndrome, they’re more self-aware than me, as well as more successful.’ Imposter Syndrome about how much imposter syndrome we have, if you will.
One thing I know is that for everyone that feels it, imposter syndrome is exhausting. And even if success comes your way, there’s always someone or something else to compare your own work or success to.
We read a lot about overcoming imposter syndrome, of quelling the voice inside which says ‘you’ll be found out, sooner or later’. That little niggle which tells you that you don’t deserve to be where you are, that you are not worthy compared to your peers and that you best go get a different job, sharpish, before someone realises that you have, in fact, been lying to everyone all along about your skills.
My pondering extends to whether imposter syndrome can be a good thing. There’s a power in this feeling. Sometimes it can spur me on. Sure, ‘so-and-so’ has a podcast. Well then, here comes mine! If their bio seems more illustrious, then I best up my game.
I also think there is something in the idea that we aren't always as far ahead as someone else. It's true, sometimes, that we aren't top in our field, or playing our strongest game. The thing to remember is that's personal to us - not to compare it to others. So my instagram is growing, but it's not as big as many other people's. But that doesn't mean I'm not worthy of being on there - it does mean perhaps that the truth you tell yourself needs flipping. They're not 'doing better', they might have been 'going longer', for example.
Breaking things down like that can make you realise you're not an imposter, but just a newer player in the game.
I end up posting more on social media when I see others doing it, reminding myself it’s important to build the brand. But then am I heading towards an imposter syndrome burnout? An overload of trying to tell myself I’m worthy when through my veins often runs a narrative of comparison and negative self-judgement? Imposter syndrome might seem a bit of a lighthearted thing to some, but for many people it’s a challenge that can stall their work, debilitate them mentally and actually keep them from reaching goals, big and small.
The day I launched Freelance Feels, I had a huge bout of imposter syndrome and it took all my strength to over come it. To shout about Freelance Feels, to say ‘I’ve done a good thing!’. To tell myself what I’d worked hard on was good enough, and to believe the people who were saying it was timely, and they could relate to it. Still, in the pit of my stomach was a feeling that perhaps it was (my own words coming up) ‘daft’, ‘too soft’, ‘not detailed enough’ and even – I KNOW – self-indulgent. That it was just a silly blog with some cacti and what was I doing and what had I done and who was going to look at this nonsense with such other amazing blogs out there and it’ll never be as good as Bella Mackie or Elizabeth Day or Dolly Alderton, or Poorna Bell or Bryony Gordon or… or…. names names names of women I compare myself to. You can insert your own here, I’m sure.
I replied to a post by Fearne Cotton recently, and as I dared to press send, I immediately thought ‘what will she want with a post from me?’. Despite us both, on paper, being wellbeing writers and advocates, a thing in common.
I spoke to coach Noor Hibbert – author of new book ‘Just F*ing do it’ and she said she actually doesn’t follow other coaches, because it gives her what she calls a ‘comparison hangover’. Good eh? We’re working on a feature about it, too. But the idea is that you choose to see things which have a negative impact, and that’s easy to control: You unfollow, you mute, you stop looking, if you can.
“I had imposter syndrome, I was a qualified coach, and I didn’t want to start my business as a coach because ‘who am I to coach people?!’. We just project our own insecurities on every body else. We need to accept we’re all amazing and brilliant and enough as we are. When we can understand if we’re enough as we are, and accept where we’re at in our journey instead of looking at everybody else to confirm ‘we’re not good enough’….”
Noor adds: “The question is why do you care? We all care more what other people think more than ourselves!”
How true is that? Do you care more what strangers on a group think than what you think of yourself?
“We’re so concerned with what’s next, what’s going to make you look good on paper, what’s the next thing we can buy, what’s the next piece of validation we’re going to get… and none of that makes us happy. When you jump off the comparison conveyor belt – which is actually making you feel sick – you think ‘ah, I have the power to do what I want’ and stop looking at what everyone else is doing.”
See what other people are doing as a reminder of what you could do next, she adds. So for Freelance Feels, that could be listening to some podcasts to spur me on to record my first episode! But if that overwhelms and triggers, it’s time to stop listening and just focus on doing my own. I feel like there’s some kind of invisible imposter syndrome hierarchy where if success comes to you then you magically shed some imposter syndrome skin and don’t feel it any more.
But I hope we can use this to fuel a fire within. Perhaps, sometimes (and this is controversial), we AREN’T as good as the person to whom we're comparing ourselves. Not as accomplished by our individual standards, perhaps. But on some levels, there are women who are more successful than me, and who I’d feel lucky to share the same table or room with.
That’s why I’ve created my Freelance Feels tribe – in the hope I can create a place where we all feel the same, where we explore all of this. I can’t lie, I desperately hope someone or all the women I’ve named above would read this and say HOLD ON I HAVE IMPOSTER SYNDROME TOO! And then I can say ‘come join the Freelance Feels tribe!’. Imagine.
Would I then suddenly not have imposter syndrome? I doubt it. Then I’d think ‘do they really want to join in? why would they want to be part of my little tribe?’
But we do need to find a balance. To say ‘hey, I’m doing ok.’. We don’t need to all not shout, but the opposite. But we do need, when imposter syndrome comes into our minds, to use it in some way. We either use it to power us forward, to say ‘Fine, Imposter Syndrome, I’m going to beat you today!’. Or we can sit with it – to say ‘ok, I feel a bit like I’m not worthy today’. And know that tomorrow might be different.
Is imposter syndrome something we can overcome? I’m not sure, but I would like to try and find more balance with it. Here’s what I’m telling myself – and you can try to.
Five ways you can try and find balance with imposter syndrome:
1. Just let it be. Let it sit there. So this morning you feel unworthy. Don’t try and fight it – instead, try and focus on something else. I guess like I have done with this post!
2. Use it as fuel. Not feeling worthy because you don’t write for ‘that’ brand and ‘so and so’ does? Pitch to them! Try and build a contact.
3. Unfollow people who trigger it. Controversial? Well, if you’re in a group that makes you feel unworthy, then try muting it. Try unfollowing people who trigger your Imposter Syndrome feelings. Even if it’s just before you get on track again.
4. Make a list of all your successes. EVERYTHING. If you got out the door on time, to you went to an event by yourself through to you got a commission or a new client or a reply from someone who’s not replied before. An anti-imposter syndrome diary over a week will soon begin to show you how you’re flying – and it’ll use up time you’d normally spend over-comparing.
5. Say it out loud - that is, the thing you've achieved or is worthy of praise. I am a fan of pretending you are saying what you say to yourself to a friend. IMAGINE if you said to a mate ‘you don’t deserve to be in that group/sector/event’. You never would. So try not saying it to yourself. So today I shall say "I loaded that blog post!" not "I hope people didn't think that blog post was rubbish." Which I hope you don't!