I was recently on a press trip, and I was the only blogger in the group. Everyone else worked as an in-house journalist, except me. I was introduced in the same way everybody else was, by my name and who I wrote for with the exception of being called a travel blogger. And every time I heard that, my automatic reaction was to correct this and say: ‘Oh, I am a proper journalist too……I have written for…….’
But I didn’t say that, obviously. I just smiled and said, ‘pleased to meet you.’
As we all got to know each other, chatting and making small talk, a rising sense of panic built and constantly threatened to melt me into a puddle. I felt like the imposter. And it’s not the first time I’ve felt like that either, not the first time I’ve sat waiting for someone to ask me a question I don’t know the answer to and what will, of course, uncover me as the fraudster I am.
I think I have felt like that in pretty much every job I’ve ever done. Regardless of the objective facts of an annual assessment telling me I haven’t been sacked yet, and am doing an average, or above average job — I can’t ever seem to shake the feeling I am just not good enough. I’m pretty sure one of you reading will have felt the same way, it’s certainly not a Lucy-specific phenomenon. In fact, it’s pretty damn common.
Wikipedia defines it as this:
Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”
This is a phenomena many men won’t experience, because it’s something pretty skewed towards women. Putting your hard work and achievements down to luck? Yep….me too. Shying away from telling people your achievements without the ubiquitous caveat of ‘It’s nothing, really’ or putting your career down to fate, or being in the right place at the right time…….sigh. All traits of that dastardly imposter syndrome.
There are many, many celebrities and well known figures outing themselves as ‘imposters’ or admitting to feeling like frauds, and almost all of them are women. Even so, this is little comfort to those who live under the constant dark shadow of a fear of ‘getting found out.’
Isn’t it the WEIRDEST thing, that we actually think our bosses, or friends wouldn’t say anything about our poor performance before unceremoniously booting us out shouting: ‘Ha! Caught you!’ It’s honestly ridiculous. Yet, I know I feel like that a lot, and I know others do too. In fact, when I meet someone who confidently tells me his or her achievements without self deprecation or a modest put down I’m shocked. And I’m not proud to say that I don’t always like them.
There is a strange trope whereby people who talk about their own achievements with clarity and pride are only deemed okay if they do it without knowing it. You know the drill, ‘She’s so confident, but she isn’t big headed’ or ‘She is amazing, but she doesn’t even realise it!’
Why is that a good thing? Why do we have to now be confident, but not be too aware of how great we are? And learn how to talk about it with zero guile, some confidence, but not too much and definitely no humble bragging? It’s enough to make anyone retreat back into the imposter’s cupboard and await trial for being crap.
Anyone who has read Sheryl Sandberg’s amazing study of women in the workplace, Lean In, will know that to get ahead you have to accept your flaws and learn to rise above them. Thinking you are going to be found out constantly serves nobody apart from anyone who wants to be promoted ahead of you. I’ve read, and loved, that book a few times and every time I read it I feel a renewed sense of confidence in what I’m able to achieve. And I tend to go out and achieve new things after I’ve read it too. But it doesn’t take long before I’m back in the real world allowing every negative thought pattern to overrun all Sheryl’s positive reinforcement.
Perversely, those with imposter syndrome often avoid trying to match those who appear to be the ‘real deal’ and avoid extra responsibilities, choosing to not take on extra tasks that could challenge……for fear of being overwhelmed. Or for fear they just can’t do anything more.
How this manifests itself is different for everyone but for me, it tends to transpire as avoidance. I mentally check out as soon as the feeling of inadequacy becomes too big, bowing out of trying and often bowing out completely. I often wonder if my statements about not liking working in an office is actually true, or whether it’s simply a case of being exhausted by the inevitable onslaught of monitoring my every move, self flagellating at every wrong turn.
So how do you move forward if you are constantly holding yourself back? I don’t know, why on earth are you asking me?!
No really, I genuinely have no idea but I do know one thing. When you truly love a job, and have a happy work/life balance (or as close to one as you can realistically get) imposter syndrome is a lot less….present. At least, that’s how it seems to play out for me. And as soon as I start hearing the voices in my head telling me I’m not as good as XYZ, I simply change the subject — metaphorically speaking — and do something else, anything else. Honestly, it’s not a perfect system, but that seems to do the trick.
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