Imposter Syndrome

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.

Imposter Syndrome - woman standing in beautiful landscape

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.’

Imposter Syndrome - woman's hands in heart shape at sunset

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.

Blogging - back of unhappy girls head bowed down

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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Imposter Syndrome - pretty woman at sunset

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5 Comments

  1. 7th October 2016 / 3:06 pm

    This is a wonderful post! You are not alone, I feel the same way about my travel blogging. I’ve gotten those “I don’t deserve to be here” moments, Blogger, journalist, etc. I think they all equally do a lot of hard work to create their content 🙂

    • Lucy
      Author
      14th October 2016 / 2:35 pm

      Ahhhh thanks for the lovely comment. And you’re so right, whatever your title – you still have to work pretty damn hard! L x

  2. 9th October 2016 / 12:07 pm

    Oh my goodness, that part about checking out when something becomes just a bit too much is so me. It’s like sometimes I’m just thinking too much about being called out on doing something wrong or not right that I end up putting it off. When really, in reality, I can actually do that task just fine when I put my head to it. I don’t know if that makes sense. When this happens though, I often find if I have just some time out, to get on with the task on my own, those doubts disappear and everything is actually a-ok 🙂

    • Lucy
      Author
      14th October 2016 / 2:35 pm

      Ahhhh it’s the worst isn’t it?! It’s true though, sometimes you just need to take some time out and block out the internal, and external noise distracting you. L x

  3. 7th February 2017 / 7:48 pm

    This is so interesting! Some of it definitely rings true with me, I find it so hard to recognise or accept compliments on something I’ve done well, it’s always met with dismissive ‘Oh it’s nothing’ like you say. I had so many moments of panic as a youth worker feeling totally in over my head and ‘I can’t handle this responsibility’ when in all honesty I could have but I shied away from it. Such a great post Luce! xxx

    PS definitely rooting through your blog archive and having a good old browse over a cup of tea right now!x

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