You’re a fraud, and soon everyone will see you for what you are. You don’t deserve this, and it’s going to be taken away from you.
Growing up, I thought I could be anything I wanted; the possibilities were limitless. I was going to be a vet. A renowned author. The Prime Minister.
But by the time I hit 16, the brutal, choking tendrils of insecurity had started to wind their way into my subconscious, finding fertile ground in which to thrive. I had given up on most of my childhood ambitions, convinced that I’d never be good enough to do anything of note, doubtful even that I’d manage to keep afloat in the face of the crashing onslaught of adulthood. I dropped out of school without an A-Level to my name, consigned to a life of avoiding challenge and, therefore, the risk of being ‘found out’ as not as talented, bright, or indeed as useful as everyone else.
It wasn’t until almost a decade later that I would discover a name for this feeling: Imposter Syndrome.
“Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence” – Gill Corkindale, Harvard Business Review.
Hello there, old friend.
It seems ironic to me that, by its very nature, Imposter Syndrome is a kind of oxymoron of self- doubt. It is rooted in the premise that you are highly skilled at something; namely, deception. It also fascinates (though doesn’t surprise) me that it has long been known that impostorism afflicts more women than men. It’s impossible to deny the introjection of societal sex and gender-role stereotyping, and difficult to ignore both the blatant and oft-hidden effects this has on our behaviour within society, and how we compare ourselves to others.
Having acknowledged that little voice in your head telling you “it’s all down to luck, and you’ve fluked your way to where you are today”, what can those of us suffering from Imposter Syndrome do to mitigate its negative effects? Here’s some hints and tips I’ve collected along the way:
- Realise it’s okay to ask for help, you don’t have to do everything alone. People WILL understand.
- Recognise and acknowledge imposter feelings for what they are. Track these thoughts, and remember that you are ‘comparing your insides with other people’s outsides’.
- Seek out a support network – particularly if you’re female. A group setting is valuable for breaking through the lack of reality involved in how we see the world. Do this by sharing and relating to honest, legitimate experiences.
- Don’t see failures, see learning opportunities. Every mistake we make is a chance to use that lesson in the future.
- Be kind to yourself, and take time for self-care. Forgive and reward yourself for the small AND big things in life.
It IS possible to thrive with Imposter Syndrome. Upon reading the first couple of paragraphs of this piece, I was asked by a friend “please say it has a happy ending?” and I’m happy to report that, though an ongoing story, it kind of does. I found my way back into education, got a degree, and I’m about to start my dream MSc. I’ve had many wonderful successes along the way (including founding The Gender Equality Network!) and have met countless fantastic people in whom to confide.
Do you relate to any of this? I’d love to hear about it! Find me on Twitter @CerianJenkins