Imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome is something that’s come up a few times with coaching clients recently, it does seem to affect a lot of the female creatives that I work with more than anything.

What is impostor syndrome? And where does it come from?

Well, imposter syndrome is very real thing. It tends to shows up when you are in a heightened state of stress or starting something new. Have you just gotten a new job or promotion? Maybe you have a new project that you’re working on, or you’re starting your own business? You might simply be trying to do something new. And you’ve got this nagging doubt that somebody’s going to discover that you’re making it up as you go along.

My imposter syndrome story

The first time impostor syndrome really showed up for me was when I had left university, applying for jobs and going for interviews. Trying to break into the creative industry. Despite already having my degree, and having worked in the retail fashion industry for five years already at that point. For some reason I still didn’t believe I was qualified to apply for many jobs. I would go through job descriptions with a fine tooth comb, and if I didn’t meet even just a couple of the desired requirements, I wouldn’t apply. I didn’t think I was qualified enough.

There has actually been some research done around this, and apparently this is a very common occurrence between men and women. Typically, if a man sees a job description and they meet only 30% of the desirable attributes, they will apply for the job anyway. Whereas, many women feel they need to meet 99% of the desirable attributes before they even consider applying for a job!

Feeling like a fraud

Another time imposter syndrome showed up for me, 2 years into my career working as a garment technologist for a top High Street retailer. I went on my first trip to the Far East, including China and Hong Kong. I was fortunate enough to be travelling with my highly experienced manager and also my colleague & mentor. Both of whom were fabulous. At the age of only 25 I felt like a complete fraud. I found myself talking to factory owners and production managers, at least 10 years my senior, about how to improve their systems and processes around the factories. We were discussing ways to improve their efficiency, quality control systems & also their ethical policies. I just kept thinking to myself “what do I know? I’m 25, I’ve never worked in a factory before, they must think I’m just a child, they must be wondering what my experiences and how would I know what’s best?”

Projecting thoughts & beliefs onto others

I had a conversation with a supplier a few years later, and commented that I almost felt bad that I was trying to tell him how to run his business. His response was that he only knows his factory, his way of working. He understood that I travelled a lot and visited many suppliers from many different production lines, covering many different product areas. I had a much broader experience and knowledge than he did. It was then that I realised that I was projecting my own thoughts and beliefs onto others around me. I wasn’t valuing my own experiences or knowledge, it was a real eye-opener for me.

Can imposter syndrome make you strive to be better?

The most ironic thing about imposter syndrome is that actually, quite often, it is the people who are the best at their jobs are the most successful that actually struggle with the imposter syndrome. And just by the very fact that you are worried constantly about being found out, it makes you more conscientious.

I would argue that imposter syndrome actually makes you more knowledgeable. You’re likely to be more qualified or more experienced, because you are striving to be better. You want to know what you’re talking about or know what you’re doing. You’ll be constantly doing additional research, constantly learning new things. Open to learning new ways, having conversations trying to find out as much as you can.

It affects really successful people

It’s not just Joe Bloggs, Jane Doe or that suffer with this, it is highly acclaimed & professional people too. Oscar winning actress, Jodie Foster said in an interview after the event, “I thought it was a fluke”. She went on to say, ” I thought they’d come to my house, knocking on the door, ‘Excuse me, we meant to give that to someone else. That was going to Meryl Streep.”

But she’s not the only one. Actress Kate Winslett has said that “Sometimes I wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do this. I’m a fraud.” So you are not alone, it’s fairly normal & I just think that it’s really important to share that.

What do you do if you are struggling with imposter syndrome? What if it is holding you back from actually pushing yourself a little bit further forward? Because, believe me I know it can be quite debilitating. There’s a fine line between letting imposter syndrome hold you back. But also, being conscientious enough to learn more, to push yourself more to actually feel like you know what you’re doing?

Here are some questions that you could ask yourself

  • Think of a time when are you most confident?
  • What are you doing?
  • When you feel confident, how does that feel inside your body? In terms of body language, in terms of your tone of voice?
  • How are you showing up when you feel confident?
  • What causes you to stop to question yourself? What are the trigger points?
  • Whether it’s a task, a job or a even a person you’re dealing with. What is it that causes you to stop in your tracks?
  • If you believed wholeheartedly that you could do or achieve anything, what would you be doing?
  • What would that feel like?
  • Try and visualize that thing that you really want to be doing, feeling confident and thinking confidently?
  • How would you think, feel or act differently?
  • What does success look like for you?

Embrace your individuality

This will be different for every single person, and it’s important to embrace that. Different people will show up in different ways, and they’ll have different trigger points. Confidence looks different and feels different to every single person. You are unique, and what works for one person may not work for another.

Step up and step into the next stage.

If you were to step into that more confident person, what would you need to let go of? It’s really important to think about that, because the person that got you this far, is not going to be the same person that gets you to the next stage.

I hope that gives you some food for thought around imposter syndrome. I’d love to know if you struggle with it. What your experiences have been and what helps you get through it.

I have been running virtual meet-ups for the members of my Facebook group ‘The Creative Coaching Hub’.  I love these sessions & so do my members. One of my members even referred to it as her weekly creative therapy session! A chance to connect & chat with like minded creatives, you can join here.

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