My name’s Jessica and I have imposter syndrome – Part 1

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.”

Argh!

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

Image by analogicus from Pixabay 

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’.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Downplaying success:

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

Image by patrick Blaise from Pixabay 

Are there any famous sufferers?

Gosh, yes! 

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.

Big hugs

Jessica xx

References:

You can read the full article from Corkindale here

You can read Cuncic’s article here

Be Careful What You Wish For

Just under a month ago, I wrote a post on the Write Romantics blog called ‘Chasing My Tail’ and I re-blogged it here. At the time, I found myself massively struggling to to everything I wanted to do. In fact, I was struggling to even do the things I needed to do; never mind the extras. Although I didn’t write it in my article, a little voice in my head kept telling me that it would be nice to catch one of those bugs that was going round to get me a little time off work so perhaps I could catch up a bit.

Be careful what you wish for.

On Wednesday 25th February, I came back from my morning bootcamp and couldn’t stop sneezing. My nose was like a tap that day and I had a constant headache. This continued the following day but, by the time I went to bed, I was aching. My head pounded all night, I went from pouring with sweat to shivering, and I barely slept a wink despite feeling exhausted. I phoned in sick and slept most of that Friday. Things went from bad to worse. I felt drained all weekend. I’m not often ill and, when I am, it’s likely to be two days at the most so I figured I’d be back by the start of the next week. Instead, I was at the doctor’s. I discovered I’d contracted two viral infections at the same time – the cold and flu one and the D&V one – and I could expect to be ill for quite some time as they were particularly nasty strains.

After a week of self-certifying, I had to get a sick note for another week off because I’d still got the infection, but had added conjunctivitis in both eyes to my list of problems. Saturday 7th March was a particularly low point for me. The cough – which kept me awake most nights and added to my exhaustion – was so bad that it made me sick, but the force of doing this burst blood vessels in my eyes. Bear in mind I already had conjunctivitis so was suffering already. My eyes were red and swollen and I could barely see. Early last week, I started to see a slow improvement. Very slow.

I returned to work on Friday. I’m still really tired, but I am well enough to be back at work and I’m definitely not contagious anymore. So was I well enough to catch up on anything or do any writing while I was off sick and therefore fulfil my little wish? Was I heck! I have a strong work ethic and have never/would never skive. If I’m off work, I’m off because I physically can’t work. Which meant I didn’t have the energy to write either. It turned out to have been a very stupid thought!

My first few days were all about bed. After that, I could make it downstairs to the sofa, but spend my days watching films or napping. On the plus side, I saw a lot of films I haven’t seen before. We have Netflix so I had a lot of choice. Particular favourites included a Sandra Bullock film called “28 days”, two based on Nicholas Sparks novels called “Safe Haven” and “The Last Song”, a Natalie Portman film called “Where the Heart is”, plus a Gwyneth Paltrow film called “Country Strong.” I’d never heard of any of them and would therefore never have sought them out if I hadn’t been ill.

Although I didn’t have the energy to write, I did have time to think about my writing. I’m nearly ready to send book 2 to my publishers. It’s being read by two beta readers, one of whom has read it before and the other who is reading it for the first time. I feel like I’ve made some great improvements to it recently, but something still wasn’t quite there. The storyline for one of the films bears no resemblance to the plot for book 2, but something that happened in the film triggered a thought process around book 2 and, along with some initial feedback from one of my beta readers, I think I might have found the missing piece. Yippee!

I’ve done very little writing since my return to work on Friday but it’s my flex day tomorrow (I work a full time week across four long days) so I’m hoping to crack on again then. One thing I’m a little scared of is whether I’m trying to do too much. I do cram a ridiculous amount in with work, writing, bootcamp, Brownies, and family, and I’m wondering if this little illness episode was my body’s way of telling me to slow down and relax a little. Perhaps I do need to have a night off a week where I just lie in front of the TV or watch another film I’ve never heard of on Netflix. I’m back at bootcamp in the morning and I’m back at Brownies that evening after a 2-week break. I just hope that I don’t set myself back again.

Moral of this story: if you are ever chasing your tail and need some time off, book some annual leave. Don’t hope for a minor bug; there’s no such thing!

Jessica xx