Last week, hubby and I took a mid-week day trip out to Thorp Perrow. It’s an arboretum, mammal and birds of prey centre in North Yorkshire, not too far from the Yorkshire Dales. The nearest town is Bedale but, unless you’re from the county, you possibly haven’t heard of Bedale so it’s sort of in the middle of a triangle of Northallerton, Thirsk and Ripon. Ish.
Anyway, hubby is a keen (and very talented) photographer. He’d visited Throp Perrow a couple of years ago with a photography friend and decided that the trees would look amazing heading into autumn. As it happens, we caught it just before the changing colours of the leaves and also on far too bright a day so his camera didn’t actually come out its bag but I snapped plenty of pics on my phone.
It was lovely to be able to wander around somewhere I’ve never been before and also somewhere spacious. The car park looked quite busy but, once inside, we found ourselves frequently without anyone in sight which is perfect for a socially-distanced world.
The centre is a family-run business and has been owned by the Ropner family since 1927. Shortly afterwards, the trees started being planted but it was a bit of a hobby rather than done with expertise and, over the years, became a bit of a jungle. In the 1970s, the father of the current owner brought in an expert who said the collection absolutely must be preserved and it’s been a huge task since then to curate the trees and manage this gorgeous woodland.
There’s a cafe, lots of picnic tables and a children’s playground. Various wooden sculptures peeking between the trees including a gorgeous pixie village will also help keep the interest of children as they amble along the pathways. We were touched by the pet cemetery (not of a Stephen King variety) and enjoyed visiting the little islands.
You can take dogs on leads although there are certain areas they’re not allowed in. I left hubby and our dog, Ella, on a picnic bench while I visited the birds of prey centre but didn’t time it right to catch a show. I adore owls and they had a wonderful selection. I didn’t go to the mammals centre, though, but look forward to that on a future visit.
Check out the larger of the photos below. The two trees are hugging! Awww!!!!
I hope you enjoy the photos and, if you’re ever in the area, it’s well worth a visit. Just check the website first for restrictions and also any limit on opening times. You can visit Thorp Perrow’s website here.
I definitely want to visit again but suspect we won’t make it again this year for the changing tree colours. Scarborough is on the watch-list and will probably move into local lockdown soon. It was therefore extra lovely to get out and about on such a gorgeous day before we’re not able to.
Tell me a bit about the type of books you write and where you are in your publishing journey.
I write uplifting stories of love and friendship set in Yorkshire. There’s always a romance in them but I place a lot of emphasis on exploring friendships and family relationships too. Friendships in particularly fascinate me in the way they can change with time and circumstance.
I went through the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme and secured a publishing deal with the book I put through that but, after releasing four books with that company, they ceased trading. I republished those titles as an indie author and released several more but decided in 2018 that I wanted to try for a traditional publishing deal again. I was one of the first twenty authors to join the newly-formed Boldwood Books last year and my first book with them, The Secret to Happiness,
I adore my Kindle (other eReaders are available!) but I’m sure most people who love reading will admit to getting a little thrill from browsing a bookshop or even simply pausing in a section of a store where books are displayed. A happy place.
As an author, that thrill is multiplied several-fold when the shelves contain one of my own books. I don’t think that feeling will ever get tired!
At the weekend, I was delighted to visit my local The Works store in Scarborough and not only see Making Wishes at Bay View on the shelves but to sign them! The manager in there is lovely and recognised me from when I’d been in to visit The Secret to Happiness at the start of summer just after restrictions were lifted and shops opened again.
I’d never thought to ask if I could sign copies of Secret but I’d seen photos of other authors signing their books in their local stores and the manager was delighted for me to do so with Making Wishes at Bay View.
What a surreal moment perching on the till and signing the seven remaining copies. They didn’t have any ‘signed by author’ stickers – probably don’t get as many local authors as a large city store might – but she created her own version which was lovely.
Today I went into Beverley, East Yorkshire (about 75 mins drive away from me) for a socially-distanced catch-up with my fabulous friend and fellow-author, Sharon Booth. It was the first time since mid-February that we’ve seen each other and we suspect it will be next year before it happens again.
I took the opportunity to nip into town as the branch of The Works in Beverley is about twice the size of the Scarborough one and therefore with much more space dedicated to fiction. Making Wishes at Bay View was in there. I was going to see about signing them too but there was a queue at the till and only one member of staff serving so I thought I’d best not pester anyone!
It makes me so proud to be on the shelves with other Boldwood authors, a few of whom I met in person at the back end of last year. I’ve taken a few shelfies in Scarborough but, with a bigger selection in Beverley, how lovely it was to see so many Boldwood authors together (okay, so a little re-arrangement was needed to get them all together but I did put them back where they came from!) This is the selection of feel-good books – a mixture of romcoms and contemporaries. That’s twelve amazing titles and, on the 3 for £5 offer, you could therefore get them all for only £20. Bargain!!!
This is the thrillers/crime/other selection looking fabulous too:
You can buy Making Wishes at Bay View from The Works for £2 (or 3 for £5) or online from The Works here. I’ve included the blurb below.
Alternatively, you can download it for Kindle, Kobo and AppleBooks, order a paperback from Amazon or any other good bookstore (it will be a different price as they are printed differently) or on various audio formats including Spotify.
Wishing you a fabulous week.
Making Wishes at Bay View (Welcome to Whitsborough Bay Book 1)
Never give up on a wish for a happy ever after…
Callie Derbyshire has it all: her dream job as a carer at Bay View, finally she has found the love of her life. Everything is perfect.
Ex-partners are insistent on stirring up trouble, and Callie’s favourite resident, Ruby, hasn’t been her usual self.
But after discovering the truth about Ruby’s lost love, Callie is determined to give Ruby’s romantic story the happy ending it deserves. After all, it’s never too late to let love in again. Or is it?
Friday – Recognising it in others and helping them
Final day! Yay! What a mammoth tome this has turned out to be. If you have made it through all four posts so far, thank you so much. I never intended it to be this long but, as I said yesterday, one of the coping strategies is talking about it and, my goodness, have I talked! I do feel so much better getting it all out in the open. The weight has been lifted. I can move on. If you’re struggling with this yourself, I really hope that the combination of theory and personal experiences have resonated and will help you work on those coping strategies.
I will just point out that I am not qualified or an expert in this stuff but I am a trained and qualified career coach and a career development guidance counsellor so some of the advice does draw on those skills.
Today’s post will be shorter. I promise!
Recognising imposter syndrome in others
If you’ve read the previous posts, you should have a pretty good idea of what imposter syndrome looks like. I’ll remind you here of the three types I demonstrate but I’ll add in the other two.
The perfectionist – believes their work can always be better and focuses on flaws. They want everything to be 100% perfect 100% of the time. They’ll beat themselves up for not achieving the high standards they set. In the workplace, they may struggle with delegation (if you want something doing well, do it yourself!) and could be a micro-manager
The superhero – feels they must push themselves to work as hard as possible to overcome feelings of inadequacy. They work long hours and can focus purely on work to the determinant of hobbies and/or relationships. They feel they have to keep pushing themselves to do more in order to prove their worth
The expert – always trying to learn more and may focus on what they don’t know/can’t do instead of what they do know/can do. They feel there’s always much more to learn and worry about being exposed as a fraud because they’re not experienced or knowledgeable enough to justify their status/position
And here are the two types that don’t resonate with me personally:
The natural genius – they set the bar incredibly high, like a perfectionist, but this type is about speed and ease of completing their goals/tasks. They’ve likely sailed through academia, been told they’re ‘gifted’, ‘smart’, ‘brightest in the family’ and are used to excelling with little effort. Imposter syndrome sets in when they find themselves unable to do something quickly and/or effortlessly
The soloist – will avoid asking for help as that indicates their fraudulence. They will struggle on alone because that’s the only way to prove their worth
Recognise any of these traits in others?
How to help those with imposter syndrome
Here’s some general tips for helping others who have it although specific support would depend on which of the types of imposter syndrome they’re demonstrating:
Acknowledge that it’s real and it’s common but it’s different for everyone
As I mentioned on Tuesday, it is estimated that 70% of us will experience imposter syndrome at some point in our lives. If you’ve never experienced it, please don’t dismiss it. It’s a real thing and can be quite debilitating. If you tell the ‘imposter’ they’re being ‘silly’ or words to that effect, you’re only exacerbating their feelings of failure!
