” Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.”
Self-doubt is something that has plagued me my whole life and I am sure I am not alone in that. When I was younger especially, I had a habit of talking myself out of things I wanted to do, because this inner voice did not believe I could do them. This voice told me it was better to stand back and hide. Run away. And that’s what I did, one way or another, for many years.
Of course these days, as a so-called adult, I know better than to compare myself to others. I am me and I have come a long way since my anxious, angsty teen years which were nothing short of a horror show.
At least, I thought I had.
One of these days I am going to blog about the perimenopause which I believe I have entered but not yet. It’s definitely making everything worse as my teenage me is back to haunt in oh so many ways…
Self-doubt and imposter syndrome being one of them.
I’m pretty sure all writers get imposter syndrome one way or another. Well, maybe not Stephen King. I have to admit, I don’t really get it with my writing. And that’s not to say I’m big-headed about my work. I’m not. Why would I be? I hardly sell a thing. But because I write for myself first, for the pure pleasure and joy it brings me, for keeping me sane, giving me an escape, I could go on…Writing is my biggest passion and it always will be. I don’t think my writing is the best thing ever, but it does make me happy, so I don’t feel like an imposter, because I am just being me, doing what I love.
But for the last few weeks the imposter syndrome has really hit hard in other areas of life. In fact there are only two areas unscathed. Mothering and writing. I know I am a good mother and I know I am a good writer, at least for myself.
But hormones and emotions are having a lot of fun with me right now. Clawing their way onto my back and digging in for the ride. Whispering in my ear that everything I do is a failure, that I’m a failure, that I ought to give up and walk away, that I’m rubbish, useless, pointless. I feel this pressure given only by myself every moment of every day. It’s like something I cannot shake free from.
For the last few weeks I have seriously considered quitting my company. For those who don’t know, I started a writing group in 2015 as I could not find a local writing group to go to that fit in with having kids. I started my own and after a lot of thought and research I branched out into kids workshops. I used to be a childminder and I had really missed working with kids so it seemed to make sense to combine two things I loved, kids and writing and try to encourage the next generation of writing.
This then evolved into me becoming a community interest company in 2017, which was a brave move because it is just me, on my own, doing everything. A few years later and I still can’t shake the feeling that although the idea behind my company is a good one, I am not the right person to be doing it. When I stand in front of new writers and talk them through the ups and downs of self-publishing or building an author platform, I often think, who am I to be telling them anything?
The urge to quit has got very strong lately and it’s hard to explain why, as everything is going very well. It’s hard work, it’s time consuming and the paperwork drives me crazy…but I do genuinely enjoy being with writers, whether they are children or adults. So why the self-doubt? I’ve no idea but I wish it would go away.
It really is like a nasty voice whispering in my ear the whole time. It got so bad last week that I almost decided I would quit…I would go back to dog-walking full time because I’m better with dogs than people, there is less paperwork, less stress, more time alone, no people and so on. This was me wanting to hide. Wanting to run away and avoid the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. This week I feel differently and several things have helped me be more positive. So how to battle through imposter syndrome?
Here are a few things that have helped me lately;
- look for concrete evidence that you are doing well. This could be financial, ie sales, or a promotion at work or whatever, but if there is concrete proof through your finances that you or your business is doing well, cling to this and use it to quiet the scathing voice of self-doubt
- feedback. Another concrete piece of proof you can cling to when the voice of self-doubt comes whispering…last week I had a lovely email from a parent with regards to one of my writing clubs. It made me realise that actually over the years I’ve had a lot of lovely emails from people, so this means I have actually helped and made a difference to some of the people I have worked with.
- write your fears down. No matter how irrational. You don’t have to show them to anyone else. Just write down what it is that is bothering you or niggling at you. I usually do this in the form of poems that only seem to come to me when I am feeling stressed, panicked or sad. It really, really helps to let it out.
- find a level-headed person to talk to. Last week, battling the overwhelming urge to quit it all and become a recluse, I really, really needed someone to talk to. I like being alone and never feel lonely, so perhaps I do have a tendency to gently push people away. But I suddenly realised I needed a human to talk to, face to face. I needed a coffee with a friend, someone who wouldn’t mind me babbling on about my self-doubt, explaining my imposter syndrome and helping me work through it. I nearly asked on Facebook, can you believe that? I didn’t, of course, and as it happened, I ended up having a lovely long chat with my eldest daughter, who is a very sensible person. It helped a lot.
- make a list of pros and cons. Whatever your self-doubt is telling you to do or not to do, write down the pros and cons of doing it or not doing it. I made a list for each company, my dog walking and my writing group. There were way more cons for the writing group and that is understandable. It’s a far bigger challenge where far more can go wrong! But writing out the pros really helped me realise the positives about my company, which I had started to forget.
- Take some time. If I had made a snap decision after making that pros and cons list, I would have quit my company and googled how to dissolve a CIC. I would have followed through on my upcoming commitments and then bowed out and returned to full time dog walking and writing. Oh, how tempting and blissful that sounded…But I knew that as my hormones and emotions are all over the place, I should wait for the storm to die down and see how I felt a few days later, the next week, the next month and so on. Definitely don’t let self-doubt lead you into rash decisions.
- try to remember why you started in the first place. This is what I came back to in the end. Why did I start this company? Because I love writing and I want to help other people start writing and keep writing. Because I want them to feel like I feel when I write, to have that escape and that release, to be able to create new worlds, new friends and adventures, to be able to use writing to make sense of this world and this life, to make sense of your thoughts and feelings and hopes and fears, to say something to the world, to leave your mark…Those were the reasons. They are still the reasons. So, as long as I can still see concrete evidence either through financial means or feedback, or both, I know that I am achieving what I set out to.
- Be kind to yourself. It’s easy to say that, isn’t it? I see memes like that all over social media. Self-care. Self-love. We are all pretty terrible at it and I’m not sure why. That might be a topic for another day. And the advice is there and it’s quite correct, but it’s easy to say, easy to tell someone to be nicer to themselves, but far harder to actually follow that advice yourself. I try to do it in small ways. I have that coffee on the doorstep and some time to breathe. I give myself occasional days off where I just sit on the sofa and chill. I have that wine or cider on a Friday night. I hug and kiss my kids. I surround myself with animals and nature. I read, write and listen to music. Those are the ways I remember to be kind to myself. As for the inner voice of self-doubt, I don’t think she will ever go away but some days she is a lot quieter than others, and that is something.
Over to you. Do you suffer from self-doubt or have you ever experienced imposter syndrome in all its ugly glory? How did you deal with it? Please feel free to comment and share!