What if we embraced Imposter Syndrome?
Feeling like a fraud, like you don’t belong in your workplace, at an event or even in a gym class or meeting… feeling like you are ‘winging it’ and will be ‘found out soon’… sound familiar? I could go on but I expect I’ve said enough for you to recognise a very modern condition – Imposter Syndrome.
It seems we all suffer in one way or another, many reaching the horrible heights of anxiety and holding ourselves back from progressing in either work or our personal lives because we feel we aren’t worthy. We think we’re an imposter, that we don’t deserve to be in that job, or meeting that person, or in the same space with other people who are ‘much more worthy’.
As a journalist, I often feel imposter syndrome. I feel it in person and I feel it on social media. I wonder, before I post on Instagram, if my post is good enough. If I deserve, even, to use a hashtag that others might be more ‘valid’ in using. For example, #mentalhealth or #wellbeing. Even, sometimes, #podcaster. I KNOW.
Anyway, everything I read about Imposter Syndrome points to one thing – overcoming it. Beating it. Showing it the door. Indeed, a new book, Ditching Imposter Syndrome, talks about just that.
Author Clare Josa also carried out a survey into this concept (you can download it here https://ditchingimpostersyndrome.com/research/, and she’s an expert in the subject. The study found that 49% of men and 52% of women had experienced Imposter Syndrome in the past year. I feel from what I read on Facebook groups and the Internet that it could even be way more. People reported that they had avoided completing important projects, they’d not spoken up in a meeting, they’d turned things down believing they weren’t worthy, or got stuck in negative thinking with their inner critic. I can relate to ALL of that. AND MORE. It’s a very important report.
But I have another theory about Imposter Syndrome that I’d like to share. I am not decrying the book and I know Imposter Syndrome can be debilitating for many. But I have become increasingly interested in the idea of trying to embrace Imposter Syndrome. To say ‘Fine, I know you’re there, come along for the ride if you like, but I’m going anyway’.
This feeling was embodied for me recently in the photograph of Phoebe Waller-Bridge at 1am after the Emmy’s. She sat back into a chair surrounded by awards, with a cocktail and a cigarette. If her face could say one thing, to me it was ‘Sod off, imposter syndrome. I deserve to be here. I’ve worked HARD and I’ve chosen not to give up and I’ve been scared and worried but I’ve tried anyway and darn it, I know I’m a good writer and actor and here’s the proof.’ I’m sure PWB has and will have Imposter Syndrome at some points in her life. But that picture, to me, says she won’t let it be in control. So what if we were all a bit more ‘Fleabag’ about Imposter Syndrome? Rather than spending precious time trying to beat it, or overcome it, what if we accepted it’ll always be there, but didn’t give it the headspace it craves? A step further, in fact, would be to use it as fuel for a fire that pushes us forward.
I feel Imposter Syndrome right now as I prepare to launch my podcast. Do I belong in that world alongside women like those I respect such as Elizabeth Day, Fearne Cotton and Deborah Frances-White? I think we must try and say 'YES' even if deep down we think 'Errrr...' because it's the only way to keep going. I don't think we can ever rid ourselves of Imposter Syndrome, and find trying to do so is exhausting. There's so much to think about without also adding it to our list of emotional baggage. I've tried for so long to tell myself 'I AM worthy to be here' and not compare myself to the other women in the room. I don't always succeed, but I try. This can be to the extent where I walk to meetings – or lately, podcast interviews – talking to myself. Saying outloud as I walk from the station to someone’s flat ‘YOU WILL BE FINE. They’re just a human being. They’re nice! They’ve said yes. You’ll be ok once you get in there…’ and so on.
It passes the time and also gives less opportunity for the other voice to come into my head and say ‘you don’t deserve this guest/to be here/to be using this time for a new project’.
And I believe there is an argument for 'going with it' when it comes to Imposter Syndrome. Of saying 'fine, it's always going to be there' and trying not to 'fight' it all the time. To use that energy in other ways - such as getting on with exciting plans! Because imagine if we used the energy we enlist to fight imposter syndrome elsewhere – what else could we achieve?!
While writing this, I pause as I wonder if I sound self-important. Like someone who is so self-confident that I am able to say ‘screw you, Imposter Syndrome’. Ha! AS IF. People often think I’m super confident, but I’m often walking into a room seeming it while inside the imposter syndrome fire is raging like the furnace of a steam train. But that’s the thing – if it’s a raging furnace, why not try to use that as power rather than a power that’s against us? I know it's easy to say, perhaps, but the more I move into the wellbeing space, the more I feel like Imposter Syndrome can be more of a friend than a foe.
Plenty of celebs talk about battling Imposter Syndrome. Emma Willis has spoken about worrying ‘there won’t be another job’, while Jennifer Lawrence has alluded to the feeling of ‘not belonging here’. And it's not just women - Sam Fender said he felt it as his album went to number 1.
