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Last night I took part in a webinar for the brilliantly vital Digital Mums who train mums with in-demand digital skills empowering them with tools to seize the digital space.

It was an honour to be invited to speak as part of their Get Confident This Summer Series about the imposter syndrome and what helps me when self-doubt hits.

The inspirational Digital Mum Ruth Thompson of Beyond Busy interviewed me and it was a pleasure to share my experiences with her and the attendees.

…I realise that many people seem to be under the impression I’m ‘Mariah Carey-confident’ (if only)-even Mariah no doubt suffers from lapses, and you might well be surprised to read that even the most talented, qualified and seemingly self-assured amongst us (take Kate Winslet and Tina Fey for starters) have gone on record saying they suffer from the imposter syndrome. So, you’re not alone.

What is the imposter syndrome?

The phenomenon alludes to feeling like a fake when you don’t have reason to.

The term ‘imposter syndrome’ was originally coined by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in their landmark 1978 study of 150 highly successful professional women in various fields where despite great achievement, ranking and salary, many women felt like phonies. And far more than men although can of course suffer too.

Here, I wanted to share the 6 things that help me when I’m feeling down about myself:

  1. Accept how you feel. Pretty much every human being will suffer from the imposter syndrome. Not all of the time of course, but many have or are currently experiencing it, so if you’re feeling like a fraud, first off make a mental note that at this very second, thousands, in fact millions are probably sharing in your self-doubt too. Many might not even recognise it or admit it if they do, mostly for fear they’re alone in their thoughts. This is the beauty of blogging and social media. We can share personal truths which are in fact, universal. This is vital for both the one sharing and the recipients. We’re stronger together. I personally feel my confidence is knocked the most during deeply emotional times, when I’m sleep deprived, or suffering from PMT and of course I felt at my lowest ebb after suffering a traumatic birth in 2010. If you’re feeling this way, please reach out for medical support and advice and commit to putting self-care first by eating well, taking time out, exercising and resting. I share 50 ways to practice self care here. Don’t forget that fear can be positive too. It often means you want something. I’m constantly scared when I push myself out of my comfort zone. Once I have though, that experience then gives me the confidence to try something else and this equation come into play: action= confidence=opportunity. Kill fear with action. Just do it Nike style!
  2. Reach out to those you trust. It takes a village to raise a baby right, and it takes a village (virtual or otherwise) to raise a mum/mumboss. If you’re feeling depressed or are suffering from trauma, please reach out to a GP for a referral to a therapist. If you are lacking in confidence generally, speak to those in your inner circle. Ensure however that, that inner circle consists of those you trust implicitly. Distance yourself from faux friends and anyone IRL and online, who makes you feel bad about yourself (you’re good enough at doing that for yourself) and keep those you who you love unconditionally, close-those who have your back. Not Yes Men and Women but people who want the best for you and will always be truthful with you. When you doubt yourself, turn to those in your tribe for honest feedback. I always go to my husband Peter, my manager Neil, my two best friends and my folks. The people in your circle will remind you of how strong you are and the great potential you have. Ask them to list your good qualities as a means to remind yourself. Yes, you might feel like a dingbat but I promise you their words will perk you up. Question why they respect you, and believe in what they have to say. Another useful tip is to reflect on your CV. If you don’t have one, create one. It’s easy when we’re in the swing of life/work or on maternity leave to forget the skills you bring to the table. Remind yourself of your self-worth. You’ll feel stronger for it.
  3. Know when to take a break. When you feel overwhelmed, take a break. It sounds simple but how many of us actually switch off the computer and chill out when we feel rubbish about ourselves?! How many of us follow others out of some kind of duty, if they don’t make us feel good about ourselves? Check yourself before you wreck yourself and start a spring clean in life and online, right now. Be kind to everyone of course, but don’t feel duty-bound to keep people in your life which only serve to make it more stressful. That’s just not cool.
  4. Don’t be scared to fail. I never see mistakes as a failure. Cheesy as hell but mistakes are really worthwhile lessons. When things don’t pan out, question why they didn’t and learn from the experience. Ask yourself what you would do differently and action that the next time. I once directed a sci-fi short film that was utterly dire. I wasn’t passionate about the genre but wanted to try it out despite it being a departure creatively for me, and that’s great because you never know if you’ll like something if you don’t try it, right?! A multitude of things went wrong on that shoot (from location set-ups to aeroplanes overhead so bad sound to the wrong crew on board etc etc) yet I learnt more on that shoot than on the award-winning films I directed before it. I also learnt to trust my gut, to let passion lead me, always but to never stop trying out new things. See!
  5. Show up and over-deliver. When you commit to a job/review/event…anything, show up and over-deliver. People want to work and collaborate with those who are a) good to work with: decent people, those who innovate and of course those who over-deliver. There’s not a single job I’ve not given ‘an Honest Mum extra’ on. People will never forget your commitment and will always recommission you. That appreciation in turn, will give you a confidence boost, making you feel better about yourself.
  6. Serve others. I interviewed my hero Seth Godin last month and I love his words on how to build confidence,’I don’t think that building confidence is possible, because it comes from a place of fear, and a place of selfishness. When we enter with a posture of insufficiency, it’s not surprising that there’s a lack of confidence.What happens if instead, we start with generosity. If we begin saying, “what can I do, no matter how small?” Each of us is capable of something. And of course, once you do a small thing, you realize that you can actually do a bigger thing. Repeat it until you’re making an impact’. YES one million percent.
  7. Invest in ‘armour’. So, true to my word as I always over-deliver here’s an extra point for you. Nigella refers to make-up as armour and I say, find yours, whatever it might be. Mine is a red lipstick and I’ve taken to tassle earrings of late, too. ALL the tassle earrings! Truth be told, I felt nervous before the webinar last night but applying some lipstick along with my big earrings, helped me feel ready to face everyone who joined in. And it was FABULOUS!