If you have experienced it, then you will have some understanding of what it feels like but do bear in mind that yours may have been brief and swiftly dealt with. Your friend/colleague may be having a very different experience affecting them much more deeply. So empathise but don’t assume their experience is the same as yours.
Listen to them
Find out what their experience is like. Empathise. Don’t tell them they’re wrong to feel this way. They very likely know that themselves. If they have put themselves out there and owned up to how they’re feeling, they don’t want you dismissing it. They want you to hear it and accept it and then you can both work out the next steps from there.
Also, if you have felt like this yourself but it wasn’t as strong/was a long time ago/you’ve found ways to deal with it, do make sure you don’t turn this conversation so it’s all about you and not them! Do listen to what they have to say first as it can be really hard to admit to something like this. When it feels appropriate, ask if they’re happy for you to share your experiences.
Ask them questions
Find out more. How does it manifest? How does it hold them back? What do they want to do about it. This is an important point. It has to be about them; not about what you think they should do.
Show them how valued they are
Help them see how amazing their achievements are. For an author, saying something like, “What are you moaning about? I’d kill to be in the Top 20!” is probably not the best approach to take. But saying, “What was the highest position you had before that? Wow! What an amazing jump!” is opening up a more positive conversation. Yes, you maybe would sell your grandmother for a Top 20 position but the issue here is not that the ‘imposter’ isn’t delighted with it. It’s that their inner imposter is not looking at the positive and you can help them do that.
If they’re in the workplace, maybe challenge the long hours. What are they doing in those extra hours that they could do tomorrow instead? If their work genuinely can’t be done in ‘normal’ hours, there’s maybe another issue at hand and they actually have too much work. Not necessarily a failure on their part! They may have taken on more to try and prove their worth, feeling they’d be viewed as a failure or a fraud if they said ‘no’.
Celebrate successes with them
Because an ‘imposter’ tends to focus on the negatives, they usually can’t see the positives and therefore don’t celebrate them. So help them do that.
For an author example, Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow hasn’t got as high in the charts as New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms. Yet (positive mindset here!) However, it has gathered more reviews much more quickly so each of those books carries a different positive.
Remind them of the word ‘yet’
I even used this above. Yet is such a powerful word. You haven’t got to the top of the charts … yet! You haven’t been promoted … yet! You haven’t found love … yet! Encourage them to keep believing and stay positive.
Get them to set a plan and regularly check in
If they’ve shared their challenges with you, chances are they’re ready to work on them so get them to set some commitments – like I did yesterday – as to what they are going to change. This will cover HOW they’re going to change and WHEN they’re going to do this.
A good way to look at this is:
What will you STOP doing?
What will you START doing?
Because it’s no good doing some positive stuff if the negative stuff is continuing!
But don’t just leave them to get on with this as self-doubt is going to kick in and old habits will die hard. Discuss how they’d like you to check in so that it then doesn’t feel like you’re nagging; they’ve given you permission to ask how it’s going and give them a kick up the backside if needed.
As for my next steps…
I’m feeling so much more positive for having shared this. Thank you for ‘listening’. I also had a great conversation with my amazing editor, Nia, on Wednesday. Nia regularly reads my blog (thank you!) and I was able to talk about the humour behind some of my obsessiveness this summer and confirm, as I’ve done previously, what a pleasure it is to work with her and Boldwood. Couldn’t be more different to what I’ve experienced in the past.
The second round of edits on New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow are very limited and I was reassured that I had managed to sort that out after such an initial struggle. We also spoke about some concerns with where to start the third book in the series and Nia had a great suggestion which I’m excited to crack on with.
On top of that, an update on sales, newsletter subscribers, promo plans and what my next contract might look like have given me such a positive boost. I’m so incredibly fortunate to be able to spend my days doing what I love. It doesn’t feel like work … until I let imposter syndrome take over. So Imposter Syndrome is banished and I will get the edits on New Arrivals… finished today, take the weekend off, and start afresh on Monday with the NaNoWriMo approach to writing Hedgehog Hollow book 3 and a schedule for writing rather than procrastinating.
I’ll let you all know how I get on. In the meantime, thank you to those who have commented and particularly Eloise who has shared her experiences through the comments. Thank you to Samantha Tonge for letting me use her as a case study yesterday, to my editor Nia for being so amazing and supportive, to my husband for all the hugs and reassurance.
We’re on the penultimate day of a week of blog posts about imposter syndrome. Here’s a reminder of the plan for the series:
Monday – The theory behind it – what it is and how it manifests itself. Read it here
Tuesday – Where it comes from and how mine started. Read it here
Wednesday – How it affects me as an author. Read it here
Thursday – Coping strategies
Friday – Recognising it in others and helping them
Yesterday I gave some insight into how imposter syndrome has affected how I’ve felt about and reacted to the writing successes I’ve had this year. Yes, I do realise there have been amazing successes but the imposter in me has meant I’ve struggled to believe them/accept them/enjoy them.
Over the past month or so, I have become very aware that my mindset needs to change because it’s not healthy. My books have achieved things I never believed they could and I want to enjoy each and every precious moment. After all, my goal from when I first became published was not about getting a #1 or a Kindle Bonus or 100 reviews. My goal was to earn enough from writing that I could do it full-time. And that has happened. Everything else should be a bonus!
I do know that getting up at 3.00 a.m. then 4.00 a.m. and again at 5.00 a.m. to obsessively check chart positions is not good. I do know that refreshing my screen every 15-20 minutes to check for chart positions is not good. I do know that obsessively checking for new reviews and feeling tearful when there’s a negative one is not good. The list goes on.
I’ve undertaken a lot of research into how to cope with imposter syndrome and there are common themes that recur in all the articles/expert advice so I’m going to talk about the six main strategies, give some tips on dealing with each and state my commitment towards working on each.
Coping Mechanism 1 – RECOGNISE IT
Don’t they say that the first step in overcoming addiction is to admit you have a problem? It’s the same with imposter syndrome. I have realised this year that it has got out of hand and I need to do something about it.
TOP TIP: See if you can identify what triggered your imposter syndrome. On Tuesday, I gave a list of some common triggers and one or even several of those might resonate.
For me, realising the origin was a lightbulb moment as well as being a catalyst for moving on. The reality is that those workplace bullies aren’t in my life anymore and never will be again. I’m a full-time author based from home so work is a very different set-up for me now. There are no promotions, bonuses or pay-rises … or at least not in the traditional sense. There’s no being passed from manager to manager. There’s nobody taking credit for my work. There are no redundancies.
MY COMMITMENT: All of those workplace problems that gave rise to my imposter syndrome no longer exist. They’re in the past and they’re going to stay there. The new me is a full-time successful author and, instead of letting those bullies and negative experiences affect how I behave, I’m going to draw on those experiences and feelings for how my characters behave. Negative into positive. I like that!
Coping Mechanism 2 – SEPARATE FEELINGS FROM FACT
An ‘imposter’ may feel that they are a failure but the evidence will typically suggest otherwise. Remember that imposter syndrome is experienced by those who have achieved success but don’t perceive this in the way others do. They need to focus on the facts, not their feelings of inadequacy.
TOP TIP: Recognise the difference between facts and feelings. Are you really failing or do you just feel like you are? Is there evidence that you are inadequate in some way compared to your peers or is simply a feeling because the imposter syndrome demons are whispering in your ear?
MY COMMITMENT: For me, this means remembering how it used to be pre-Boldwood – zero sales, low chart positions – and rejoicing in anything that is better than that. And what I’ve had this year has been significantly better than that. I’ve had two books in the Kindle Top 100 for goodness sake. I’m in awe of any other author who achieves that. I should therefore be impressed with me and not focus on why one book has done better than another and feel like a failure if that’s the case. The only thing that’s important is that I’m ahead of where I was pre-Boldwood. Which I am. By miles. That’s my focus.
Coping Mechanism 3 – TALK ABOUT IT
Mental health as a topic has risen to far greater prominence over recent years with many high profile celebrities admitting to struggles in the hope that their stories will help others. With suicide, particularly among men, being at an all-time high, we’re encouraged to open up and talk about our concerns. This is particularly important in a Covid world where isolation and loneliness might sit alongside financial worries and health issues; including mental health challenges.
Talking doesn’t mean the problems are going to go away. That would be naïve. And I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that old saying “a problem shared is a problem halved” but a problem shared does take the weight purely off your shoulders. And that’s a good thing.
