I decided to write this article for my own sake. It all started by typing in the search bar various feelings and symptoms I have been experiencing for the past few years, since I passed some important stages in my life and career, to be exact. One thing led to another and I started to begin to realise that perhaps, it is something that I need to look deeper into and that I am certainly not alone in experiencing this.
Before I start barely scrapping off the surface of this huge not-enough-spoken-of subject, I need to make clear that I’m not writing from a professional perspective (actually, I welcome you to if you can), but from my own experience as a young woman moving countries to start a new life, study and earn a living on my own.
In easy to understand medical terms, the impostor syndrome is a psychological term that refers to a pattern of behaviour where people doubt their abilities and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud, even though they have the ability and skills to deserve their success. Though the impostor syndrome is not an official diagnosis, it is acknowledged by psychologists as a very real and specific form of intellectual self-doubt. Very encouraging.
Although men and women are both susceptible to the impostor syndrome, we tend to experience it more than men. It’s more common than you think. Michelle Obama, Serena Williams, Maya Angelou, Lady Gaga and Emma Watson – all successful women – are in my own little club.
For me, it means that every time I get praised for my work, I believe it’s just a one-off exceptional occasion which came my way because I’m lucky. Sometimes I have to rehearse a whole dialogue in my mind before calling a client or even before calling my cat’s vet. It’s something I do because I have this constant feeling that I will be somewhat exposed as not knowing what I’m talking about.
Other times I remember how I moved countries and left all my friends and family back home to come and study here so that I could climb the ladder in a very tough industry. As a foreigner, the imposter syndrome is heartless on me. I always compare my English-speaking abilities to others, more often than not they are native speakers which of course is not fair. I simply choose to ignore that I got through 5 years of academic learning with dozens of written and oral exams in English.
If I had a friend telling me the nasty stuff, I tell myself, trust me, I’d kick off. But when it’s your mind playing games on you, it’s a whole different story. Things go way back, when I didn’t even know of this being a ‘thing’. Whenever I used to take an exam back in school, I would always worry that I will fail it for whatever reason and then get a really good mark. My colleagues used to think I’m arrogant. I always hated public speaking because I thought no one has anything to learn from me. Despite always being a high-achiever, I never took time to celebrate my wins.
When you’re constantly battling self-doubt, you learn to embrace it. I became a perfectionist, which I like to think it’s a blessing in disguise. I’m still over prepared, and my mind is trained to always be alert so that I can never be caught on the wrong foot. This proved to be an ace up my sleeve so many times.
I learnt to stand up to myself when things got nasty because, citing the wonderful Ru Paul, if I don’t love myself, how am I supposed to love someone else? Easier said than done, but as long as we keep moving, we’re making progress.