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Imposter Syndrome... Who Me?

Updated: Nov 1, 2023


I say : “So, I want to do something different”
He says : “What?”
I say: “I don’t know, I feel I need a change. I’ve been out of the Navy now for 3 years, though I love my job I feel I need something else, I could do loads, I’ve got loads of transferable skills, maybe I need a whole career change or different sector”
He says: “But, you are very good at what you do…”
I say: Silence.

Slightly miffed, a few weeks later I mull over our conversations and think with startling realisation, that his response to my need to strive forward mirrors my own inactions and reticence that are keeping me …in that safe place.

  • The one I am an expert in.

  • The one that doesn’t require change or a need to challenge the status quo.

  • The one that feeds that inner critic of ‘well what would I do anyway? Yeah, I have transferable skills. Definitely…possibly…well I think so….do I?’ And ‘how on earth do I start to do a 180-degree career change from where I am now, I am sure that what I do won’t probably fit anywhere else!’

And the one I am likely to stay in, unless I have a massive great big leap of faith and try to understand why I am allowing this “thing” to be a barrier, and, be so unconsciously afraid of failure that I don’t break through the unseen but incredibly big door of opportunity.

The barriers can be numerous, a boss or organisation not listening to your plea for more opportunities, friends or a partner who feel their own need, for you to be in your safe space, is more important or who overrides your need to move forward, and they have somehow become the priority. You could be in a position of responsibility and feel like you aren’t worthy, how did you even get there?! Coming out of a long period in a job/maternity/paternity/role or you stay in that safe space knowing the opportunities are there, but you find every excuse under the sun not to do it.

The irony is, I have had a successful career in the Royal Navy, joining at 16 I defied all odds, gained qualifications, became a Royal Naval Nurse, studied at a high level and commissioned through the ranks. I have worked in a plethora of environments and was a high achiever. Like many of my fellow service women, I have worked alongside men, being in the minority as a female and again was able to hold my own and perform well.

So I am looking at myself wondering what is stopping me?

As I write this blog I take a birds eye view of my friends, I never take for granted that I am surrounded by strong, inspirational people who against the odds, have risen in a career where they had to smash down barriers, challenge their body and brain to extremes, overcome institutional bias and sexism or just as importantly, have had to navigate the exceptional task of juggling a job and life whilst being an incredible parent.

Each of them holds wisdom far beyond their own realisation and I have tapped into this as an exercise to challenge my own self bias and use their awesomeness for empowerment….and you know, as the conversations start, I read what they say I find it is working.

Something shifts.

The people I ask (female and male) embrace the chance to challenge me and all of them, without exception, spoke about their own imposter syndrome, some of them surprisingly so, almost like a virus, that is very isolating, that keeps hanging around and comes back with a vengeance, with sometimes crippling, stagnant effects.

Below are their metaphorical vaccines and action boosting word medicine:

‘Speak to yourself with kindness, speak as if you were talking to the person you love the most. If you wouldn’t accept someone giving that person negative chat, why give it to yourself!’ CP

‘If someone offers you an amazing opportunity and you’re not sure you can do it, say YES – then learn how to do it later’ Richard Branson suggested by ADS.

It’s not about being the best at everything but knowing there are better options. RA

In any moment that you doubt you can fly then you cease forever to be able to do it. RA

Success doesn’t come from what you do occasionally, but what you do consistently. CG

Some things seem impossible…until they are done. CG

Sometimes you need to take a step back and remind yourself HOW you got there (hard work and determination) and WHY (because you have a long list of amazing attributes). Fill up that confidence bucket by writing a list of the how’s and why’s and be so proud of where you are because of it. We actually forget that more often than not people are looking at you thinking how amazing or capable you really are. We are our own worst critics. LF

Be kind to yourself, Instead of self-doubt. JC

It can cripple you and hold you back, but speak to someone who openly celebrates your success. Some people are intimidated by success and may play it down which can make imposter syndrome worse. Get feedback, spend time reflecting on where you are now compared to a previous time/job/relationship. Revisit previous reports or even reread your CV and remind yourself of what you have achieved and how others describe you. (Self-named) Queen of Imposter Syndrome VM.

You can’t go from zero to perfect. BJ

It’s about belief that you deserve to be there and you have what it takes. Invest in yourself, train, learn and grow to be the best version of yourself. Allow yourself the space to make mistakes – to learn from them! JC

Surround yourself with strong role models that can challenge you and keep you on the right path when things are tough. But most of all be the best you can in your role, be it a leader or in a team. Get this s**t right and imposter syndrome is only a fleeting feeling which has no business in your day to day business of being awesome. JC

My friends didn’t let me down in exploring their own experiences and I summarised that the feeling is universal and having a plan seems to be key. Not thinking about ‘what if’ and thinking about ‘what is’, writing down your goals, making them achievable and most definitely celebrating your wins.

It was widely acknowledged that being kind to yourself is tough and almost a learned behaviour in itself like mindfulness or a meditation practice. It doesn’t come naturally and wasn’t something most of us were brought up being able to do either, and, who even has time for that we argued! Though selfcare is a thing, and if put into practice, can positively impact all other areas of your life.

An exceptional mother (in my eyes) spoke about her daughter (my goddaughter) who is going to see a new 6 form school. She identified that this could be when her first glimpse of imposter syndrome could start to sneak in and how as a mother, she can start to warn it off by framing the anxiety points with a different, diverse, curious mindset.

This has also made me curious enough to dip my toe into a little bit of research about the subject.

An insightful podcast explained that the most common places you feel imposter thoughts are when you feel visible, are in a new situation and when you are in the minority. Pretty much situations I had when serving and most definitely since leaving.

We also compare ourselves to others who are experts or people with more experience which can confuse being an amateur with the feelings of imposter syndrome.

An actual expert in these things, Malcolm Gladwell (2008) worked out that it takes approximately 10,000 hours to become an expert which is approximately 5 years!

And for sure…3 years out of the RN I am an amateur!!

And the more I think about this the realisation is actually a relief. I play with the idea and challenge myself to give myself permission to not have to feel like the expert I was after a 25-year career and especially now as a newish civilian. It’s an effort because it is new and a little bit scary to make myself vulnerable and not the expert I had become in my old life/job.

The biggest luminescent light bulb moment is that the journey of transition is actually life-long, crammed with eeeekkhhhhh moments from the point of being an amateur and learning from failure and eventually….10,000 hours and a few mistakes later, becoming something of an expert.

So now more clued up and inspired, I will take my action vaccines and medication and challenge myself to hush the inner critic and embrace my new amateur status.

As I type this I have a nervous but settled feeling in my tummy.

The feelings of imposter syndrome in me makes more sense and as I ponder on my new awareness of the origins of the feelings, I consider using my friends advice on the anxiety points, I encourage myself to explore a different diverse, curious mindset, to be an amateur and if I fail, its ok!

I haven’t lost anything at all because I have tried to step out of my safe space and that’s way better than to be consumed by inaction and besides….I have another 9,999 hours to practice.

Outliers. Gladwell, M (2008)

Best Friend Therapy (2023), Episode 4. Podcast. Elizabeth Day, Emma Reed Turrell.

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