TOP TIP: It’s not a failure to put your hand in the air and ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness. When I was much younger (late 80s/early 90s), Bob Hoskins fronted a TV advert for BT with the slogan, “It’s good to talk”. It really is!
MY COMMITMENT: I’m ‘talking’ about it now in the way I know best: through writing. I’m saying I have a problem. It may be a fairly insignificant problem compared to what some people are going through at the moment but it’s there and it’s affecting me and it’s mine. I’d love to connect with others who’ve been there and found ways to push that imposter syndrome aside.
Coping Mechanism 4 – ACCEPT THAT PERFECTIONISM IS IMPOSSIBLE
This is a biggie….
Ah, perfectionism. It’s one of the types of imposter syndrome and, as stated on Tuesday, it’s the one with which I struggle the most. Many people without imposter syndrome may struggle with this too.
As part of my research, I was shocked at the strong connection between perfectionism and suicide. Scary stuff. That’s probably not a surprise, though, given several high-profile celebrities who have taken their own lives after their flaws have been paraded in front of the world or where they’ve struggled to live up to a perfect image that may have been conveyed via reality TV.
Social media doesn’t help with perfectionism… or does it?
Social media (usually) presents a world that is shiny where the user shows us what they want to show us … and that’s not always reality. Look at posts on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter (showing my age by not talking about sites like TikTok here) and it can often seem as though the lives of others are perfect. Happy families, talented kids, delicious meals, celebrations with friends, amazing achievements… They’re all on there. We compare this to what’s going on in our own imperfect lives and can easily feel inadequate, particularly if we’re prone to imposter syndrome and already feeling like we’re failing.
I remember a friend once saying to me a few years ago, “You’re always out!” and me looking at her in astonishment. I barely ever went out. I had pretty much zero social life. But the few times I did venture out, I posted photos on social media. Her perception of my life was therefore far removed from my reality.
Instead of looking at someone’s social media posts and feeling inadequate by comparison, it’s good to pause and question whether that person could be posting lots of positive images to cover-up or help them during challenges times. I turn to the example of author and virtual friend, Samantha Tonge. In July 2018, Sam wrote an extremely honest blog post about her battle with alcoholism, an experience which provided the inspiration for her fabulous novel released that summer, Forgive Me Not. The blog post is in the public forum but I’ve checked with Sam that she is happy for me to share it here and she has given me her blessing. You can read the full post here. The part that resonated with me is where Sam talks about social media: “It’s helped no end to talk about the positive aspects of my life [on social media], whilst dealing with my demons away from the keyboard. Posting my inspirational memes probably helps me as much as anyone else.”
As Sam’s situation demonstrates, when aspects of our life are a little out of control, it can be easy to grab onto one of the few things we can control – our social media feed – and convey a happy and positive image when that’s not really how we’re feeling. Or to cling onto (and share) a success to help focus on that when other aspects of our life have gone awry. And that can be a good thing. Engaging with others on social media can provide a distraction/a confidence boost/reassurance or whatever it is we might need at that time.
Over the past few months, I’ve found social media to be a brilliant coping strategy for dealing with my imposter syndrome but I’m going to explain how a little later as it links to a couple of the other strategies.
Still with perfectionism but moving away from social media, the desire to achieve perfection can lead to significant procrastination because the ‘imposter’ worries about their ability to meet what are effectively unrealistic high standards so can put off cracking on with their work. Oh my goodness, I’ve been doing so much of this since I became a full-time author and I can directly attribute it to my imposter syndrome perfectionist. I have more time to write now but I also have more time to think about writing. The result of that is that I over-think and the result of that is I don’t get anything written. Nightmare!
Several years ago when I was working on my second novel, I joined the international writing initiative NaNoWriMo. This stands for National Novel Writing Month and is where writers and aspiring writers spend the month of November working towards a target of 50k words (a short novel) by writing roughly 1,600 words a day. The way to achieve this word count and the principle behind the NaNoWriMo approach is not to edit. You just get the words down there, even if they’re not perfect, even if they’re not inspired, even if they’re a bit muddled because getting down a 50k messy draft is far better than spending a month agonising over perfecting every word and managing only about 5k.
I absolutely love this approach. I’d struggled on and off for a decade writing my first novel, trying to perfect every single sentence as I went. I signed up to NaNoWriMo and finished book 2 then wrote part of book 3 and have used this approach ever since. Until now. When I wrote New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow, I morphed into the perfectionist and returned to my debut approach of trying to perfect every single word and every single sentence as I went. I’d regressed. I was doing it wrong. And it was painful.
The perfectionist is likely to brood over past mistakes. I’m currently brooding over how painful I made writing Hedgehog Hollow 2 instead of just getting on with book 3 using the approach I know works!
TOP TIP: If you’re an author, take the NaNoWriMo approach. Write a messy first draft. Edit later. It’s liberating.
MY COMMITMENT: I will be taking the NaNoWriMo approach with Hedgehog Hollow book 3 because I’ve written nine books using it. It works. You can find the website and learn more here.
Worry about disappointing people is another of the perfectionist’s issues. Will my readers like this book as much as the last? Will they like the change of setting? Are my publishers happy with me? Am I doing as well as they’d have hoped? Will they renew my contract?
As a perfectionist, I panic when I’m on a blog tour, scanning the review for a low rating or negative comment before I can relax and read it properly. Well, sort of relax. It might be all positive but I’d take something like “I really enjoyed this” as a negative because they didn’t say “I absolutely loved this”. Only a perfectionist gripped by imposter syndrome could find a negative in a 5-star review! Yes, do please shake your head and roll your eyes because I am too!
On Amazon or AppleBooks, I long for every review to be 4 or 5 star and it cuts me to the core when they’re not. Even though I know this is unrealistic. I feel sick if a reviewer is negative or, even worse, says they didn’t bother to finish the book because they hated it so much. Ouch! That hurts so much! Panic sets in. My loyal readers are going to hate it too. I’m a rubbish author. I’ve let my publisher down.
TOP TIP: If you’re an author, don’t read reviews when you’re feeling low because you will feel even lower if they’re negative, or you’ll read negatives into them if they’re positive. Don’t read reviews obsessively. Don’t read reviews at all if they upset or frustrate you. Or perhaps don’t read the 1-3 star ones and only read the 4s and 5s because, let’s face it, some readers say the kindest things and it’s so joyful and reassuring to read them.
MY COMMITMENT: Ooh, I wish I could take this advice! I read every single review. I feel physically sick when I get a negative one. I actually don’t have that many negative ones but I can recite the ones I have pretty much word for word. The 90-95% of 4 and 5 star ones don’t stick in my mind. Funny isn’t it? To be fair, this is human nature and not specific to imposter syndrome.
But, going forwards, I do commit to not reading reviews when I’m feeling down. I do commit to not reading reviews just before bedtime because I know imposter syndrome will keep me awake at night stewing, feeling like a failure, and feeling I’ve let people down if there’s a negative one. And I will try to stop focusing on the negative ones because it’s true what they say: you can never please all of the people all of the time.
I’m also going to stop worrying about disappointing others. I would never, ever submit a book to my publisher that I didn’t believe in with characters I didn’t care about. I love every single book I’ve had published. I believe I can write and I love doing it. If I continue writing books of the quality I’ve written already, my publisher and my readers will not be disappointed. If I stop writing books, they will be. So I’m going to crack on and stop creating problems that don’t yet exist and keep doing what I’ve always done: write uplifting stories of love and friendship.
TOP TIP: Whether you’re an author or not, please don’t try to be perfect. Just try to do well. Perfection is unachievable and you will tie yourself into knots trying to get there. Besides, what you think of as perfection might be what someone else thinks of as flawed so, by default, perfection is an impossibility. Is it worth the stress and the anxiety to try to reach something impossible?
Coping Mechanism 5 – BE KIND TO YOURSELF
This means quietening the voice in your head that tells you you’re a fraud or aren’t good enough or don’t deserve to be there. It means stop downplaying successes as luck/fluke/circumstance and take ownership of them. It means stop striving for perfection, as per the previous point.
For an author, this also means pushing aside that other pesky ailment – comparisonitis (not an official term but, for many of us, just as real as imposter syndrome). Every author is on their own journey at a different speed. It’s good to be aware of what’s going on around you – who has books coming out and how they’re doing – as that’s all about knowing your market. It’s not good to be obsessed with this and think of yourself as a failure compared to others.
