THE BLOG

As A Successful Woman, Why Do I Feel Like A Fraud?

23/02/2017 14:56 GMT | Updated 23/02/2017 14:56 GMT

I'm a married mum of two. I love the simple things in life, like spending time with my family and walking my dog. I try to get enough sleep, eat the right things and look after my health.

 

Oh, and I am also CEO of a global company employing 180 people here in the UK, 140 in the US and 50 in Australia. When I first started we were just 100 strong with one base in the UK. It's an increasingly demanding and difficult job.

 

It's made even more difficult by the fact that I have to deal with nagging self-doubts that fuel my impostor syndrome - a belief that I shouldn't be there, that I am a fraud and will one day be found out. I often lie awake at night asking myself questions like, if my company was hiring for my job now, would they choose someone completely different? Or, how can I possibly be running a company this size?

I can be quite childlike and always seem to be the one making a stupid joke or trying to bring a light hearted moment into a meeting - which makes me wonder if people around me think I should grow up and be more serious minded.

 

Turns out it's not just me that harbours these sorts of insecurities. Sheryl Sandberg and actress/UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson have confessed feeling like they don't belong. Facebook CEO Sandberg has said: "There are still days when I wake up feeling like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am.''

 

Impostor syndrome was first identified in 1978 in a study by Georgia State University which identified the phenomenon of successful women suffering high levels of self-doubt.

 

The report states: "Women who experience the impostor phenomenon maintain a strong belief that they are not intelligent; in fact, they are convinced that they have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise."

 

The report explains that those with impostor syndrome often work harder in order to prevent people from 'finding them out'. This then often leads to more praise and success, which exacerbates the impostor feelings - and increases the danger that those with impostor syndrome will overwork themselves, leading to stress, sleep problems and ultimately, burn-out.

 

Of course, it's not just women that have imposter syndrome, but it is far more prevalent in women. Most sufferers don't want to admit to having it, but I believe it's vital that people speak out so that others who feel the same way know they're not alone.

 

Far from being a weakness, I believe that constantly questioning my abilities can spur me on and ultimately makes me more approachable, something I think is vitally important.

 

Sometimes the negative thoughts get to me, but I've learned to tell my brain to let them go and I do my best to make sure they don't inform the way I behave.

 

I was recently at an event organised by WACL (Women in Advertising and Communication London, an inspirational club of some of the most influential women in the industry) and the room was filled with dozens of women I've been in awe of. These are women I put on a pedestal - but they all admitted they have felt like frauds at some point in their careers. I love it when people are honest and share like this as it takes so much pressure off other women climbing the career ladder.

 

It's also quite comforting to know that real frauds never suffer from impostor syndrome. I take solace in the words of journalist and author Oliver Burkeman: "Move up the ranks and if your field's even vaguely meritocratic, you'll encounter more talented people to compare yourself negatively against. It never stops. 'I have written 11 books, but each time I think, 'Uh-oh, they're going to find [me] out now,' as some low-profile underachiever named Maya Angelou once said."

 

So my advice to all other sufferers of impostor syndrome is to remember it's okay to feel this way and there are lots of people just like you. It is also good for everyone around you to show that you are human too.