Why is it that when things start to go well, my brain kicks in with a bunch of sabotaging thoughts and self-doubts? Well, I learned recently that it happens to a lot of us and what I have been specifically experiencing is a psychological pattern called “impostor syndrome”.
When I worked in central London for a corporation, (see Connect the Dots), I was unhappy for many reasons. I worked in this huge, imposing building right on the Thames, that was so massive it took 5 minutes to walk from the front door to the lift. My colleagues were mainly middle class, middle-aged, overconfident men. I was selling a complex compliance product to high profile clients, my biggest being an international petrochemical company. Flying on the red-eye to Budapest to present at a meeting with said important client, I remember thinking “Why me?” I couldn’t believe I was being trusted to go and I was sure the room full of people would look at me and think:
“Who the fuck is this little girl and why have they sent her?”
I never fit into that company, I didn’t feel like I deserved to be there and I constantly lived in fear of being found out.
I feel the same way about self-employment. I am now a freelance writer and development specialist. Every time a client wants to pay for my words or asks me to develop a learning intervention for them, in my head I’m like:
“Are you sure?”
In part, it’s because I don’t have a writing/journalism/English qualification. I don’t feel legitimate. But even in the area that I do have qualifications and professional experience (learning and development), I stand in front of the room and wonder if I should be there and if I should be charging money for the session I’ve designed and I’m about to deliver. It’s ridiculous and I know that I should know better.
So as a fairly intelligent, self-aware woman, how did I get to this point? I guess it’s been a lifetime of learned experience. Like a lot of people bought up in small-town England in the 80’s and 90’s, nothing great ever happened. I went to an average school, with average teachers and average students. The adults in my life had average jobs and no one in my town, (that I knew of), pushed outside their comfort zone. It was a time of mediocrity. Even when my dad got a big pay rise in his job (which he totally deserved) I don’t remember it being celebrated. It was after he threatened to leave the company so it was brushed off as a bribe rather than a realisation of his worth.
I have 35 years of socialisation to overcome. So where do I start? That’s always the hardest part. *Scratches head*
Ok, so what would I tell my friends or recommend for my clients? I’d say:
1. Celebrate success
A great step in building confidence is celebrating when things go well. We can be beavering away, making shit happen but not taking a second to sit back and recognise that the great things happening are down to you and your hard work. So, next time I win a brand new client, I’m going to treat myself to a celebratory dinner. And everytime that I hit a goal or milestone, I’m going to reward my hard work.
2. Dispell the need for “legitimacy”
I don’t need a piece of paper to tell me I can write! Sure, I haven’t been taught the theory of sentence structure and without spellcheck, I’d be a bit screwed but that doesn’t mean I can’t write. People pay money for the words I string together and it’s all down to natural ability. As for the development side, I need to stop taking my talents for granted. Not everyone can develop and deliver a workshop that really gets people thinking. I am already legit. The proof is in the feedback from my clients which I’ll be capturing in an “I’m fucking ace” folder that I can look through and a testimonials page on my website.
3. Why Me? Vs Why not me?
Seriously though, why NOT me? This part is really about self-worth and self-esteem. If we all talked about ourselves in the same way we talk about our best friends, the world would be a happier place. It’s time to re-frame those thoughts, focus on the positives and be my biggest cheerleader. It’s not going to be easy, so daily visual affirmations are where I’ll start. I’m going to write post-it notes of what I’m good at and put them on my mirror. Every morning as I get ready, I’ll say the affirmations.
I am sure that I’ll still feel like an impostor for a while. In fact, I might always feel this way but it won’t hurt to start trying to fight against it. So if you feel like an imposter in your own life, you’re not alone, but you are in charge and you’re fucking great!