Imposter Syndrome: a survivor’s view

Sorry in advance – I’m going to slay a few more unicorns today.

A very important rule of life is this: you are not defined by other people’s conclusions about you. Read that again. You are not defined by other people’s conclusions about you.

Imposter Syndrome – the illogical feeling that you’re going to be found out for being incompetent at something you’re qualified for – is real. We imagine that people who don’t feel like imposters must feel confident, resilient and successful. I’ve been told that I’m these things (and that I’m not) by different people at various points so far in my life, so in this blog, I wanted to share what it has really felt like.

Unicorn health warning: you might not think confidence, resilience and success are quite so glitzy after reading this.

Photo by Inês Pimentel on Unsplash

“You’re confident.”

Well, confidence is in the eye of the beholder. There was a time I was told out and out that all I needed was to “be more confident”. I personally found that this was a really useless bit of direction. I felt totally useless and like it was my destiny to be an unconfident person. The well-meaning people who gave me this direction couldn’t answer the million dollar question: how can I become more confident?

I have found – through lots of trial and error – that asking myself why I don’t feel okay in my skin or in a certain situation or with a certain person is a good place to start. I then ask myself if it’s worth feeling that way if it is worth staying in that situation or interacting with a person in whose presence I don’t feel okay. It’s about taking responsibility for feeling okay and knowing that if you aren’t 100% happy in that situation that you can make it out alive and you’re making an active choice to stay there. It’s why “fake it till you make it” works: a conscious decision to be in an uncomfortable place and that being okay. When it isn’t okay, you don’t feel safe and it’s increasingly hard to fake confidence.

You say I’m confident. I say I’m an introvert who has learned what feels safe – or at least what is worth embracing the fear of unsafe for.

“You’re resilient.”

Well, that depends. I am to a point. We all are in the most basic way (if we’re still breathing right now!). Who’s to say what is an acceptable level of resilience?

Your level of resilience is the level that you can sustainably tolerate discomfort. Knowing when to turn the heat down to take care of yourself is a key part of this.

It’s like parkrun. Once you’re fit enough to run 30 mins three times a week without pushing it, your times will only plateau. Your time is most likely to get faster if you can do uncomfortable training.

Knowing your limits because you have experienced them is so much more powerful than being scared of where you expect they might be. It’s like looking at the monsters under the bed and knowing they are there. Failure teaches us adaptation.

You say resilient, I say I know what I can handle, and what I can’t because I’ve chosen to spend time on the edge.

“You’re successful.”

Well. There are so many quotations that say that for every success you need to fail a lot. I have failed loads. Even when there have been things that have held together, I have this huge sensitivity to what hasn’t worked as well as it could have done. Choosing to focus on the good in things is a two-edged sword: you see just how good things can be, but then have to manage your expectations when things inevitably fall short. I suppose that makes me a realistic perfectionist.

But that said, I hate the idea of success because it limits your potential and judges/labels certain types of attainment. “I’ll be successful when…” We each prioritise financial, physical, spiritual and social success differently. Who says which is most important? It really shouldn’t matter. If you over-focus on one or more then you might be missing your best contribution you can make to the world. Start with your talents and your values (big house? Stop climate change?), see how they match, and then go for it. Know what your mission is – and make it one that you have to live every day rather than being a fixed point you have to reach. What if we thought of success as a mode of transport rather than a destination?

You say successful. I say where next on the journey?

You are not defined by other people’s conclusions about you. And the things they value don’t have to be the things you aspire to be. If aiming to be more confident, resilient or successful helps you be the change you want to see in the world, great. If not, stop losing sleep over it. Your values are the things that will best help you focus your mission: stay in your lane.

About The Author

Claire Eadington geeks out on workflow management, performance and wellbeing.

Claire’s TEDx talk about barriers to performance for exceptional women kicked off the 2017 TEDxWhitehallWomen event in London.

Claire writes a weekly blog, Self Curious, on NPW’s website. You can read more #NPWSelfCurious blogs here and find out more about Claire herself here.




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