The Imposter Syndrome-Why Women Often Feel like Frauds & How To Beat It
As women, we often feel like frauds don’t we? I know I do and often, and there’s a term for it: the imposter syndrome.
The imposter syndrome alludes to feeling like a fake when you have no 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 frauds.
It boils down to confidence, and despite more women than ever thriving in the work place, it’s sad to admit, we’re so often our own worst enemies.
And we’re in distinguished company (sadly).
My greatest literary hero of all time Mayo Angelou suffered from the syndrome,
‘I have written eleven books, but each time I think, “Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.” ‘
The gifted Tina Fey also said this of it as noted in Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg,
‘The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud’.
Even Oscar winner Kate Winslet feels it,
‘Sometimes I wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do this. I’m a fraud’.
We’re in great company right? Wrong. It needs to stop. Or at least, we mustn’t let it stop us from succeeding.
You HAVE TO accept you’ve worked hard, have talent and DESERVE success. It’s that simple…yet of course, rarely that easy. It takes practice.
The fact you even feel that way shows you’re clearly not incompetent, as verified by Neuroscientist and former TED speaker Bradley Voytek who wrote that,
‘Anecdotally, [imposter syndrome] appears to be fairly rampant among academics and other “smart” people. At some point during your career, possibly more than once, you will look at your peers and think to yourself, “I’m not as good as they are; I am not cut out for this…”
I get it, women are made to feel by a patriarchal society that success professionally will make them unlikable, and statistics back that up. A study mentioned again in the inspirational Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg cites an experiment conducted in 2003 with business students who were given a story of a successful entrepreneur. Half were told the entrepreneur was called Heidi, the other were told it was Howard.
They deemed Howard as likeable, talented and worthy of respect yet Heidi was seen as selfish and not someone you would want to work with or hire.
Two exact profiles, the only difference being their gender.
OK, so those questioned were students, not yet in the workforce, but it’s rather telling is it not?
And there’s more-
In 2011, a study published in Human Relations questioned 60,000 full-time workers on their attitudes toward male versus female bosses. 72 % of those who expressed a bias towards gender, wanted a male manager.
However those with a female manager gave them equal ratings to their male counterparts, meaning sexism wasn’t (thankfully) played out in reality. Reassuring to some extent.
But we are far from equality in the workplace.
When 50% of bosses are women, then powerful women will no longer be seen as something rare. They won’t be deemed ‘the other’, the exception to the male-dominant norm. Then, surely then, the archaic, negative representations of successful women in the media will be forced change. The Devil Wears Prada anyone?
I abhor the notion that women must act like men and be ‘ruthless’ or ‘difficult’, to thrive.
I am testament to the fact this doesn’t have to be the case.
Pre-professional blogging days, I was a multi-award winning filmmaker, one of only 4% now and I believe 7% then, of women working in a male dominated industry.
I was always professional, steering the ‘ship’ and drawing out the performances from the actors in the pieces I directed. I cared deeply too.
I nurtured my cast and crew while remaining strong about my vision and leading a team.
I simultaneously handled huge budgets whilst being creative on set. I was ambitious, as I am now, pitching for work, networking and putting myself out there, pursuing success.
In the early days, at 22 after gaining my MA, I worked for one of the most notoriously difficult movie bosses in the world-and survived it, I more than survived, I learnt, grew, grabbed and carved out opportunities- but I refused point blank to change who I was, or my personality, despite witnessing many others around me visibly hardened under his leadership.
I didn’t want to achieve at the expense of others, in fact my filmmaking friends and I were dedicated to supporting one another, recommending each other for work, sharing knowledge, contacts and even regularly crewing up on one another’s passion projects. We didn’t believe in the ruthless dog-eat-dog world we were presented with. We were actively the change we wanted to see.
Now, as a professional blogger, I work in exactly the same way, I’m the director of a limited company leading a small freelance team, creating, as I did as a director, emotion on screen (albeit a smaller but no less powerful screen) in this digital magazine of my life, working with global brands I’m passionate about which enable me to fund this site and whom make blogging my full time job.
I embrace PR and know it’s crucial to people discovering and reading my blog and watching my videos and vlogs.
When working in PR in the film industry for one of the biggest UK distributors, I quickly learnt that 50% of their movies’ budgets were dedicated to press and advertising. It therefore makes sense to dedicate time to promoting your work whatever medium, doesn’t it?
…Yet here we are, with a great deal of society appearing uncomfortable with women sharing their work and demonstrating pride in it. In celebrating their own and each others’ success.
Some deem it unnecessary and pompous even. That as women, we have no right to promote ourselves.
I ask you, would you feel that way if a man behaved in the exact same way? If Heidi was Howard?
Maybe you would, but it’s worth questioning yourself.
Check yourself before your wreck yourself hey- and that means your own internal dialogue which could well be preventing you from pushing higher and reaching your potential.
As Lena shares in her book, women are often told from a young age not to be tenacious, not to ‘lean in’ Sheryl Sandberg style, to keep quiet in class or refrain from taking their seat at the business table, or in the director’s chair. I wasn’t that girl. With feminist parents who instilled a strong sense of self-belief in my brother and I, I tend to feel confident for the most part, owed mostly to that vital foundation. I have that constant reminder ringing in my ears, even now, that anything is possible.
However, I’m human, creative and sensitive, so often find my self-belief has waned or dissipated completely.
Of course, there are others, on and offline, who have undoubtedly tried and continue to try and pull me down (as they will, you), who hope to break my confidence, business, brand and calling. That’s life.
Sheryl Sandberg reminds us to confront the sadness (cry it out) then move on quickly.
My husband likes to remind me that it’s a positive thing when people show their true colours, that way you know who has your back.
I’m now pretty good at the ‘moving on’ part. I forget easily, don’t hold grudges and press on, not looking back.
It’s come from practise though-being in the media industry for many years, understanding rejection, dusting myself off after each and every let-down or mistake and vitally failing, and accepting failure as a crucial part of the process. Everyone must fail in order to learn, grow and ultimately succeed.
I also have a deeper appreciation of what success means to me, be it having more free time in my work week to achieving a contract that means a lot, or writing a blog post which resonates with others and makes a difference, however small.
Success is fluid- and my kids, my greatest success of all, ground me when life feels crazy. I look at them and know what matters. They are the reason I want to achieve.
And yes, there are many times where I pinch myself, questioning whether I was the right person for the job or if perhaps someone made a mistake somewhere and hired me accidentally.
But not all of the time.
Like Tina Fey, I will ride the wave of euphoria when it comes, and endeavour to glide through the inevitable self-doubt.
I know one thing for sure, I’m committed to trying my hardest to prevent the imposter syndrome from crippling me. To remind myself that I deserve to live the creative life I work so hard for.
I’m determined to keep fighting the feeling I might be fraudulent, when it arises for I am not an imposter, nor are you.
I presented an except of this post for SKY News’ Morning Stories which was broadcast on 24 Feb 2016 when this post was originally posted. You can watch it below.