I am my own worst enemy. I set myself ridiculously high expectations and I am constantly trying to out-do myself. I always compare myself to others and stamp ‘could do better’ on my performance. I work pretty much solidly. I don’t take breaks. I don’t take time off. I never relax. The world of Covid has provided me with a perfect excuse to work even more than before: can’t go out, don’t feel safe going out, can’t go on holiday, might as well work.
TOP TIP: Challenge any negative thoughts you have and react differently to any mistakes you might make. You’ve probably heard the classic quote from Thomas Edison, inventor of the lightbulb: “I haven’t failed – I’ve just found 10,000 that won’t work.” He nails it. Failure is a mindset. Everything about imposter syndrome is a mindset.
MY COMMITMENT: I am going to work hard at being kinder to myself and celebrate successes more (see coping mechanism 6). I am going to start taking breaks. The superhero feels guilty if I am not writing yet I know deep down that I’m better off walking away from my desk and taking a break than sitting at it for two hours procrastinating. So that’s what I’m going to do.
The next steps towards being kind to myself will be difficult because they are long-held habits. I’m going to take lunch breaks. I’m not going to work every evening. I’m going to take time off at weekends or during the week so I have a proper break. I’m going to develop a routine around this.
And I am going to stop comparing myself to others. My goal was always to be a published author who can write full-time. I’ve achieved that. The goal is now to keep doing that and have a work/life balance with it.
Coping Mechanism 6 – EMBRACE SUCCESS
It does what it says on the tin. Focus on positives and not negatives and celebrate them. Stop invalidating the smallest win. Stop berating yourself for not doing even better.
TOP TIP: Fake it until you make it. I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase before and, in terms of imposter syndrome, it’s about sharing your successes even if the imposter feeling is that they’re not real/you don’t deserve them/you’re worried someone is going to take it away because, if you keep acknowledging those successes, you will eventually start accepting them and believing them.
MY COMMITMENT: I mentioned social media earlier and said there’s something I’ve started doing recently. Followers on Facebook will have seen me post ‘MILESTONE’ memes where I declare when a book has reached a milestone number of reviews e.g. 100, 150, 200 etc. Reviews seem to be coming in thick and fast at the moment (woo hoo – embrace the success!) and I’ve had quite a lot of books hit milestones over the past fortnight. I sometimes mention two together and, if it’s one, I will typically say what percentage of reviews are positive (4 and 5 star). Note, this is about celebrating (a) a milestone achieved and (b) the positive reviews instead of focusing on the negatives. It’s a mindset change.
Do I feel comfortable doing it? Absolutely not. The imposter in me says: How have you managed to get that many reviews? How are so many of them positive? What about the negative ones? Should you really be ‘boasting’ when you’ve got negative reviews? But I’m telling that voice to shhhh because I’m sick of listening to it. I worked hard to write those books. I’m very proud of those stories. I should embrace those milestones.
And, do you know what? Each milestone post has made me feel a little more positive. Each one has made me believe I do have a right to be here. I’m not a fraud.
I’ll end today’s post with a quote from a recent review on my Christmas at Castle Street blog tour from Rajiv’s Reviews. Rajiv is a new reviewer to my work but read both the re-issued Christmas books – Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes and Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Cafe – and summarised his final review with this:
“The author is now one of my favorites for contemporary romance. The pacing is perfect, the characters are lovable, and the story-lines are heart-warming. Moreover, she paints the characters and writes emotions in such a beautiful manner, that you love the main characters, and hate the negative characters with a passion”
This! It wasn’t just luck and being in the right place at the right time that moved my books up the chart and got all of those reviews. It was this. And that is why I write. I OWN THAT SUCCESS!!!!
Tomorrow is the final day on this series of imposter syndrome posts and I’ll talk about recognising it in others and how you might be able to help them move forward.
I’m feeling very positive and I’m thinking that I need to type up my commitments separately and pin them on my noticeboard as a reminder of what I’ve promised to myself. Ooh, I might even laminate them! Mmm, using stationery. That makes me soooo happy!
Wishing you a fabulous Thursday and thank you for reading so far.
I explained yesterday how my imposter syndrome developed through bullying at school and in the workplace as well as when I first experienced it in the presence of famous/successful authors. Today I want to talk more about how it has affected me recently.
Yesterday, I finished with these words:
This year, my amazing publishers, Boldwood Books, have done things for my career as an author that have been beyond my wildest dreams. But that damn imposter syndrome has been there throughout every success like a fly buzzing around my ear,stopping me from enjoying every amazing moment.
I want to explain what I mean by that but, first, I need to recap on a couple of quick bits of theory as I’m going to refer to these. On Monday, I said that imposter syndrome manifests in these ways:
Fear of failure – desperation not to fail so pushing for continued or bigger success
Feeling like a fake – feeling like a fraud and waiting for someone to acknowledge the success has been a mistake
Downplaying success – making out any achievements were nothing/luck/fluke
Yesterday, I talked about the three types of imposter syndrome that I demonstrate:
The perfectionist – believes their work can always be better and focuses on flaws
The superhero – feels they must push themselves to work as hard as possible to overcome feelings of inadequacy
The expert – always trying to learn more and may focus on what they don’t know/can’t do instead of what they do know/can do
So let’s pull all of this together and talk about how it has affected my writing career.
As an author, I constantly have a fear of failure but I would suggest that most authors have this and it’s not unique to having imposter syndrome. Failure or rejection comes with the territory. In the same way that someone applying for a job might not secure an interview or might progress to interview stage but not be offered the job, authors will likely receive several rejections from publishers and/or agents during their search to find a home for their manuscript. It happens to most authors and it’s widely documented that exceptionally successful authors like J K Rowling and Stephen King, for example, had many rejections before finding their publishing home.
On an aside, isn’t ‘rejection’ such a horrible word? In my recruitment roles in HR, I was always trained to use the term ‘regret’ instead of ‘reject’. Same outcome but kinder sentiment.
Anyway, it’s scary applying for a job/submitting a manuscript and knowing you might get that rejection but it happens to us all and we do have to accept it and develop some resilience because nobody sails through life getting everything they want when they want it. The difference between a general fear of failure and the fear from someone with imposter syndrome is how that fear of failure manifests itself once you’re successful because, remember, imposter syndrome is something that is associated with those who are doing well; not those who are on the first rungs of the ladder.
As it happens, when I started out submitting my debut novel to agents and publishers, I actually didn’t struggle with rejection because imposter syndrome wasn’t at work here. I was an aspiring writer with no books out there and therefore no readership, no reviews, no track record, simply wondering whether there was a chance my MS was good enough to be published. When a ‘no’ came back, I had a moment of disappointment then looked to see who was next on my list. I never shed any tears.
A few years later when I was a published author and looking for a new publishing deal, imposter syndrome kicked in and I took rejection very hard. I had an 8-strong back catalogue, a readership (small), sales record (limited) and reviews (small in number but mainly very good). It was limited success but it was success because I knew those who discovered my books loved them. Rejection at this point floored me. I could barely write. I could barely sleep. I felt low all the time and frequently broke down in tears. It wasn’t pretty. I even toyed with giving up but the perfectionist and superhero in me actually became a positive here, pushing me to keep trying.
And then I got my Boldwood Books deal. Yay!
Thanks to the amazing work from my brilliant editor, Nia, and the wider team at Boldwood Books, I started to climb the author career ladder at the back end of last year with the release of The Secret to Happiness and I clambered much higher this year. My stories became visible for the first time ever and a large readership built.
Some achievements have included the following (all of which are UK and Kindle unless otherwise stated):
#1 Best Seller tags on all of my books which remained for weeks/months instead of for an hour or two
#1 Best Seller tags showing on 9 out of 10 of my books at the same time
Top 10 in Canada and Top 20 in Australia for The Secret to Happiness
#14 with New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms
#8 in the free chart, #15 in the USA, and #20 in Canada with Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes
#1 in the free Apple chart and #16 in the USA with Making Wishes at Bay View
#86 with Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow and over 250 reviews within 2.5 months of release
Top 200 for the remaining books in the ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series and Top 100 on Apple
Several very successful blog tours
Two books in The Works
Lots of tweets, Facebook messages and emails from readers saying how much they’ve loved reading my books
Contract addendums to sign-up my remaining indie books, resulting in a total 12-book contract with Boldwood
140,000 copies sold through Boldwood
3 Kindle bonuses for pages read on my indie books that haven’t yet been re-released through Boldwood
Last year, before my first Boldwood release, all of the above felt like a distant unachievable dream. I sold very few books, had very few pages read, loitered anywhere between 20,000-120,000 in the UK Kindle charts and made zero impact overseas.
