I remember being a teenager at a party, and looking at how others were dressed and wondering if I was cool enough to be there. Asking myself if my outfit was good enough. How ridiculous is that? That sense of imposter syndrome has always been there for me and so many of the women I know. Whenever I’ve opened up to my family or closest mates about a period of self doubt, it’s never failed to surprise me that some of the brightest, most brilliant women I know have stories of how they’ve been affected by imposter syndrome too.
New research from Galaxy Chocolate who have partnered with the Young Women’s Trust has shown that none of us are ever alone in these feelings – I wasn’t surprised, yet also felt saddened to find that a huge 53 per cent of British women suffer from imposter syndrome. And it’s affecting their careers, relationships, friendships and so much more.
Reflecting personally, I think I struggled with what we now know to be called “imposter syndrome” most when I first moved to London from Blackburn aged 21 to pursue my television career. I’d been buzzing to get out there and start achieving my dreams of taking over the telly for as long as I could remember, but when I started having meetings and doing auditions there was often an emphasis on my accent which became a source of insecurity for me early in my career.
I remember a producer, who was trying to be genuinely helpful, said they could arrange some elocution lessons to “soften” my northern accent. That stuck with me: all of my insecurities were being reinforced by the team that were meant to be supporting me and I started to believe that there was in fact, something wrong with how I spoke.
Now I know that’s not true at all, I love my accent and I wouldn’t say it ever makes me feel self-conscious. However it was tough being in my early twenties and going through unnecessary doubt at a time when I should’ve been running at – and most importantly, enjoying – every last second of these new adventures.
The thing about imposter syndrome is that sometimes it’s triggered by other people’s opinions and other times, it’s not. Either way, once it’s in your mind, it makes you feel insecure. Seventy-two per cent of women cite work as one of the top areas they feel least confident in, and I have witnessed this firsthand among my friends and family.
They might send me jobs they’d like to apply for, but have pretty much talked themselves out of, simply because they are worried that they – might! – be underqualified. Fourteen per cent of women have even quit a job because of it. That’s why I always say that imposter syndrome is the biggest thief of success, holding us back from doing things we’re already capable of.
I would encourage everyone to find a way to remember and keep track of their successes. One way to do this is to keep a list of all of your “wins” to look back on when you need that pick me up. If you’re struggling, look to your best friends and family to give you some examples. I’m sure they’ll have plenty of reasons why they think you’re brilliant!
Through my work with Young Women’s Trust and Galaxy Chocolate to raise awareness of imposter syndrome and to find ways to help women thrive, I’ve learned about the other places it can show up in our lives. For 29 per cent of women, their education is one of the top areas they lack confidence. More than one in five women who have experienced imposter syndrome said it’s stopped them making friends. It also shows up in our romantic relationships and even affects our families.
For 16 per cent of women, imposter syndrome is even showing up in the gym. I myself signed up to a gym, then decided that I should get my fitness up alone at home, before joining a class so I didn’t embarrass myself. I laugh about it now but it was true.
We’re all a work in progress, learning every day. I have to be mindful to be that bit gentler with myself. Over time, I’ve definitely grown in confidence as I’ve gained more experience, which has helped combat any niggling imposter syndrome thoughts. When it does pop up though, I don’t ignore it. Acknowledging that feeling and discussing it with my friends and family can help me move past it. Seeing yourself through someone else’s eyes just for a minute can really reset your way of thinking and it’s why I try to be such a cheerleader for the people I love.
I also use different things at different times – sometimes a great workout will make me feel empowered, sometimes it’s travel, sometimes it’s a great night out and other times it’s just treating myself to a lazy day that will bring a much needed fresh mindset.
Unfortunately there are some things in life that we can’t always control – feeling underrepresented in our workplace and society absolutely impacts how confident we are. Everything we do, see and hear has a part to play. I think actively supporting one another and celebrating our unique skills and experiences is the way to go. Also asking for support from the people around you – the right line manager or colleague or partner will do their best to make you feel supported if that’s what you need, but sometimes – you’ve got to ask!
It’s interesting to me that according to research, men who do experience imposter syndrome are more likely to try and deal with it proactively, whereas just under 70 per cent of women have never spoken openly about experiencing it at all. If you are struggling, it’s important to remind yourself that you are worthy.
It has been said before, but it bears repeating. Comparing ourselves with our peers, or other people’s highlight reels on social media, is no good for our confidence. It’s important for us all to take stock and remind ourselves that we have plenty to be proud of too.
None of us are perfect – what is perfect anyway? I don’t have a clue! I do know however, that the things that might have made me feel inadequate in the past, are parts of myself which I now fully embrace and love, and with a bit of support, I hope we can all get to that point.