Me, myself and I(mposter Syndrome)

Spending an eternity deleting and rewriting the opening sentence of this piece feels like the most apt way I could have started this blog. When it comes to my little internet corner, I often feel a bit imposter-esque. After all, despite my lived experience who am I to tell people about mental health? Never mind my English Lit degree, what do I know about books? And anyway, who even really cares?

Imposter syndrome is usually used in the context of careers and the workplace, and unsurprisingly, most often applies to women. It’s characterised by self-doubt, self-sabotage, setting unrealistic goals and failure (read: refusal) to believe one’s success is due to their own talent and hard work. Naturally anxiety and depression are next in line.

As a young professional, I’ve definitely struggled at times with Imposter Syndrome, or at least the feelings related to it, and I don’t think I’m alone in my demographic. A quick Google search will tell you that these feelings are quickly rising among millennials and (probably) Gen Z too. Firstly, as the younger generations, there’s always the question of age. I’m 28 now, and people at work still tell me I’m “so young” or that I haven’t been working for any time at all. Without meaning to, this hugely invalidates the work and time I have put in to getting where I am today, and has some seriously patronising undertones. It’s easy to revert to feelings of inadequacy when you’re being told you’re too young to be there or being treated like a child – even when you’re the subject matter expert in the room.

What’s more, as a generation, we’ve been uber-focused on getting to that “next step”. From GCSEs to A-Levels, A-Levels to uni, uni to job etc etc. But climbing the education and career ladders so quickly means we don’t often stop to reflect on what it is we’ve actually achieved. Which is actually quite a lot. Without this time for self reflection, it’s no wonder a lot of us end up wondering how the hell we got to where we are today. Instead of congratulating ourselves on our hard work and the intelligence/ creativity/ resourcefulness that led us here, we become overwhelmed by feelings of panic that we’ll be found out; that we’re not qualified/ intelligent/ creative/ resourceful enough.

However, whilst it’s most often associated with the workplace, I don’t think Imposter Syndrome is exclusively career-related. I often feel undeserving in social situations for example; that I’m not nice/ funny/ interesting enough when meeting new people or even with my friends. This is not based on any feedback I’ve ever received, it’s just an overwhelming feeling of failure, that I’m not living up to expectations – who’s expectations I’m not living up to are anyone’s guess.

And like I said at the beginning, this blog has been a huge source of Imposter Syndrome anxiety for me. Whenever I write a piece, I agonise over what to write about and whether or not I have any authority to say the things I say. Which is ridiculous, given that this is a creative outlet for me to say whatever the hell I fancy anyway.

But, whichever way it’s applied, the real danger is that it leads to stagnation. At work, we don’t ask questions for fear of being “discovered” as a fraud; in social situations we retreat into ourselves; in other aspects of life we procrastinate to avoid the feelings of inadequacy. All of which just lead to more self-doubt and self-criticising and the cycle continues, wreaking more havoc on our mental health.

For me, recognising the cycle has been a key motivator for getting out of the funk. Whether I’ve applied it correctly or not, having the label “Imposter Syndrome” has helped me to recognise what’s going on, and remember all the good things I’ve achieved so far. Having that little bit of renewed confidence has been all I’ve need to start writing again, to be more engaged with my work and to feel a bit better in myself every day.

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