We were participants in the 2017 intake of the Young Social Pioneers (YSP) program, FYA’s incubator program for young social entrepreneurs. At our first meeting with our fellow YSPers, in a room teeming with smart, capable young people who were specifically chosen to be there for their skills and abilities, one thing stood out.
As discussions started, it became evident that many felt like imposters. Like someone was about to tap them on the shoulder at any point to let them know that there’d been a mistake and they actually weren’t supposed to be there.
These were smart, skillful people who were held, in part, to ransom by imposter syndrome. And this led us to wonder: if those who were selected as part of the program felt like this, how many other people didn’t even apply because they felt they would be an imposter for putting their hand up to try?
Imposter syndrome, essentially the idea you feel like a fraud, is something that a lot of people experience, but it’s not spoken about enough. It can have a significant impact on people, the opportunities they put themselves forward for, and more broadly on how they are treated by society.
We decided to share our own stories with it to help normalise those feelings and help others call it out when they see it in themselves and their friends.
Ben: Each day the words ‘I’m not good enough’ flash across my mind. I’ve led a multi-million-dollar youth-led not-for-profit organisation, participated in local and national youth representative groups, sat on a number of boards and more. Yet, throughout each of these, I’ve often thought I wasn’t good enough to be there. As I’ve grown, I have been better able to identify such problematic thinking and nip it in the bud before it influences the decisions I do and do not make. Though, in the past, it was these words that led me to lower my hand in class or meetings and not voice my opinion, to not apply for opportunities that could help me grow, and, ultimately, to not put myself out there. While I love who I am today, I do wonder how many opportunities to grow and to be challenged did I miss out on because of feeling “not good enough”?
Kate: I always felt very lucky to be able to put myself forward for and secure jobs working on projects with national impact. I was just grateful to be considered. I looked up to my primarily male colleagues and wondered how they spoke with such confidence, sometimes for up to 15 minutes without seemingly taking a breath. How they could produce half the outputs I did, work half the hours and somehow maintain that same air of confidence. It remained a mystery until I realised that one such male colleague was hired on $40,000 more than me. By having the attitude that I was just grateful to be considered, I wasn’t being equally paid for equal work. In allowing organisations to pay me less as a woman, I was selling myself and other women short.
So how do you know if imposter syndrome has you gripped?
Feelings of self-doubt are normal at times but if they’re stopping you from taking up challenges or leading you to turn down opportunities, it’s important to acknowledge and act on them.
It can be hard to ignore the voice of doubt and your inner fears. But when you start to let it control your choices, whether or not you realise, it will stop you achieving your potential. And who wants that?
What can you do about it?
- First and foremost, speak about it, and by doing so, give others permission to do the same.
- Accept that the voice in your head might always be there. But remember you choose how much you let it control your actions.
- Find your squad! If you struggle with imposter syndrome, find a friend or colleague you can call when considering potential opportunities and have them be your BS detector as to whether you are selling yourself short, or whether you are in fact not ready for the next step (whatever that may be).
- When you’re posting on social media convey it as true to reality as you can. Yes, success is great, though consider what did you do to get there, what were the hiccups, and who helped you along the way (or didn’t help you — own your success!). Being authentic on social media helps others feel connected and shows the real journey to get places.
Kate: Since we met, identified our own versions of imposter syndrome, and started talking about it, things have changed. Ben was willing to call me out for selling myself short. And thanks to that, I asked for that promotion and to be paid the same as my male colleagues. I put myself forward and asked for what I wanted, no longer grateful to just be there.
Imposter syndrome still plays its role and it may not leave your side for good but you can identify it and manage the impact it has on your future choices if you know it’s there. You are not alone!
If you want to know more about imposter syndrome and what you can do about it, these are some resources we have found useful:
- School of Life – Good Enough is Good Enough
- Brene Brown – Power of Vulnerability
- TED – Fighting Imposter Syndrome.