So, looking down that list of achievements, I should be bouncing up and down doing a happy dance, right? I should be grinning from ear to ear. I should be buzzing. Even better, all of this has enabled me to leave the world of HR and become a full-time author which is absolutely my dream come true. Writing full-time was always my goal. It was never about sales or reviews or chart positions; it was always about this thing that I’m so passionate about, that is completely part of me, being my job instead of the ‘hobby’ I squeezed in on an evening and weekend around a demanding day job.
But the only buzzing was that imposter syndrome fly in my ear saying: You don’t belong here. They’re going to find you out. No point enjoying it because it won’t last. Yes, classic imposter syndrome feeling like a fake.
I can’t deny looking at the above list that I have achieved writing success. If any of my author friends told me they’d achieved any of those things, I’d be so thrilled and excited for them. So why couldn’t I be for me?
Do you know what I tend to do if anyone mentions how well my books have done? I downplay success.
I was lucky. It was good timing. Boldwood re-released my ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series just before we went into lockdown
People wanted escapism and turned to books so I was in the right place at the right time
There happened to be a free promo planned on Apple for book 1 in March and Apple USA decided to do it too
Amazon put book 2 in a Prime deal in May which pretty much guarantees a Top 100 so it was thanks to them that I got a #14
Yes, I was definitely lucky. Right place. Right time. Nothing to do with talent
And, as I read that commentary back, I’m telling myself some truths:
Apple USA wanted the free book deal for Making Wishes at Bay View (book 1)because they were so impressed with how the promotion had gone in the UK. It wasn’t necessarily about volumes of free books but about the rest of the series selling on the back of it. Which it did. Very well
Amazon only put books in Prime that they see as being the best because they want to offer a quality product to their Prime readers
New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms (book 2)would not have stayed in the Kindle Top 100 for four months solid if it wasn’t getting good reviews and recommendations
Readers would not have gone on to buy the other books in the series, keeping them all in the Top 200 for spring/summer if they hadn’t enjoyed the first ones
My logical mind is screaming: REJOICE!
But imposter syndrome is screaming: BEST NOT. IT’LL ALL FALL APART SOON LIKE IT ALWAYS DOES.
As well as the imposter syndrome traits rearing their ugly heads, there are also the types of imposter syndrome at play:
The perfectionistin me was not impressed, wanting to push for bigger success and always somehow finding and focusing on the flaws:
You got to #14 in the UK Kindle chart. Hmm. It’s not Top 10 is it?
Books 1, 3 and 4 didn’t make it into the Top 100. Tut tut
Look! You got some 1/2/3 star ratings. One of your 1-stars says, “Absolute pish. I didn’t know it was possible to publish something so bad”. Wow! Take it in! You’re not all that, are you?
9 out of 10 books with #1 Best Seller tags? 10 would have been more impressive
Argh!!!! Make the voices of doubt stop!
While I was an indie author, I dreamed of cracking the Top 1000 but, the second it happened, I wanted Top 500. Then Top 200, Top 100, Top 50… those goalposts kept moving further and further away and, instead of celebrating each amazing achievement, I’d give myself a kicking for not reaching the next goal.
This summer, I became obsessed with chart positions, barely able to concentrate on writing because I felt the need to refresh my screen hourly to see if there’d been any change, feeling instantly deflated if any of my books dropped down the chart. When a book looked like it was climbing that evening, I’d frequently wake up during the night to check its position. This nocturnal activity also became obsessive after discovering that my books seemed to climb a little higher in the early hours.
I needed screen shots of everything. Even though authors can access something called ‘Author Central’ on Amazon which produces a graph showing the highest position achieved for each book each day, I felt that if I didn’t have the screen shot from Amazon rather than the bar chart on Author Central capturing the actual moment it was at the highest position, it was like it never even happened. Yeah, I know, I hear how mad this all sounds!
This was worst with New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms because, once a book is in the Top 100 on Amazon, the whole of the Top 100 is depicted visually. Instead of just seeing a chart position among the details about page length, publisher, publication etc, you can click into the chart and see a picture of your book alongside the rest of the Top 100. And it’s pretty exciting when you’re brushing spines with super-famous authors or perhaps even higher than them for a moment.
The superhero was desperate to do better. Okay, so New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms didn’t make it into the Top 10 but could brand new book Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow achieve that? The obsession began again when it was released in July. It peaked at #86 in mid-August and even though I kept telling myself that it got to this position without a Prime deal and without being on a BookBub promotion which was brilliant, I couldn’t help feeling disappointed. Fear of failure crept in. You peaked with writing the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series. They were the first books you wrote and you obviously can’t do better than that. You’re not improving. You’re getting worse. Why did you take a chance on a new setting when you knew readers liked Whitsborough Bay? What a muppet!
Yet, even though Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow didn’t get quite as high as New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, it has stuck around in the Top 200 for 2.5 months and it has nearly as many reviews as Seaside Blooms which originally came out under a different name five years ago. Which must mean readers love it.
Yes, but, will they love the sequel? Imposter syndrome took a grip again as I wrote book 2 in that series: New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow. I had started to accept that readers had warmed to the new setting. The chart positions, the blog tour feedback and the reviews were all pointing in that direction but fear of failure set in again. What if book 2 doesn’t sell as well? It’s not as emotional as book 1 and if readers loved the emotional punch, they’ll be disappointed with book 2. It’s written in a different way to the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series because it’s the same main character instead of a different character with each book. What if that doesn’t work? What if they say the Hedgehog Hollow series is okay but not a patch on my first series?
The voices of self-doubt made it extremely hard to write that book. Procrastination took over and, now a full-time author, I wasted full days staring at my Mac, obsessively checking chart positions, drifting in and out of social media yet not paying much attention to any posts. And panicking. Lots of panicking.
My deadline loomed and I have never missed a deadline in my life – the perfectionist would absolutely not allow that – so I knuckled down and somehow finished it by working a lot of long hours. I was actually pretty pleased with it. It wasn’t a sequel for the sake of it. I did have a good story. But was it as good as the first book? Jury was out. When my edits came back, there was quite a lot of work to do. The feedback was that the story itself was great (phew!) but the emotion of the story – my trademark – wasn’t coming across strongly enough and there were several other adjustments to make. I agreed. Every point my fabulous editor made was extremely valid and would definitely improve the book. But imposter syndrome was there.
I’d already edited eight books with Boldwood and this one needed the most work. Instead of systematically working my way through it, the expert focused on what I didn’t know/couldn’t do – you don’t have the ability to write a sequel involving the same character – instead of focusing on what I could do – you’re brilliant at writing emotion and all your books are linked so writing a series in whatever format that takes is absolutely your thing. You’ve got this! And this stopped me in my tracks. I found anything to do but tackle the edits.
I’m pleased to say that, after a lot of procrastination and down days, I did knock it into shape. Or at least I hope I have! I have a phone call with my editor this afternoon and will find out for sure.
In the meantime, I’m back to square one. I’m meant to be writing book 3 but the challenges of editing book 2 and the self-doubt from that are stopping me from writing it. The perfectionist wants each book to do better than the one before and fear of failure is there in case it doesn’t and I’ll be outed as a fake. The superhero has me working evenings and 7-days-a-week to try to succeed, even though I shouldn’t need to work these crazy hours now that I write full-time. The expert keeps reminding me what I don’t know/can’t do and I can’t stop downplaying successes as luck/right place at the right time and nothing to do with ability to write. Procrastination is still rife.
Do you know what I did on Monday? I was meant to be writing but I had 8 coloured mini bulldog clips on my desk. I carefully clipped them together. Then I unclipped them and clipped them together in a different pattern. Then another. I now have a rainbow of bulldog clips sitting in front of me and I’m shaking my head. What the….? And all because imposter syndrome has me in its tight grip and I’m finding all the excuses in the world not to tell the story. The crazy thing is I have a great story to tell. It’s not like I’m struggling with ideas or anything like that!
