Less than a week ago, I reported that the third book in the Hedgehog Hollow series – Family Secrets at Hedgehog Hollow – had passed a whopping 1,500 reviews/ratings milestone over on Amazon. It’s gone a bit beyond that now:
A little while before that I’d reported that book 1 – Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow – had passed 2,000. It has also exceeded that since:
The hedgehogs have been waiting for book 2 – New Arrivals atHedgehog Hollow – to meet another milestone so they could have a big party and celebrate milestones for all three.
And yesterday book 2 reached it, passing the 2,500 mark. Woo hoo! Go hedgehogs go!
New Arrivals only came out in January so that milestone has been reached in a little over five months but Family Secrets was only published six weeks ago today and is already storming towards the 2,000 mark.
I’d been surprised when New Arrivals gathered more reviews than Finding Love as I’d have thought that readers would have read the series in order and, as there’s an inevitability that some readers won’t love it, the numbers of reviews would dip with each book. However, with the rate that Family Secrets is gathering reviews, I don’t think it will be long before it has the most.
I do read all my reviews and I know that several readers say they loved book 2 or book 3 and will go back to read the one(s) they missed so that could account for some disparity. Or perhaps a reader who reads two or three back to back only leaves a review for the latest? I guess I’ll never get to the bottom of it.
What’s interesting is that for my ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series, book 1 – Making Wishes at Bay View – has the most reviews/ratings but book 4 – Coming Home to Seashell Cottage – isn’t far behind … but that both supports and contradicts my theory above!
There was a time with the Hedgehog Hollow series when it seemed that the love for the hedgehogs got stronger with each book. While Family Secrets is still storming ahead with a whopping 83% 5-star ratings/reviews, the other two are pretty much equal. Both of them have an accidental 1-star rating where the review talks about how much the reader has loved it, one for HH1 even saying ‘one of my favourite books of late’ but the reader has managed to click on the 1-star instead of the 5-star rating which is a shame.
There are some cutting reviews for all three books, especially the 1-star for HH1 entitled ‘total waste of time’ but I do find it easier to cope with those these days. It certainly helps looking at all the hedgehog love. I remind myself it’s just one person’s opinion and you can’t please all the people all of the time. And I also remind myself that negative comments say more about the reviewer and perhaps what’s going on in their life at that time than they do about me.
With so many gorgeous reviews/ratings and so much excitement about the fourth book in the series – A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow – my biggest concern right now is not a handful of negative comments. It’s whether book 4 can measure up to the high bar set by the previous books, particularly Family Secrets. I’m meant to be writing it at the moment and I’ll admit to procrastinating massively on getting going because of THE FEAR! What if it isn’t good enough? What if there’s this huge build-up to the cliffhanger reveal and all the excitement about the release (and a long wait) and readers are disappointed?
I have this 2-star review for Family Secrets: I couldn’t be bothered to finish this. The first two books in this series were fine, but the author is now trying to stretch the theme too far – rather boring. Ouch! 96% of readers disagree so I’m not unduly concerned about these comments but what I fear is these sorts of comments for book 4 onwards. I completely disagree with them. I am not stretching a theme too far. There is a setting and there are stories to tell and I have lots of great stories in mind … but what if the unexpected twists and turns of Family Secrets was the peak and it’s downhill from there? Argh!
One of my favourite films is A Cinderella Story. From 2004 and starring Hilary Duff, it’s a modern-day reimagining of the Cinderella story as you can probably guess from the title and it’s fabulous. The main character is called Sam and her dad used to run a sports-themed diner. When he died, Sam’s ‘wicked stepmother’ took it over and refurbished. She redecorated it pink and made the staff wear roller boots. Near the climax in the film, a door slams and something falls off the wall revealing the baseball-themed quote Sam’s dad had up there: Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game”. I love that!
This quote is in my mind as I approach writing book 4 and I’m pushing aside that 2-star review. It’s partly the reason why I have decided to do a really intensive blitz of the book next week as I’ve been spending too much time thinking and worrying and not getting the words down on the paper. I do have a great story to tell. It’s different from book 3’s story but all the stories are different otherwise I would accept the ‘rather boring’ accusation. I also have an amazing editor who will help knock it into shape so we’re bringing out a great book that doesn’t disappoint the hedgehog fans.
Tell you what, if writing a book was as simple as having an idea and getting it down on the page, my job would be so easy. It’s the thinking and worrying that causes the problems. But I absolutely love what I do and, although I could do without THE FEAR, I would choose it with the fear rather than not do it at all. Which brings us to another quote: Feel the fear and do it anyway!
I have the rest of the week to get organised and do the research I need to do to enable me to get my head down for next Monday and write. No way am I expecting to write a full book in a week but I’m certainly going to give it a good go!
Hope you have a fabulous week and thank you for all the amazing love and support for this series. I really appreciate all the lovely reviews, the comments on social media, the recommendations, and the direct messages I’ve had from so many lovely readers. They’re such a boost.
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.
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…
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