So that’s it. The 7 things which make a BIG difference to me when I feel pants about myself. Which is often, by the way. The good news is that faking it until you make it, works. The brain is malleable and you can quickly re-programme yourself to believe that you’re not fraud despite all that self-doubt you’re dwelling in- that you deserve opportunities/success/a happy life/good health etc etc. Because you do. You really do.

Mariah knows it, I know it and hopefully now, you know it too!

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27 Responses

  1. Kat | Kitty & B

    You’re absolutely right. I started a promotion a couple of months ago and I’m just shaking myself out of this. My boss and I were laughing because I changed my shoes before a presentation I gave the other day. She totally got why, but, yes it was funny because no one could see them, but it just made me feel more confident! :o)

    Reply
  2. Muffin top mummy

    Fantastic tips – I’ve always found in my job that I sort of ‘landed’ in a great role and have had the fear that one day I’m going to get found out for being rubbish! However, hearing the term ‘imposter syndrome’ has helped enormously because suddenly I realise that I’m not alone. When maternity leave ends, I’m going to go back and boss it (well, hopefully anyway!). Thanks Vicki! x

    Reply
  3. Katie

    Love this, thank you! I think this could really help mums returning to the workforce after an extended time at home. I’m sure I’ll lack confidence when I have to face that bridge. #brillblogposts

    Reply
  4. Eb Gargano | Easy Peasy Foodie

    Love the idea of focusing on generosity rather than confidence…so much healthier – and that idea to try and do something small and build on that…so well put – much better to focus on what we can give rather than selfishness…love the idea of the ‘Honest Mum Extra’ too – a focus on over delivering, not just the bare minimum…I can imagine you must be an absolute joy to work with 😀 Eb x
    Eb Gargano | Easy Peasy Foodie recently posted…Mexican Spiced Cauliflower RiceMy Profile

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  5. Michelle Frank | Flipped-Out Food

    Imposter syndrome is REAL. No matter how successful some people are, it’s always a weight on our shoulders. I love these strategies for recognizing and dealing with this silent demon. What would my armor be? Music is huge…certain songs speak to me during difficult times (e.g., Shake It Out by Florence and the Machine—apropos here, no?). Stepping out with a “put-together” look is my version of the red lipstick. Thank you for the inspiring post.