Last year, I graduated from Open University with a Masters in Creative Writing. Even that was driven in part by imposter syndrome. There is absolutely no requirement whatsoever for an author to have a qualification in creative writing yet I felt I needed one to prove that I was an expertif I ever made it. I want to use my skills as a trainer and tutor creative writing in the future. Again, no requirement to have a MA in it but I convinced myself I wasn’t good enough if I didn’t because my writing career at the time (pre-Boldwood) wasn’t enough to give me any credibility so I needed something.
I took a superhero approach to studying, working super-long hours to do my MA, hold down my demanding full-time job and still write. I was a perfectionist with my assignments, gutted if I got less than a distinction. But I’m already a published writer and I’ve studied my craft for years. How can I only get a pass or a merit?
Yes, I hear it, I see it, I know it all sounds bonkers but this has been my day to day existence, constantly berating myself for not doing better, pushing myself to do better all the time, worrying it will all end soon, rendering me unable to enjoy all the positives. Of course, there is a little thing called Covid loitering in the background which I think is exacerbating all these feelings because, let’s face it, I am soooo sick of these four walls! Aren’t we all?
I’ve realised this can’t continue and, although it will be a long journey, I have already taken some steps to stop imposter syndrome controlling my life and that’s what I’m going to talk about tomorrow. I’ll share some more examples of my erratic behaviour/thoughts to help illustrate the changes I am making or trying to make.
If you’re recognising the traits or types in yourself, hopefully tomorrow’s post will help you in some way. I know that writing it down has already helped me massively. That and a big hug from the hubby who has just been reading yesterday’s post. I love a hug, I do. So here’s one for you…
As a little break in the imposter syndrome series, I couldn’t resist re-blogging this absolutely gorgeous post from Eloise about my books. It has given me the warm and fuzzies. Thank you so much, Eloise x
Aside from reading the distinctly un-joyful newspaper, and I no longer even do that every day, I rarely read anything nowadays other than that which is intended to bring pleasure. I regularly reject recommendations (usually by one of those people who admit only to picking up something they consider highbrow rather than what most of us actually read), I’ve put aside the research books which supported the writing of my novel*, and abandoned altogether the hard-going canon of so-called literary masterpieces.One of life’s best little luxuries is to find a new-to-me author whose writing I like. And it’s a bigger luxury to find that she’s written not only the book I’m reading, but several others too. Shortly before our recent holiday in Devon and whilst partaking of one of my favourite activities – drinking coffee with a good friend – the conversation turned to books and knowing that friend L…
Warning: Today’s post is longer than yesterday’s and also more personal.
Why does imposter syndrome happen?
The concept – originally called ‘imposter phenomenon’ – was first identified by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in 1978. At the time, it was thought to apply to high-achieving women. It’s now recognised that it can affect anyone regardless of gender, work background, skill level or expertise. So basically any of us can experience it and most of us will.
In fact, according to Cuncic’s article (referenced yesterday), “it is estimated that 70% of people will experience at least one episode of this phenomenon in their lives”. Wow! Big percentage!
Have you ever started a new job and initially felt out of your depth because it’s all so new? I certainly have. It usually takes time to get up to speed, work out who’s who and what’s what. It’s natural to worry during this transition period that you’ll disappoint the person who recruited you and that you might have both made a big mistake. This is imposter syndrome. But you usually soon settle in and start contributing and those feelings go away.
I say usually because this is not the case for everyone. For some, this feeling of imposter syndrome sticks around for much longer, like a guest at a house party who’s just opened another can when all you want to do is crawl into bed and sleep.
Why do we feel like this? Why is this feeling of being an imposter so much longer and more intense for some?
Various things can trigger imposter syndrome ranging from how an individual was treated during their childhood to experiences years down the line as an adult in employment.
Coming from a high-achieving family where expectations are very high
Only being praised for high success and never for a good attempt
Never being praised for succeeding or perhaps being ignored
Only ever receiving criticism
Having flaws pointed out when there has been success e.g. You got99% on your test – what happened to the other 1%? You scored 3 goals but you would have scored 4 if you’d passed the ball properly. We won the client’s business but only after you sorted out those problems you’d caused
A role change e.g. starting college, university, a new job, a promotion
Being passed over for a promotion, training or other opportunities at work
Being over-looked for bonuses and/or a pay rise at work
For me, I will put it straight out there that my imposter syndrome is nothing to do with my parents. I remember being encouraged to work hard, being praised when I did well and not being criticised when anything was a struggle. I feel the need to emphasise that because my mum will be reading this and I know she’ll worry. Mum – it’s absolutely nothing you or Dad did or didn’t do so please relax xx
Having said that, it did start for me in childhood and became worse when I entered the world of work…
How did my imposter syndrome start?
Right at the start of yesterday’s post, I said I suffer from imposter syndrome. It’s a term I started using loosely about six or seven years ago without a real understanding of what it meant and how badly I’d suffered from it in the past. At the time, I was an aspiring writer and had joined the Romantic Novelist’s Association (RNA). I attended a conference where I brushed shoulders with really famous authors. Eek! We’re talking authors whose books I’ve read and loved. Authors I idolised. And I had this overwhelming feeling that I had no right to be there, that I didn’t belong.
At this point, I must emphasise that this wasn’t any RNA members saying or doing anything to make me feel like this; this was all my issue. I never even approached any of them to introduce myself because, in my mind, why would they want to speak to me – a nobody – when I was so clearly out of my depth?
Thoughts raced through my mind preventing me from saying “hello”:
Author A is soooo famous
Author B is a Sunday Times No 1 Bestseller
Author C has sold millions of books worldwide
I could never achieve that. Why am I even here?
I felt like I didn’t belong and never would and, for someone who is normally confident, I felt extremely inadequate and anxious in that social setting. It was ridiculous. I knew it was ridiculous but I couldn’t seem to change how I felt.
Yes, there were some very famous and successful authors there. But there were also mid-listers, authors with whom I was unfamiliar, authors who’d written a couple of books years ago and attended for the social aspect. Plus, there were large numbers of attendees who, like me, hoped one day to be published. I’d find myself watching the latter in astonishment as they chatted easily to published authors and wished I could do that. I wished I felt like I had a right to be there.
I thought it would be different a couple of years later when I braved the conference again, this time as a published author. It wasn’t. I still felt this sense of not belonging. Of being a failure.
This time a whole new set of thoughts ran through my mind:
I had a publishing deal but my publisher ceased trading so it’s nothing special, is it?
My books don’t sell well
My books don’t climb the charts
I don’t get #1 Best Seller tags on Amazon
I’ve never had a Kindle bonus for pages read
I’ve never been contacted by a reader to say they love my work
Again, this sense of not belonging was nothing anyone said or did but it was my own internalised feelings brought on by the dreaded imposter syndrome.
Away from other authors, I couldn’t even bring myself to admit that I was one. “What do you do?” someone might ask. Stock answer: “I work in HR.” Because there was the fear that, if I admitted I was an author, there’d be the dreaded question: “Would I have heard of you?” Er, no. I’m a nobody. Only my mum and a very small number of friends and family have ever bought and read my books.
Then this year, something strange, unexpected and perhaps a little bit scary happened. Actually, it was something quite amazing and wonderful and signalled all of my dreams coming true … but my reaction to it made me realise that I absolutely do suffer from imposter syndrome in the truest sense of what it means. It’s not just about me being in awe and a bit fan-girly when I’m surrounded my famous/successful authors. It runs so much deeper than that. I’m going to talk a lot more in tomorrow’s post about how imposter syndrome has affected me as an author but, first, I think it’s important to understand where it came from because that’s something I’ve only just realised myself in the past month or so.
In order to do that, the starting point is to look at the types of imposter syndrome I demonstrate.
Types of imposter syndrome
The theory suggests that there are five main types of imposter syndrome and I recognise three of these in myself so these are the ones I’m focusing on:
This individual believes their work can always be better and tends to focus on any flaws or mistakes instead of focusing on what they’ve done well.
Because of feelings of inadequacy, this individual feels they must push themselves to work as hard as possible. This could involve working long hours, taking on extra responsibilities, and/or going over and above what’s expected or needed.
This form of imposter syndrome is where the individual is always trying to learn more and doesn’t feel satisfied with the understanding they already have. They undervalue their expertise even though they may actually be highly skilled/knowledgeable. They may focus on what they don’t know/can’t do instead of what they do know/can do.
The perfectionist trait is where I suffer the most. It’s something I’ve been aware of all my life. At senior school, I always put in that bit extra effort with my homework because I felt like one of the invisible kids who didn’t excel but didn’t cause trouble and therefore flew under the teachers’ radar. ‘Quiet’ was a phrase that regularly appeared on my school reports.
