Last year I got invited to speak at a BIG conference. It was the sort of event where there were maybe 2000 people in the audience and even more watching live from around the world (so no pressure or anything!) On the day, when I entered the green room to prep for my talk, I found it already full of other speakers. I knew them all by reputation already of course - they were heads of design agencies, industry game changers, and successful creative entrepreneurs that I had been fan-girling out on for ages prior to this moment.
As I introduced myself, hoping I didn't have lipstick on my teeth (which always happens to me in situations like this), I thought: "I hope I can be a successful designer too one day. I wonder what it feels like to be legit and speak at big conferences like this..." Then I remembered, DERP, I was speaking at this conference. I was here for the exact same reason as them. So how come I didn't feel as legit?
Don't get me wrong, in general I am quite comfortable with owning my talent and skills and recognising that I am a legitimate designer, but sometimes, in moments like these I can feel like I've somehow faked my way into this scenario and someone will eventually realise this and expose me for the fraud that I am. Standing there in that room, my brain started to churn with thoughts like: "Is it a mistake that I was invited?", "They're probably all wondering what I'm doing here", and "I don't have any actual talent like these guys, I just hot glue stuff!" I know this sounds ridiculous, but hey, imposter syndrome IS ridiculous. And yet, it's a thing!
According to the dictionary imposter syndrome is a term used to describe "a false and sometimes crippling belief that one's successes are the product of luck or fraud rather than skill". I feel you dictionary. I feel you. But where does it come from? No one at that conference was actually sitting there pointing at me being like "She faked her way in here! Get her off stage!", and yet I found myself believing it to be true in that particular moment. Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? When does it manifest for you? It may not happen in every scenario, but if it does, I find it's usually at times when:
I'm being praised or recognised for my work or achievements
I win a pitch for a job with a big client
I achieve something or get an opportunity that's so awesome it feels too good to be true
I find myself in a social setting with big-name people from my industry and get asked "So, what do you do?"
I put something completely new and big out into the public for the first time (like starting this project for example!)
In writing this list, it's occurred to me that imposter syndrome usually doesn't come from anything anyone else thinks about us, it comes from inside ourselves. When someone gives us an amazing opportunity, a reward, or some kind of positive reinforcement and our negative self-talk happens to be too loud and overpowering in that moment, imposter syndrome kicks in as a manifestation of our self-doubt.
I believe that identifying what imposter syndrome is, and understanding where it comes from and when we're likely to be more susceptible to it can help to lessen it's effect on us. Recognising that it's just a by-product of our self-doubt, and that our self-doubt might be raging in this moment because we're about to do something we may be unsure of, and that these feelings are all completely normal will help to diffuse it.
One way in particular that I've personally found helps diffuse imposter syndrome-y feelings is to take a look at my portfolio of work as a whole. Whenever I'm revamping my website to add fresh work or edit out older projects, I find myself realising just how much I have actually achieved so far in my career. Looking at the body of work I have created from that zoomed-out place is a great way to gain a wonderful perspective on everything I have accomplished. I'm usually zoomed too far in on the details of things to see it like this.
In relation to this, I also feel that it's super important to make sure we celebrate our achievements, no matter how big or small. I think this is something that we as creative people often neglect to do, because, as I said, we can get so zoomed-in on certain details, or are already looking ahead to the next project without pausing to reflect on what we've just accomplished. We might still experience imposter syndrome at times, but in reminding ourselves regularly of our value, those fraudulent feelings might just be fleeting rather than forever. Taking time to truly acknowledge and celebrate each achievement is a great way to serve ourselves some ongoing validation that we are in fact legit, we do know our shit, and we definitely deserve to be here.
Get some Real Talk in your inbox!
Real Talk is an online wellbeing project for creative people, written and curated by me! Through a monthly newsletter we share original articles (like this one) and exclusive curated content that we feel will compliment the topics we’re discussing in our articles. Things like TED talks, podcast episodes, videos, wellbeing exercises, worksheets and many more inspiring resources. Sign up to our newsletter to get your monthly dose of Real Talk and be empowered to improve your wellbeing so that you can lead your best creative life!