I’m delighted to re-post this important guest blog by the inspirational Mandy Johnson:
Over the last few months I have started talking openly about the fact that I have impostor syndrome. Doing so has allowed me to connect with people who live with it and learn how it manifests itself differently in others. I have also learned that those who do not experience it find it difficult to understand. They struggle to understand what it feels like to be confident in my skills, experience and ability yet also worry that I am an impostor in my career. It is difficult to articulate how or why a self-assured woman worries that she is going to get caught out as not having the “right” skills or experience for her job.
LIVING WITH IT
I recently hired a new member of staff who has seen the videos I have posted on impostor syndrome. She was surprised to hear that I “still have it”. It was strange to me that that she thought it might have gone away. It is something that I have battled with for years. I suspect that I will never completely overcome it.
The best way that I have learnt to describe how my impostor syndrome manifests itself is as a “liar” who lurks inside me and I never know when she is going to appear. She is not a lack of confidence; she fights with the part of me that knows I have ample experience and am good at what I do. She tells me I look too young, I am too short and that my gender will prevent me from being taken seriously by those I am seeking to influence.
I can’t be respected because I don’t have as many years’ experience in running a charity, managing people, or creating change as other people with the same job title as me. That is my impostor.
Other people’s impostor syndrome plays on different characteristics. Young or old, tall or short, male or female, the syndrome, if you have it, can use it all against us.
I have built up coping mechanisms that keep my impostor under control. I have learnt to question whether the things running through my mind are thoughts or facts. I ask myself whether there is evidence to back up what I am thinking or whether my impostor is just trying to get the better of me. If I am genuinely lacking knowledge or experience in a particular area then I try to be open and honest about it. I surround myself with experts, hire people who know more than I do, and accept that my ability to collaborate and learn from others is one of my strengths. None of us know everything; that is okay.
I connect with positive people and I follow the career paths of those that inspire me. I am always on the lookout for people who have achieved great things despite having the similar characteristics to me. I am collecting a motivational “bank of evidence” to use against my impostor. The world is not lacking proof that well-educated, middle class, British women can have successful careers and/or make a positive difference to the world. Yet my impostor will still make excuses to try and explain away why those people are different to me and I don’t have the right experience to follow in their footsteps. I imagine that others, who don’t have my privileged background, find this even harder. We all need proof that our impostors are wrong.
EMBRACING WHO I AM
The biggest thing that I have learnt in the battle with my impostor is to be loud and proud of all of the things that she uses to try and make me feel unwelcome in my role.
My impostor continues to tell me that being short means that I lack the presence that taller people have automatically. I am constantly reminding myself that my height doesn’t impact my ability. I have finally got to the point where I don’t feel the need to wear high heeled shoes to networking events unless I want to. I have also stopped trying to imitate qualities that are tradionally seen as “more masculine”. I have started talking openly about how things make me feel and the realities of being a mum with a job. I am no longer trying to lower my voice Maggie Thatcher-style. I want to be who I am.
I am starting to get comfortable with my age. This is the one that I find the most difficult. It has been a challenge for as long as I can remember. My parents tell me I have always wanted to do everything my older brother could do. I’m not sure whether it is a coincidence or not that I have always looked up to (physically and metaphorically) an older, taller man. No matter what I do, I will always be three years behind my big brother. Comparison doesn’t help me; I have to remind myself that my track-record of results and the feedback that I have received throughout my career is valid, valuable and proof that I can do this job. I am sure my impostor will never be satisfied with my experience. We will continue to disagree.
Inevitably I am doubting whether to click the “publish” button on this blog. My impostor tells me I am publicly sharing further proof that I shouldn’t be a CEO.
I hope that, through sharing what I am honestly experiencing, I am laying the path for others who feel the same to go on and achieve the great things that their impostor is trying to stop them from doing. We can’t let impostor syndrome hold us back and until we see more people who are achieving great things whilst living with an impostor, we will not know whether the two are possible together.
This blog by Mandy Johnson was first published on LinkedIn.