I didn’t have a huge circle of friends and was bullied at school so I threw myself into studying figuring I might fail at being popular but I could aim for perfection in my grades. This, in turn, led to further bullying! Irony eh?
I joined a graduate scheme for a high street bank after university and felt invisible again. A clique formed among the majority of other graduate trainees and I was one of a handful of outsiders to this. It didn’t seem to bother the others as they had partners but I was single at the time and it definitely bothered me. It gave rise to all sorts of feelings of inadequacy: They don’t want to spend time with me. I’m obviously boring. I’m no fun. I’ve got nothing of value to add to the group.
My feelings of inadequacy triggered the superhero mode. I threw myself into my job, working hard, working long hours, being enthusiastic about my work, sharing ideas and was rewarded with … my first of many experiences of bullying in the workplace.
While on the graduate scheme, one manager gave me a project that was set up for failure then reprimanded me for limited progress. Another repeatedly allocated me very little work then would suddenly have something urgent I had to do on a Friday afternoon. I’d have to work late to complete it when she knew I went away at weekends to see my then-boyfriend who lived a couple of hours away.
It was a few years later that I discovered independently from colleagues on each of those teams that both managers had been vocal about how they resented me for being on a fast-track programme to management, didn’t like that I was enthusiastic and confident in voicing ideas when I was so new to work and should know nothing, and therefore they wanted to take me down a peg or two. Who does that?
Graduates completing the scheme were appointed into permanent positions at grade M5 or M4 (M for management, 4 being higher). An opportunity arose that was perfect for my skills (training design and delivery) but it was a higher grade of M3. I applied and, to my surprise and delight, I got the job. An M3 appointment was practically unheard of for those coming off the graduate scheme yet I’d secured it. Yay!
My joy was short-lived. One of my fellow graduate trainees – a clique leader – was on a training course with me and asked if the rumours were true about my appointment at M3. When I admitted they were, she looked me up and down with her lip curled and said: “How on earth did you get an M3 position?’ I’m only 5’ 2” so I feel pretty small every day but, that day, I’d never felt so small and insignificant.
We’re talking 25 years ago and I still vividly remember how I felt. That’s how much it impacted on me. Still does.
And do you know what I said in response? I gave a classic imposter syndrome reaction and down-played my success: They couldn’t confirm whether the role would be Birmingham or London so not many people applied. I therefore got it by default.
Yes, the thing about location was true but my new manager had specifically told me that I’d been the best person for the job and she would never have appointed me if she didn’t think that. She’d also said that she’d been advised by the graduate manager that she could offer me a M4 grade which was more usual but she personally felt that my skills and experiences justified the M3 appointment. I knew that. Yet I didn’t share it. Because I didn’t feel I had the right to have that grade because of how the bullying managers had made me feel. I couldn’t find the words to declare proudly that I had the skills and capability because they had made me doubt it.
The bullying continued throughout my working life. I had some amazing managers for whom I’m eternally grateful – including the manager who gave me that first management position – but it’s the bullies who escalated my imposter syndrome. I’d learned the hard way that a confident young manager caused resentment so I embraced my inner perfectionist, superhero and expert by working long hours, lapping up all the knowledge I could to become an expert in my role and hopefully provide justification for any future progression. I hoped that my high-quality, perfectionist work would speak for itself and I wouldn’t need to shout about any achievements.
This plan back-fired.
I’ve always worked in Human Resources and my roles have typically been unique specialist ones. At a result, I had lots of manager changes both at the bank and in other roles because the business couldn’t quite decide where my specialism should sit on the structure chart. It was worst at the bank with a new manager roughly every 6-12 months. Every single one of those managers passed me over for the annual bonus.
I remember sitting in the office of one manager who’d never bothered to get to know anything about me or my role. He said, “I think I’ve allocated you a small bonus but I can’t remember how much.” He’d printed out a spreadsheet for everyone in the team. My maiden surname was Williams so I was at the bottom of the alphabetical list. I watched him scroll down with a piece of paper, revealing amounts ranging from £500 up to a whopping £5k. Then he got to mine. £0. “Oh yes, that’s right,” he said. “You’ve not been on my team for long and I don’t really know you so I haven’t allocated anything this year.” He didn’t even have the emotional intelligence to sound apologetic or to appear embarrassed that he’d just shown me everyone else’s bonus and I was the only one with nothing. The ONLY one. Would the person with £5k really have noticed much difference if they’d received £4.5k instead and I’d got £500? I smiled politely, thanked him (why????), returned to my office and sobbed my heart out. It wasn’t about the money although, as a skint graduate up to my eyeballs in debt, it would have come in very useful. Instead, it was the principle. I couldn’t seem to win. Show confidence and be vocal with ideas and I got bullied. Get on with my job quietly and I got ignored.
It became a recurring theme for the rest of my career. The bullies made me feel so inadequate that, the couple of times I did get promoted, I kept waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder: We’ve made a mistake. We meant to appoint someone else. You’re not good enough and never will be. And when I got over-looked for other bonuses or promotions or was the only person on a team to be made redundant, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy: See! I wasn’t good enough and they knew it which is why this happened.
I mentioned in yesterday’s post that imposter syndrome isn’t about lack of self-confidence or self-esteem but is instead about self-doubt. I’m actually a really confident person in most situations. With a background in recruitment and training, I’m used to speaking in public and I love it. Gives me such a buzz. As for self-esteem, I’m very conscious about my weight but it doesn’t affect my self-esteem most of the time. My food demons also go back to being bullied but that’s a separate issue and nothing to do with imposter syndrome so I won’t talk about it now. So I don’t have a lack of self-confidence and I don’t have low self-esteem. But I frequently crumble with self-doubt because of my imposter syndrome. Damn you imposter syndrome!
Throughout my time in HR, I worked my socks off, being the perfectionist, superhero and expert. I achieved some awards, I exceeded objectives, I had amazing feedback from customers and, as stated earlier, I did have some fabulous managers who made me feel valued. I knew I was good at my job because of the effort I put into it and because of those who were kind. Yet I never felt good enough. I never felt like I deserved a management position. I kept waiting for it to be taken away from me and, when I was made redundant several times, that felt like my punishment for trying to be more than I really was. Despite all the successes and the many occasions where I had positive feedback, the voices that spoke the loudest came from the manager who seemed to get a kick out of making me cry (something he did on more occasions than I care to remember), the manager who laughed at me and asked me why I cared so much about my job, the HR Director who rolled his eyes at me and didn’t even try to hide how bored he was when I asked for his advice, the manager who passed off my work as her own then put me forward for redundancy, the two managers who bullied me on the graduate scheme, the one who showed me my zero bonus…
Those voices have stayed with me for over two decades. Those voices have carried over into my writing career. Those voices have given me imposter syndrome.
This year, my amazing publishers, Boldwood Books, have done things for my career as an author that have been beyond my wildest dreams. But that damn imposter syndrome has been there throughout every success like a fly buzzing around my ear, stopping me from enjoying every amazing moment.
Hello, my name is Jessica, and I have imposter syndrome. There! I’ve admitted it.
No, it’s not contagious.
Yes, it is a real thing.
It’s a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot this year and I started writing a blog post about it several weeks ago. I kept adding to it to the point where it became far too long to read in one go but, if I was to cut it down to become a shorter blog post, I knew I wouldn’t do justice to the subject and it would defeat the point.
The whole point of sharing this is to help followers of my blog to recognise it in themselves if they’re experiencing it, to feel comfort that they’re not alone, and to hopefully find some coping strategies. And for anyone not experiencing it, it may help you recognise it in others and help them cope.
So, over the course of this week, I’m releasing a series of five posts:
Monday – The theory behind it – what it is and how it manifests itself
Tuesday – Where it comes from and how mine started
Wednesday – How it affects me as an author
Thursday – Coping strategies
Friday – Recognising it in others and helping them
What is imposter syndrome?
According to Gail Corkindale in Harvard Business Review (2008) imposter syndrome is 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.”
Or, in a shorter quote (and layman’s terms) from Arlin Cuncic, Very Well Mind (2020), it “refers to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be.”
At this point, I’ll emphasise the word ‘self-doubt’ from Corkindale’s quote which is not to be confused with an individual having low self-esteem or a lack of self-confidence. This is not the same thing. Quite often those with imposter syndrome do have high self-esteem and good/high levels of confidence. It’s usually high achieving successful individuals who experience this phenomenon, hence the point of inadequacy “despite evident success”.
