Imposter syndrome wasn’t something I was even aware of until a year or two ago, but now I realise I’ve had it all my life. It’s strange, because I’m a fiercely independent person and I don’t really care what other people think. I’m clever and I’m capable and I’m confident within myself.
But, I always have the feeling that I’m doing something wrong. That someone else is better than me. That I shouldn’t really be here, doing this.
Why is that? And why do so many other women – young women in particular – feel the same way?
Imposter Syndrome: A collection of feelings of inadequacy and chronic self-doubt that persist despite evident success.
I think the imposter syndrome started back when I was at school. Despite usually being one of the top students in my class, I never put my hand up and dreaded being asked by the teacher to give an answer. What if I got it wrong? What if I said something stupid?
I thought I would grow out of it when I went to university, but that didn’t happen. I thought by now, at the age of 27, I’d finally feel settled in my life and my career. But nope. Hiya imposter syndrome.
On being an expert
It really struck me the other day when I was watching some presentations from an online social media conference. As someone who works as a freelance social media professional, I wanted to expand my knowledge and be able to position myself as more of an expert.
But, as I was watching the ‘real’ experts speak, I realised: “I already know all of this”. I know what I’m doing. I’ve been working in social media for the best part of five years; of course I know what I’m doing.
On a daily basis, however, I usually feel like I haven’t got a clue. I work hard and get results for my clients, but I still feel like it’s not good enough. Whenever someone – a new hairdresser, someone at a networking event, the postie – asks what I do, I always downplay it. I always say something like “I just get to sit and scroll through Twitter all day, it’s great!”.
That is totally not what I do. I spend hours developing strategies, creating content, analysing results, producing reports and then, if I have a spare 10 minutes, I might get to scroll through Twitter.
Yet the imposter syndrome is real, my friends. If someone asked me to appear as an expert, I would flat out refuse. I would tell myself I didn’t know enough, I wasn’t experienced enough and no one would want to listen to what I had to say.
On self-doubt and careers
I think imposter syndrome is particularly pronounced when you work in an industry like social media or blogging. I’m sure a lot of you can relate. Not only do you feel inferior compared to other people in your industry, you’re also constantly trying to justify what you do as a “real job” to people out with the bubble.
I was listening to an episode of the Blogtacular podcast the other day about the recent influencer controversies. There was a huge backlash from the public telling the influencer in question to “get a real job”, and Kat suggested that the reason many people don’t see blogging as a legitimate career is because it’s an industry dominated by women.
I had never really thought of it like this before, but it’s completely true. It’s seen as a hobby, a job that women do from their kitchen tables in their spare time.
Now, I’m not saying that blogging or freelancing is a difficult job – in terms of it being physically demanding like a builder or a matter of life and death like a surgeon. Of course not. But it is a very demanding job in a different way, and it’s a job that people work very hard at. It can be exhausting putting so much of yourself into projects, and anyone who’s self employed will know that you never really get to switch off.
What I do is seen as being lazy or having everything handed to me, yet someone who does essentially the same job – but sitting in an office – is applauded for having a real job. No wonder we all feel like total frauds.
That’s not to say people who work in an office don’t feel imposter syndrome too. Working twice as hard as your colleagues for half the salary, but feel like you have no right to ask for a pay rise? Never put yourself forward for projects because you think people will look down on your efforts? Yup, imposter syndrome.
How do we make it better?
I think the first step is realising there’s a problem. For years I’ve just put it down to my introverted personality and my dislike for being the centre of attention. But it’s more than just feeling shy and preferring to stay behind the scenes. It’s an innate feeling of being inferior – for no real reason – and I want to change that about myself.
Firstly, I’m going to stop downplaying what I do. I’m going to create a little elevator pitch (lol) which explains what I do, and memorise it so I never get flustered and revert back to “I scroll through Twitter all day” as a job description. I’m going to make a list of all my achievements and remember that actually, yes, I know what I’m doing.
I’m going to stop comparing myself to other people. Easier said than done though, eh? I am happy with where my life is just now. Really happy. So why does it matter if someone is further along in their career than me? Or making more money than me? Or able to have things that I don’t have?
I also think it’s important to support other women. According to surveys, over 70% of millennials have felt the effects of imposter syndrome, so we’re definitely not alone. If you see someone doing amazing work, let them know. And learn to accept compliments too. If people tell you that you’re doing a good job, you’re doing a good job – they’re not making it up.
I know that I’ll never be the best at something, but I’m trying to teach myself that good enough is good enough.