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.