Imposter syndrome. The killer of confidence and dreams.
Updated: Dec 3, 2018
I loved reading and writing growing up. I studied English at University and graduated with a bonnie (high) 2:1 before going on to start my marketing career for a global chemistry corporation. I’ve always written in my spare time, helped family and friends out with their business websites and literature and my 6-year stretch in marketing involved a bucket load lot of strategic copywriting for campaigns and PR... and yet here I am, starting out as a freelance copywriter and feeling like an absolute fraud.
The idea of an imposter phenomenon was first brought about in 1978 by Dr Pauline Rose Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes. It has been researched, explored and discussed ever since. It generally relates to feelings of ‘self-doubt’, being an ‘intellectual fraud’ or ‘unworthy of success’. It’s often linked to perfectionism and a fear of failure; some even suggest that it stems from being over-praised as a child.
Subject expert, Dr. Valerie Young wrote a book called ‘The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It’, where she details 5 types of imposters:
1. The Perfectionist – everything must be perfect and if it isn’t 100% perfect then I have failed
2. The Expert – I know everything on the subject and if something comes up I don’t know, then I have failed
3. The Natural Genius – if I have to struggle to understand or get something, then I have failed
4. The Soloist – if I can’t do it on my own or if I need help, then I have failed
5. The Superwoman/man – if I can’t handle absolutely everything all at once, then I have failed
I went freelance in September and have since collected two handfuls of clients and all of my feedback has been rather splendid (and clients have come back for more), but I still don’t feel like I ‘belong’. I’m naturally a perfectionist and have some rather OCD tendencies (think… coasters being perfectly in line and dust being the ultimate enemy), so it’s no surprise that I am normally super hard on myself. For me, imposter syndrome feels like a lack of confidence in my abilities and disputing my ‘business wins’ as fluke and luck, even when clients are singing my praises and my diary is filling up.
It’s a competitive market out there in the copywriting world, which is not a bad thing, but you can easily discover a wealth of seasoned pros in the field who have successful, long-standing careers and a breadth of knowledge. Comparing yourself to others and soaking up their awesomeness often cements the idea of being a fraud. Social media is such a fantastic place to pick up business, network with your peers and have generally have some ‘work fun’ (especially as an isolated freelancer!), however perhaps sometimes consistent exposure to the beaming successes of others can trigger an imposter episode.
Maybe it’s a rather British thing? We are conditioned to feel negatively about being very confident, as it can be perceived as ignorant, or proud of our accomplishments, as it seems big-headed. Perhaps we should just take a second every now and again to remind ourselves that it’s OK to be confident and assured in our capabilities?
Conversely, maybe it’s true that real imposters don’t suffer from imposter syndrome. This brilliantly ties in with the Dunning-Kruger effect, which demonstrates how incompetent people rate their competence higher, whereas competent people are more modest with their self-rating.
How long did it take you to feel like you were worthy of your freelance position? Do you send every piece of writing off with a seal of confidence and self-belief? If you’ve been in the game for a quite a while, do you still get moments of ‘Why the hell are these people putting their belief in me’?