Rethinking Imposter Syndrome

Have you heard about imposter syndrome?

… a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

70% of us recognise these thoughts in ourselves apparently, and can understand the impact this has on not just our work lives, but our every day lives.

I have had it for years, essentially it means I think I am useless.    I know there is evidence that suggests otherwise but deep down sometimes I can’t see that, all I can see is what I perceive to be everybody else’s perception of me.   A woman with no real career.  Without a healthy bank balance.   With no pension or real plan for later life.   Loser basically.     But in reality I know that whilst essentially that is true it goes beyond all that.   I do have some achievements to my name that I know many people have been envious of.  Whilst I am not the earth mother I thought I would be, I have managed to have a hand in raising three awesome human beings.   I’m also a semi-decent wife.  I think.

This had all been swirling around in my head recently and was the driving force behind me signing up to a course last week all about promoting our brands with confidence and clarity.   I don’t really have a brand, I certainly don’t have a product to market (Imposter Syndrome Voice: because you aren’t creative Barrow and can’t make anything, that’s why you don’t have anything to sell apart from space on here.  What do you want to do a course like that for?  It will be really useful info but you won’t do anything with any of it) but what I want to do is build confidence in Brand Barrow (hell if there can be a brand Beckham there can certainly be a Brand Barrow, but it will just have fewer Range Rovers and Burberry clothes).     There was a session during the day on this very subject from a lady called Sarah Leach who runs Stride Consulting that I was keen to hear.

Sarah broke down the symptoms so to speak, such as downplaying our achievements, feeling like a fraud and focussing on what we can’t do rather than what we can.   That we assume if we can do something it can’t be valuable because presumably anyone can do it.   Sarah also gave us that statistic of 70% of us feeling that way, something the show of hands in the room seemed to confirm too.

This was a lightbulb going off for me.   I seem to spend my life on Instagram worrying about the fact I can’t do video.   I can’t do Insta-Stories beautifully, or to remember to use templates or something to make my bog standard pictures stand out.   Ignoring the fact I have over 3,000 followers whom I adore, and who are engaged.   I don’t think about that, I focus on the negatives all the time.   As is typical of anyone with the same syndrome.

Sarah said it’s often high achievers who suffer, the more you progress through your career the more successful your peers and the more you think you are the odd one out in the gang.   The closer you are to be being discovered as a fraud.   Yet frauds really can’t do what it is they are doing.   They know  they can’t do it and will ultimately be found out.

I read a great article last night by Viv Groskop in The Pool called “How to overcome that moment when you think who am I to….?   Viv talks about it in terms of having a vocal room mate in your head all the time, picking over the things you do and the decisions you make.    That is definitely how it feels to me, though the voice is definitely my own.

I joked on Instagram the other day that I am turning that inner mean voice into Alan Carr’s.    Suddenly it doesn’t feel quite so mean anymore and I feel more able to tell him to bugger off.

It’s also important I think to give ourselves a break and to be a bit more compassionate for ourselves.  We are all pretty good at showing compassion for others yet when do we show compassion for ourselves?

I don’t really have any answers or anything constructive to add to Viv’s piece (or any of the others online that I have read over the past few months) but I just want to share that if you recognise any feelings of anxiety, self doubt or fears of failure or success, you really aren’t alone.


Picture Credit : Unsplash.

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  • Yup, yup, yup. Not helped by the things I felt I could do and was good at having moved on without me – now it’s all about video and being a micro influencer and it’s Instagram gurus who get invited to conferences, not us. (I really miss those conferences.)

  • I am crying real tears, you have described me exactly. In my case I attribute it to the negative comments all through my childhood from parents, step parents, teachers and even on my school reports, Sky digs from my OH and my kids all add up to a very low self esteem. I am sitting trying to edit a whole load of wedding photos that I took on Saturday for a friend and all the while I am thinking that they are useless, she’ll hate them, I could never do this as a real job. In reality, once I turn off Joe Pasquale (Alan Carr was already taken – great idea by the way) there are some really nice photographs in there that I should be proud of. Thank you T for helping point out that we can all do it, that we can affect our own direction and that the only way is upwards and onwards and that we are bloody well good enough!

    • oh Hilary. Please know you are not alone. Quite often this feeling comes from one event or in your case several “drip feeds” over time. And then that becomes the overwhelming voice we hear. It really is hard to silence those voices, that digging, that finger pointing and feeling of “Seriously, who do you think you are?”.

      But you ARE a great photographer. You CAN take incredible photographs. You ARE so much better than many other photographers. I stop myself sometimes from sharing pics as one of my best friends is an astonishing photographer, but I have to tell myself it is okay that I am never going to be as amazing as her. It isn’t a competition. And the same is true of yours. You took them, of your friend’s special day. She asked YOU to be there and be that person, to be entrusted with such a privileged position. You will have captured her and her family and friends all at their best and she will treasure them forever.

      Big hugs

  • I can TOTALLY relate to all of this T and it regularly stops me from trying anything new and/or giving up on stuff I have started. I would love to have gone to this event but there were two things that put me off: 1) The price tag; 2) The feeling that I won’t do anything with it (because I am useless) therefore it would be a waste of money. So glad you got something awesome out of it!