I've achieved a fair amount this year. It has been a largely very successful year, yet I feel like it's all a happy accident. I survived 6 months living in Madrid without being able to speak much Spanish. I got hired by the BBC after doing work experience with them for a few weeks. Started blogging for HuffPost. Finished second year with a mid-first. Was nominated to be Head of News at my student radio station. Hired as a Global Opportunities Ambassador at my university.
So why am I so unsure how this all happened and why do I feel like I'm actually an imposter in my own life? I've had that word floating around my head for a while, associated with an anxiety about my ability to do well. I constantly question why people think I'm so capable, and feel that any time soon I will fail and be exposed for the fraud I am. It was only after I delved into the internet that I realised 'Imposter Syndrome' was a thing - and there was a Wikipedia page for the way I have been feeling.
Coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes, the phrase was used to describe high-achieving individuals who struggle to realise what they've achieved and live in fear of being exposed for their actual, incompetent selves. There is evidence that they can do what they set out to- but they continue to believe they are fakes.
I always rationalise situations rather than thinking I have just worked hard. I assure myself I must have been in the right place at the right time.
This may be happening because I'm a woman.
There are studies which suggest that high-achieving women are the most likely to have Imposter Syndrome. It's hard to know whether this is related to their position in the workplace; as women earn less than men and are less likely to ask for a promotion, or goes beyond that into the psychological. These studies may be inaccurate though, and it could just be that men don't mind the feelings of inadequacy, or less likely to talk about it if they do.
I'm not sure I would classify myself as having the syndrome, but rather it's a symptom of my anxiety and obsessive thoughts. It isn't a behaviour that is isolation from my personality or my mental behaviour.
Instead, it's very ingrained in the low-self-esteem colliding with periods of egomania and anxious feelings. This isn't a very pleasant concoction, and it often leads to such extreme self-doubt that it affects how I work. I avoid what I think I can't do well, or put myself down so much the entire time I'm doing it that I descend into a state of panic - so much so sometimes that it ends in a panic attack.
Even whilst writing this blog post, I have some very intrusive and annoying questions churned up and spat out at me. "Should you even bother writing this, it's not very good?" "Does this even make any sense?"
"Maybe I should just stop now and save myself the embarrassment."
Yet the syndrome is not seen as a mental disorder, and is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It is simply seen as a reaction to certain situations.
Either way, Imposter Syndrome means you undervalue yourself. Even the thought of me admitting I undervalue myself, makes me feel uncomfortable. What an arrogant thing to accept!
In a world where our online personas are so widely observed and scrutinised, where we can paint whatever heightened image of ourselves that we want to, and where celebrity personalities, such as Kylie Jenner, have seemingly flawless lives; it is hard not to compare.
It's no big secret that all of this is façade, and we only chose the best of our lives to post online. It's the same when you step out for work or university for the day- we are all playing a bit of a role, and showing off the best of us that we can, to avoid being shunned. Once you realise this, and thus shed the perfectionism, you remove all that excess self-importance.
Also, it's great to realise that nobody really knows what they are doing. Everyone feels incompetent or overwhelmed in their roles sometimes; plenty of successful famous people, such as Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, Kate Winslet and Maya Angelou have admitted to feeling like an imposter.
Getting over Imposter Syndrome is about accepting that you have role in your success. It's about accepting that you have a right to be where you are, that opportunity doesn't equal success and there's no harm in being a bit wrong sometimes.