Before we get into it, you’re probably wondering what on earth Impostor Syndrome is. The first definition I found, explained it as this, “a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’“. But that was from Wikipedia and do we really trust Wikipedia as a reliable source anymore? My lecturers would say we don’t.
Another source described Impostor Syndrome as a “psychological phenomenon… that reflects a belief that you’re an inadequate and incompetent failure despite evidence that indicates you’re skilled and quite successful.”
For me, this set in as soon as I got my PR job in London. Little me, going to live in London at the age of 20. What was I thinking?! Who did I think I was?! Then, when I started to be surrounded by celebrities and attend things like London Fashion Week and movie premieres, it got worse. I didn’t feel like myself. I felt like I was taking the identity of someone else and living their life instead; a fraud.
I was working for brands like Gucci, Hugo Boss and Calvin Klein. All of which were too far out of my budget and at the time, the only designer fashion item I owned was a fake Michael Kors bag from AliExpress. I didn’t think I was going to fit in. I didn’t think I would be able to do the job.
But I shook myself, even when attending the events I attended, tried to take it all in and not act like I didn’t deserve to be there, even though I felt like it. I knew I didn’t fit in with the scene, and I always had this fear people were looking at me thinking, What on earth is someone like her doing here? I would try to read the people with the guest lists, feeling them quietly judge me as I walked through. But I was there and obviously, there must have been a reason for it.
Even now I’m writing this thinking, Who am I to write about Impostor Syndrome, I probably don’t even have it. See?!
So how did I cope with the complete culture change, social change and location change for my placement year? Short answer: I didn’t. But you’re not here for the short answer, so let’s get into it. Below are six ways you can try and deal with Impostor Syndrome and how I’m trying to deal with it.
1. TRAIN YOUR MIND
Think differently. When your head tells you that you don’t belong somewhere or you’re not worthy of something, shout back at it. You do deserve to be there, in that moment. You’ve earned it.
Try not to let the negative thoughts take over, telling you that you can’t do something. They wouldn’t have hired you otherwise. Very likely, you didn’t just walk into the job. You probably worked your ass off for it so give yourself some recognition. A pat on the back, a new item of clothing or however you choose to treat yourself.
Stop the doubting and get into the headspace that you are good enough and are not a fraud. Positive Mental Attitude is what it’s all about. And stop shrugging it off as ‘luck’.
2. TALK TO SOMEONE ABOUT IT
Chances are you’re not the only one who has felt like this. Maybe when your managers first started out and started to get access to amazing opportunities they also felt like impostors.
You might think that no one can relate to how you feel, but there could be other situations in which your friends feel like a fraud. There may be parts of their lives that they feel they are ‘winging it’ or ‘faking it’. Even I’ve faked it until I made it.
I remember thinking, Who is this person? when I was doing phone interviews as I was ever so polite, articulated and overly chirpy. But you have to be in those situations. Everyone has to sell themselves and you aren’t any different for doing it too. We’re all actors in this world. Or to quote Shakespeare, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.”
3. WRITE IT OUT
When I’m stressed, I write. When I have too much going on in my head at once, I write. It makes everything clear for me. It’s like therapy in a way. I get all my emotions, thoughts and feelings onto the screen and then I read it. It helps me to make sense of everything and understand what’s actually going on inside my head. I’m starting to make myself sound like a freak now, aren’t I?
Maybe writing isn’t your thing, but honestly it helps. Even if you just take fifteen minutes to sit and vent by typing it out. Handwriting takes too long to get all your thoughts out. And once you get it all out, you can select all and delete. Like it never happened.
4. TAKE TIME OUT
When I first moved to London in June, I didn’t have the opportunity to go back to Liverpool until October. I had been home to Ireland, had friends and family visit in London but one thing I hadn’t done was go back to Liverpool. But when the time came to go back, I remember almost crying I was that excited. My stomach was in knots the entire train journey.
When I walked out of Lime Street Station and saw the Radio City tower and St. George’s Hall, I felt like I could finally breathe. A weight had lifted from my shoulders. I remember feeling like I had left my acting role behind and I was finally home. Call it a Hannah Montana moment if you will.
The air was different, the atmosphere was different and I finally felt at home. Everything was familiar and walking around the streets, I knew I had been gone for too long. Sometimes it’s good to go back to what you know and what you’re used to so that you realise how far you’ve come and the progress you’ve made. Your life may have changed in that short space of time, but your friends are still where you left them as are your favourite watering holes.
5. KEEP IT REAL
One of the worst things (believe it or not) was the social media aspect of it all. I was posting constantly, showing how amazing my life was in London and don’t get me wrong, it was amazing. But I was only ever showing the good parts of my London life, hiding away what I was actually feeling. So many people would come up to me at home or message me, wanting to talk about London and my job. People that I hadn’t said more than two words to my whole life. Even strangers.
People would even stop my mum to talk about my job and life in London. I hope this shows how small my hometown is and that what I got to experience isn’t anything any of us from Lurgan ever expect to. It was odd, but I was enjoying it and feeling like a fraud at the same time.
Yes, my life may have looked amazing on the ‘Gram’, but that’s what Instagram is there for. To show our best moments. Instagram never showed the days when I felt homesick, when I was struggling, when I felt incapable of putting on this ‘front’ for another day. So of course everyone thought my life was stress-free and full of prosecco. But it wasn’t. No one’s life is like that. Just don’t believe everything you see on Instagram.
6. STOP THINKING SOMETHING BAD IS COMING
When life is going great for me and my luck seems to be constantly rolling in, I never set my happiness too high as I always expect something bad is coming around the corner. I never let myself fully enjoy what’s going well as I’m constantly expecting that sucker-punch to come and take everything away.
But I need to learn that life might go smoothly for a while and to enjoy it while it does. Good things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. It’s just the way the world works. There were days in London when I thought I had overdone my acting role and it was time to throw it all away, pack my bags and go home. Could you imagine if I had? I was given this amazing opportunity and I was tempted to give it back because I didn’t feel worthy of it.
Just because you come from a small town, feel you don’t look the part or you don’t come from the same financial background as most people you meet doesn’t mean you aren’t worthy of the same things. Some people may have had a private education, be living rent-free and are used to living the high life in London, but guess what? You’re in the same job. You made it to the same point in life without having those kinds of luxuries. You made it.
Now that I’m back in Liverpool surrounded by my friends, tons of students and more Irish people than I can count, I feel normal again. But I do miss London and the life I had there. I don’t feel like an impostor anymore because I fade in with the crowd of students around me. But we’re not here to fade into the background. I want to stand out. To make a difference. To have an amazing life and not feel like a fraud. I hope in the future, if I do get to experience that kind of London again, that I will feel like I belong there and am meant to be there.