I’ll also point out here that social anxiety and imposter syndrome can overlap but, according to Cuncic, they are not the same thing either. Someone with social anxiety disorder can feel a lack of belonging in a social setting, sometimes driven by lack of confidence and/or low self-esteem. They may choose to avoid putting themselves into such a scenario because they don’t feel confident there but it doesn’t necessarily follow that they have imposter syndrome. Someone with imposter syndrome can feel very confident normally and typically won’t have anxieties in a social setting except when they find themselves in a situation where they feel they are inadequate. Examples would include an actor at an awards ceremony, a CEO at a business convention, an author speaking on an expert panel and so on. In these scenarios, the ‘imposter’ would perceive everyone around them to be high-achieving and could become anxious about being exposed as a fraud because they don’t see themselves as being of the same calibre.
What does imposter syndrome look like?
There are several ways in which imposter syndrome can manifest itself but here are the three most common ways which do interlink:
Fear of failure:
I mentioned earlier that imposter syndrome is about self-doubt and believing you’re not as competent as others think you are. Here, the ‘imposter’ is desperate not to fail because, if they do, then they will definitely be ‘found out’. They therefore push and push for continued or bigger successes in order to avoid said failure. Unfortunately, they can struggle to enjoy success when it comes along because the fear is ever-present that they’ll be found out and the success will disappear.
I must get that promotion otherwise I’ve failed
I need to get that part in the film or it will prove I’m not good enough
I need to get higher in the charts/stay there for longer or it will be proof that I can’t write/sing
Feeling like a fake:
Here, the ‘imposter’ feels like a fraud. Their self-doubt about their own abilities makes them question how their success happened.
How did I get to be a senior manager?
How did I win an Oscar?
How did I get a Top 100 bestseller?
How did I manage to sell out an arena tour?
They’re waiting for someone to find out that it’s all a big mistake and they’ll be outed and put back where they ‘belong’.
Here, the ‘imposter’ may attribute success to luck/fluke rather than their ability and/or they play down their successes.
I was in the right place at the right time
It was easy to achieve
It wasn’t anything special
The film/book/song happened to hit a trend
I only reached that position because there weren’t many films/books/songs released that week
Are there any famous sufferers?
David Bowie admitted in an interview that he often “felt so utterly inadequate” which he “hid behind obsessive writing and performing”.
Mary Angelou admitted that she often felt like a fraud: “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out’.”
There have been many cases of actors admitting to these feelings, Natalie Portman said, “I felt like there had been some mistake,” about her movie success. Comedian/actor/author Tina Fey has admitted to it and Emma Watson said that, when she receives recognition for her acting, “I feel incredibly uncomfortable, I tend to turn in on myself. I feel like an imposter.” Even Hollywood royalty, Tom Hanks, talked about how he could relate to the self-doubt of the character he played in the 2016 film A Hologram for the King: “No matter what we’ve done, there comes a point where you think, ‘How did I get here? When are you going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?’”
Many CEOs including the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, have admitted to feeling the same way. In an interview with the New York Times, Schultz said, “Very few people … get into the seat [of CEO] and believe today that they are now qualified to be the CEO. They’re not going to tell you that, but it’s true.”
Former first lady Michelle Obama has also spoken about the subject.
When researching this, I came across a lovely story from author Neil Gaiman meeting fellow-sufferer Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon. It’s a fairly short anecdote but it’s a bit long for me to quote so you can find it here.
I hope this helps position what imposter syndrome is and how common it can be. Tomorrow I’ll talk about where the experts believe it comes from and where mine started.
You can read the full article from Corkindale here
I love cats but was never allowed pets as a child. When I was at senior school, I lived several miles from school but my best friend lived a short walk away so I’d go to her house at lunchtime. One summer’s day, we found a litter of 4 kittens abandoned in a cardboard box in a cut-through by a main road. Who does that?! I dread to think what would have happened to the poor little things if they’d got out and ventured onto the road. My friend and I carried two each to her house. In a gesture of extreme gratitude for rescuing them, one of them peed down my white school shirt! Yummy! I wanted to keep one but wasn’t surprised when I was told a resonating no. Fortunately my friend’s mum found them all new homes.
It was many years later before I owned my first pets when, fourteen years ago, my husband and I adopted two RSPCA rescue kittens: Felix and Pixie. Sadly they’ve both crossed the rainbow bridge. We lost Pixie six years ago and Felix left us in January this year.
No longer having my own cats to fuss over, I was really keen to visit Steampuss Cat Lounge which had opened in Scarborough in 2019. Then Covid hit and that wasn’t an option.
Last Tuesday was the one-year anniversary of The Secret to Happiness – my first release through Boldwood Books – and it was also the last day before my daughter, Ashleigh, returned to school so I booked us in to visit the cats as a special treat. What a lovely hour! In fact, some might say purrrr-fect!
The cafe is on Scarborough’s Bar Street which provides partial inspiration for Castle Street which appears in many of my books. There’s a ground floor room which, when we were there, had two tables and a lower ground room also with two tables. Booking is advisable to avoid disappointment as spaces are limited. This can be done via their website or Facebook page.
There are twelve cats who go home with the owners each day rather than living in the cafe but they’re not all there every day. We were told that there were eight cats there during our visit and we saw seven of them. There’s an area on the lower ground floor for staff and cats only so a cat may occasionally go in there for a complete break.
Ashleigh and I were thrilled to be allocated a ground floor table by the bay window because it’s in the window where the cats tend to congregate. There’s a large scratching post/sleeping tower in the middle and vintage suitcases either side which the cats were curled up in.
Most of the cats are named after characters in films/books and there’s a lovely booklet on the table including pictures and giving detail about each cat from breed to age to who its best friends are. Awww! It’s perfect for trying to identify the cats although a few of them have similar markings so we’re not convinced we were accurate with our guesses!
The menu includes hot and cold drinks and cakes but there’s a large choice within that and vegan/gluten-free choices too so it caters for all dietary needs. Ashleigh and I both had the most delicious milkshake we’ve ever tasted. Mine was caramel and vanilla and hers was white chocolate and vanilla. To eat, she chose chocolate cake and I had a Victoria sponge with passion fruit topping although her chocolate cake was enormous and she let me have the last bit. Nom nom!
Delicious as it was, a visit to Steampuss was not about the food for us. It was all about the experience of being there among the adorable cats. You’re allowed to stroke them when they’re asleep (which several were) but are asked not to try to wake them up and definitely not to lift them. Full guidance on getting the most out of your visit and treating the cats with care and respect is on the website.
When we first went in, the largest cat – Hagrid – was in the middle of the floor, staring at us. It was as if he was telling us it was his domain and checking us out. Loved that! Once he was satisfied we were friends rather than foes, he settled into one of the beds on the scratching post.
There were six cats including Hagrid spread out in the window area but then another appeared. Lots of shelves were built into the walls in a way that made an accessible climb for the cats so that one decided to hang out on one of the higher shelves.
Ashleigh absolutely loved the experience. She’s 13 and I think children young and old and adults (as long as they like cats) will adore a visit. Actually, scrub that, even if they’re not cat-people, it’s such a lovely experience. Do it!
The cats are so soft and happy and lovely. A friend of Ashleigh’s has visited and it sounds like they were more active during her visit. Having been a cat owner myself, I would imagine that there are times of the day when they might be prowling more than sleeping, either of which will be amazing.
It costs £5 for an adult and £4 for a child to have an hour in the Steampuss Cat Lounge and then, of course, you do pay for your food and drinks on top of that. There are also various gifts available.
We’ll definitely be back in person but I hope to be back in my imagination too because, of course, the cogs are now whirring and I have a story forming. I would love to add a cat cafe to Castle Street. I think it would be perfect in Whitsborough Bay and not in competition to Tara’s The Chocolate Pot because it’s a very different experience to what Tara offers.
Because I was celebrating my book publication anniversary, I just happened to have a paperback with me for a photo shoot!
I highly recommend a visit to Steampuss Cat Lounge. You can find their website and all the details about the cats here. They’re also on Facebook here. The Twitter and Instagram accounts are @Steampuss with Twitter not active since last year but Instagram full of regular picture updates for a gorgeous fix of beautiful cats.
Have you ever been to a cat cafe? I’d love to hear about your experiences.