    Reply
  6. Nico @ yumsome

    Everyone (barring K) assumes I am super-confident but the reality is somewhat different. While I am more than confident in my own abilities, I often lack confidence that other people feel the same way about me, and that can lead to feelings of self-doubt.

    I try really hard to not let anyone see that though, so while the world sees Super-Me, I see someone who very often would just like to curl up in the corner, going, “meep” in a tiny little voice!

    Your point about taking time to look after yourself is completely valid; so often we put ourselves last, and the needs of others above those of our own but if we don’t care for ourselves, how can we effectively do so for others?

    Regarding being outside one’s comfort zone, right now I can totally relate to that, given that a few days ago, I accepted my neighbour’s invitation to go and share some wine. He and his wife speak zero English, and almost no Italian, German, or French (which I *can* converse in), and my Romanian is still pretty poor. At first, I felt rather uneasy but after an hour or so, we’d reached the point where we could more or less understand each other. I even made a joke in Romanian – I’m proud of that!

    I felt mentally exhausted though!

    When I was at university, I discovered the educational psychologist, Vygotsky, and whenever I’m facing a challenge, I think of his Social Development Theory, and his zone of proximal development.

    http://ow.ly/dn1K30ekRuH

    In a nutshell, there’s only so far we can progress by ourselves so at some point, if we are to step outside our comfort zone, we need to enlist the help of others. I firmly believe that this applies to adults as well as children, which ties in quite neatly with your point no.2, I think, about trusting others to help you.

    On failing; if you haven’t failed, you haven’t really tried, have you? And if you haven’t really tried, then that’s pretty much a failure in and of itself. If Edison was capable of owning his 1000 failures, I’m pretty sure we are too!

    Over-delivering… yep! I’ve never been one to do the barest minimum required of me – you only have to read some of my blog posts to see that! My grandfather, wise old thing that he was, used to tell me that in order to get on, I had to pretty much make myself indispensable, which meant working longer and harder than others.

    Of course, the downside is the danger that other people see you as sucking up, and then try to make your life a misery! Ha ha!

    No.6 – Yes! That’s why for the last few years I lived in Britain, I would cook Christmas dinner for my local SHELTER, as well as cooking an evening meal there once a week. And why for the past five years or so, have made monthly microloans through KIVA. I’ve always believed in ‘noblesse oblige’ – those who can, should. It is both a duty and a privilege to help others.

    Great post, Vicki, and as ever, lots of food for thought. Thank you! xx
    Nico @ yumsome recently posted…Mediterranean Summer Vegetable TartMy Profile

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  7. Heather Burnett

    It does help to know that even those who are uber successful like Tina Fey suffer from imposter syndrome. But I have to wonder-do men ever feel this way? It seems like they are just born confident, while women always second guess themselves. I have three children-two of them are girls and my son has autism. I wish there was a secret to raising confident girls. It’s a hard job! Especially when you are still learning for yourself!

    Reply
    • Nico @ yumsome

      Men definitely feel it too but mostly, I think, they are better at hiding it because society still expects them to ‘be manly’ and put a brave face on things.

      In 2008, my partner gave up his CEO position in order to start his own business. It wasn’t wildly successful, so he took on consultancy work in order to re-build financially. Three years ago, he started the business he has now, and now employs 15 people; this year is the first he’s drawn a salary from it.

      It’s not a huge business but it’s making 6-figure profits; even so, he still has has huge crises of confidence. He says he feels like an utter failure because he ‘threw away’ a lucrative career in order to chase a dream. Nothing I can say or do helps in any way, and I just have to sit on the sidelines until his funk passes.

      It’s not an easy thing to do, and I do actually wonder whether the imposter syndrome hits men harder because so much more is expected of them.
      Nico @ yumsome recently posted…Mediterranean Summer Vegetable TartMy Profile

      Reply
  8. Chloe

    Hi, thanks for sharing these great tips. Don’t be scared to fail is a good one, its a tough one but so you long as you’ve tired your best thats all that counts. Quiet often positive things can happen as a result. Oh and learning to take a break to.
    Chloe recently posted…Review of Twinings Chai TeaMy Profile

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  9. Emma Peach

    Learning not to fear failure is very liberating. As a child/young adult I was terrified of not being good at something, so much so that it prevented me from trying lots of things. But behind every success is a string of failures, that’s how we learn how to be successful. I’m trying to instill that in my daughter because she’s a perfectionist and gets very frustrated if she doesn’t get something right straight away. Learning to play the guitar is really helping with this.

