I ended my last post by listing five ways I was going to try and deal with my maybe-it’s-impostor-syndrome-but-maybe-I’m-just-shit syndrome. They were:
- Power Posing
- ‘Fake it till you make it’
- Talking about it
- Donald Trump (explanation to follow)
- Accepting I’m a fantastic liar and attempting to join MI5
Here’s how I got on with them:
I was supposed to sit or stand in a particular way before doing something that might make me nervous. Unfortunately, I’m pretty forgetful and I continually only remembered to do my power poses once I was already in the nerve-wracking situations. Usually, this meant I was too nervous to do them at all, but I did spend several minutes drunkenly power posing during a pub trip with a group of acquaintances, all of whom I think are much more interesting than me. Did this help? Sort of! I spent my power pose explaining why I was standing like an arrogant, heroic wino, which reminded me that I do have something to contribute to a conversation after all. Wide-legged smiles all round.
Although power posing comes up frequently as a way to deal with nerves or feelings of inadequacy, it’s not widely accepted as ‘a thing’ in the scientific community. Even the original paper’s co-author, Dana Carvey, thinks it’s all a bit of nonsense (my words, not hers). Even more pressingly (to me), Stephanie Beatriz’s Brooklyn Nine Nine character, Rosa Diaz, says that “nobody needs power pose training,” and I crave her fictional respect. I won’t be continuing with the power pose thing, unless I drink wine around people who intimidate me and mindlessly grab for a conversation point like a baby grabbing for a weirdly assertive nipple.
‘Fake it till you make it’
I hate this phrase. It feels as though ‘faking it’ is all I do so, if this works, shouldn’t I have made it by now?
Despite my reservations, I gave this a go in one specific situation. I’m working with a client who doesn’t have a house style yet and they asked me develop it for them. I’ve never done that myself before (which they knew) so I was pretty nervous. It seemed like the ideal opportunity to fake having a skill – I just spoke and acted like this was something I do all the time. And it actually worked! I nailed it and the client was really happy.
The thing is, this wasn’t the situation I was looking for help with. I didn’t just feel like an impostor, I was an impostor. I was impost-ing as someone who’s done a job before, and I had not. This strategy might work when you’re at the beginning of something, but it’s no use at all if your problem is that you can’t tell the difference between faking it and having already made it.
Talking about it
Being open about widespread problems is so important. To that end, I’ve spent the last three weeks telling everyone who’s spent more than 5 minutes with me about my impostor syndrome and the things I’ve been doing to try and crack it. It seems obvious to point out that a lot of my friends felt the same way. I was more surprised to find that some of them didn’t; I couldn’t (still can’t) comprehend how some people can go through life not constantly beset by doubts about their own competence, intelligence, general value as a human being, etc. etc. I’m happy for them, because they’re my friends and I don’t want them to be sad, but it’s hard not to feel a little jealous. While it’s entirely anecdotal data, I noticed that every single woman I asked said they did worry about being a fake, or not deserving success. My social circles aren’t generally beset by traditional gender roles, so I wondered why this was – it’s almost like there’s some highly ingrained system in our society that tells girls that their worth is fleeting, fragile and entirely dependant on the approval of others.
Hearing my incredibly accomplished and talented friends talking about their own impostor syndrome did prove to me that it’s possible for someone to feel like an incompetent fraud and for those feelings to not be reflective of their actual incompetence/fraudulence. But I already knew that. It didn’t help me, specifically, because not one of my friends told me that my insecurities were unjustified. They all listened, commiserated and generally contributed to constructive and insightful conversation, but none of them heaped me with the endless and unconditional praise that I so shamelessly craved. Way to drop the ball, friends.
I did my best to imagine all my self-doubting thoughts were being psychically beamed by the Gilded Turd, and it did make them a lot easier to dismiss. Fuck you, Donald!, I’d think, and my belief that I’m a dreadful writer, or terrible at my job, would instantly seem like a
n alternative fact lie. I genuinely felt a lot more confident after trying this.
It turns out I doubt myself very regularly, though, and this strategy comes with the pretty serious side effect of Despair About the State of the World. Reserved for extreme cases only.
Applying to MI5
None of the five job openings seemed an ideal fit for my particular skills and experience (coffee mornings and joke-writing, mostly), but I was still ready to make a go of it. Unfortunately, the website states that you shouldn’t discuss your application on social media or mention it to anyone other than your (British) partner or close family. It seems I’ve already disqualified myself from this one. Bummer.
I might not have had unmitigated success with the techniques I tried, but that’s not to say I haven’t made any progress. There was one thing I did that made me feel more sure of myself than I have in years: I dyed my hair pink.
I have no hard evidence about why having bubblegum pink hair suddenly made me confident in my abilities. Clearly, this whole situation is ridiculous. But, I do have a couple of theories.
One: how people treat you is heavily dependent on their first impression of you. I’m not sure why, but people genuinely seemed to respect me more when I look a bit more bold. It’s amazing how much easier it is when people assume you’re worthy of their time, without you having to convince them in the first five minutes. When you’re constantly having to pitch yourself to people, it’s hard not to constantly worry that what you’re pitching (i.e. you, as a person) just isn’t going to measure up – that, perhaps, you don’t meet the required standards of this person’s attention and that, if they decide that you do, it wasn’t because you had a good product (again, you, as a person), but because you gave a good pitch. I feel like I spend a lot of time ‘pitching’ myself, but I never really notice until it stops. I’m not sure why it stops when I make a change like this one. Maybe I’m pulling off a spectacular double bluff (“wow, she obviously doesn’t need to try to look professional at all, she must be really good at her job”) or, maybe people are picking up on…
Two: I wanted pink hair, for no reason other than that I wanted to look in the mirror and see myself with pink hair. It was a decision I made without thinking about anyone else’s standards or expectations and it felt alarmingly authentic. The colour of my hair might seem trivial, but it’s made me realise how rarely I make a decision based purely on what I want to do. There’s always an element, whether conscious or not, of trying to meet what I think other people need or expect from me. No wonder I feel like a fraud- I am one! No wonder I don’t know if I’m measuring up – the standards I’m placing on myself are entirely in other people’s heads.
I’ve never seen ‘setting your own standards’ suggested as a way to handle impostor syndrome, but it seems so obvious now. It’s hard to feel like an impostor if you know you’re good enough for yourself. Maybe we should try it?