I wrote about imposter syndrome a while ago and someone commented that I was writing more about comparing myself to others. But for me the two go hand in hand. If we are feeling imposter syndrome, then we are by default saying that those around us, either in the real or virtual world, are better, surely?
I find imposter syndrome can rear its head on social media even more than in person, sometimes. Being somewhere can actually validate for me that I do belong. At an event, for example, the challenge for me is more the getting there than the being there. Once I arrive and I see other women with the same look on their face (You know the one: That ‘should I be here? What am I doing here.. among these other amazing successful confident women’ look) reminds me we are all in the same boat, really.
I don’t want to come across as not taking imposter syndrome seriously. But I do think the more time we spend trying to beat it, cure it, over come it, the more we are giving it the time it doesn’t deserve. The more exercises we do to try and give it the elbow, the more we’re focusing o the problem. I don’t really believe it can ever go away. I think we can learn to work with it, or be more at peace with it, perhaps.
Channelling and harnessing the power of Imposter Syndrome can be powerful, in my experience. You’re probably thinking ‘oh she’s SO confident’ - that’s just your comparison and Imposter Syndrome talking there! I feel this consistently. As I wrote this post it is/was international podcast day. So I did some posts on social, about the Freelance Feels podcast, which has just gone up live with a trailer. My thought? My podcast isn’t as worthy as theirs. Not as good. I don’t deserve to use the hashtag #podcaster because I’m new/it’s fledgling/I’ve only uploaded a trailer. I don’t deserve to shout about my podcast because it’s not established and it’s not as cool, perhaps, as others that are out there. But I have posted anyway. Because otherwise how will I ever go anywhere? I wonder if you think this means I don’t have Imposter syndrome but I do. I’m just STUBBORN I guess! I learned in therapy that words like stubborn and angry can be switched into positive things like determined and passionate.
My reaction to imposter syndrome has often been to feel it and go with things anyway. The more I sit wondering if I belong in a space – be that podcast, journalism, blogging or even just among peers at a drinks event, the more I feel the Imposter Syndrome Feels.
But I have this theory – to throw yourself headlong into it, grab the imposter syndrome and run away. Run like a three year old that’s just got to the edge of the beach and has no thought other than to plough ahead towards the goal - to get into the sea. They might think ‘I can’t climb that frame’ or ‘those kids might not want to play with me’ but they just power on anyway, making their mistakes and embracing the idea of trying. I often watch my nephew, who is three, and has that confidence that three year olds have – thinking ‘why wouldn’t anyone want to be friends, to play, to hang out?’. It’s a great thing to channel if you want to give Imposter Syndrome less air time.
Some of these musings feel like they are saying how to get rid of Imposter Syndrome, but I’m hoping the idea is more to use it and keep it in its place rather than say try and make it disappear or overcome it. I wonder if there are people out there who can truly say they have taken steps to beat Imposter Syndrome and done so, and it’s never returned. Thing is, if you get rid of it, can it then come back when you least expect it. Surely better to keep this enemy close.
Mid way through writing this post, I went to an event – Smart Women Week, run by Red magazine. The kind of event I’d like to be a speaker at, one day in the future. I know, sounds ambitious! But it’s a good example of bringing Imposter Syndrome with you for the ride. I went to that event feeling like I was a bit of a ‘little person’. After all, I’m not a speaker there or anywhere close. But I went with that mindset. And it brought mixed feelings. At first I had a certain confidence, but later, I did an Instagram stories about how I was hiding in the corner, not approaching people! I handed out business cards but not the flyers I’d made, suddenly feeling a bit ‘daft’.
BUT – I’ve learned from this. And next time, beware, a flyer is coming your way!
Imposter Syndrome is such a part of our lives that I think trying to rid ourselves of it is something we’ll just never truly manage, And I think it can spur us on. Because when I feel I don’t belong, it can often be true. I’ve said this before and I’m not putting myself down. But sometimes I’m NOT as far forward as the other women in the room. If I go to an event with a lot of authors who make their living from writing books, that can make me feel like an imposter because I’ve only written one book. But by the same token that’s true. I try to tell myself it’s ok to feel like they are better, or more accomplished, because sometimes someone else is!
If the Editor of a magazine walks past me, she IS more accomplished at being an editor of a magazine. I’ve never been one and I’m not one! So it’s not Imposter Syndrome so much as accepting that you’re in a different place. At a lunch the day later a friend and I talked about how it’s key to remember what else someone might be challenged by themselves. So, sure, women in that room will have been perhaps more confident than me, more 'networky'. But some might be trying to think about a podcast while I’m on my way… and so on.
There are writers out there who have been published in what I see as more reputable publications than I have. Or bloggers who have more followers. An award-winning podcaster is more successful than me, who has a trailer as I write this! The imposter syndrome in me could have me thinking ‘I wont load this episode, I don’t deserve to, it’s not good enough’ but how will we grow if we don’t flick a finger at imposter syndrome and say ‘fine, be there, but I’m going to try anyway’?