    Emma xxx
    http://www.style-splash.com

    Reply
  10. Emma

    Thanks for these tips Vicki – such great advice. It’s easy to look at others and think everyone else is super confident and you’re the only one feeling unsure and full of self-doubt. I did a Headspace meditation recently made me feel a whole lot better by reminding me that at any given time thousands upon millions of people are feeling exactly the same.

    Reply
  11. Rebecca Smith

    I wow, yes! this is me, I used to use my glasses as my armour, I wore them everyday at work, now that I work from home (not under horrid lighting) I don’t seem to need them so much…I may go back to wearing them, they had the Clark Kent effect that I needed to get me through daily obstacles!
    Rebecca Smith recently posted…Mixed Fruit and Veg Box Review with Abel & ColeMy Profile

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  12. Victoria - Lylia Rose

    Being confident in person is my main issue. I’m terrible on the spot which is why I like being online as I can pause and think about my answers! My fear is that everything I’m doing will suddenly stop one day. The work will stop rolling in and I will no longer be able to do what I love. Hopefully not!
    Victoria – Lylia Rose recently posted…A list of 50 free and cheap things to do in the summer holidays with kidsMy Profile

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    • Honest Mum

      We all have those fears. Look at it another way-the fear exists because you love what you do. You must trust that it won’t stop and know that you will always find a way to be productive and successful. You are brilliant, have no fear xx

      Reply
  13. jodie filogomo

    I think it’s the hardest thing to do some of these things. Sure, I know them, but it’s hard. Like reaching out—I was always taught I could do it myself. And failing? That used to be the worst thing ever!!
    XOOX
    Jodie
    http://www.jtouchofstyle.com
    jodie filogomo recently posted…Summer Get-Away Styles Over 50My Profile

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    • Honest Mum

      So normal to worry about that but great to twist things and think, ‘What’s the worst that could happen if that doesn’t work out?’ and feel confident you’ll learn lessons and grow from all experiences xx

      Reply
  14. Nichole Goodland

    Amazing tips to help. I very much need to take a break and to just generally breathe. Things can easily overwhelm me, or rather I seem to let things do that and I am learning to take a step back and refocus. 🙂
    Nichole Goodland recently posted…Meal Plan 07/08/17My Profile

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  15. Suzy

    It’s amazing how many of us lack the confidence to do things that we’re really good at, isn’t it? Take me and my yoga, for example. I often feel like an imposter – ‘who am I to teach yoga?’ But faking it until you make it really does work. I do it all the time, and it always changes how I feel about myself. What wonderful advice, Vicki!
    Suzy x
    Suzy Turner
    Yogadocious
    Suzy recently posted…Promoting my Yogadocious YouTube channel every way I can!My Profile

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  16. Pen

    These are really good tips Vicki. The one about failure is really important. I don’t think I had ever really failed at anything in life before I spectacularly failed my son by choosing the wrong man to be his father. This felt like an incredible failure because my son is the most important thing in the whole wide world. My parents have a happy and successful relationship and I felt tremendous guilt and failure that I wasn’t able to give my son what I had.

    I have come to terms with this failure. I am now able to recognise my bravery and recognise that I have done the right thing for both of us. Although I failed, something much better has come out of it. We are happier and I am a better parent because I ‘failed’ but was able to learn from my failure.

    Sorry for the long comment – as you might have gathered, the failure point struck a chord.

    Loads of love

    pen x
    Pen recently posted…The greatest act of selfless loveMy Profile

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    • Honest Mum

      Oh Pen, sorry to read this. It’s not failure because you have your amazing son. It’s often hard to tell who people truly are, too. I’ve felt that way about supposed ‘friends’ over the years. Your son is lucky to have you, you are a wonderful mother. I adore your blog Pen too, you write like a dream- I feel grateful to have connected with you thanks to blogging xx

      Reply

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