Imposter Syndrome

And how we can learn to combat it

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Last week Dame Diana Rigg sadly died of cancer at the age of 82. The revered actress starred in some of the world’s biggest movies and TV shows - from The Avengers, Bond and later in her career, Game of Thrones. But given all of those accolades and obvious successes, Diana was famously quoted in an interview in 1986 that she had ‘never really cracked films’ claiming, ‘I never quite seemed to get it right’. This was after appearing in the Oscar-winning The Hospital (1971) and A Little Night Music (1977), alongside Elizabeth Taylor.

Imposter Syndrome is something most of us experience at some point in our careers. Perhaps you play down your achievements to yourself or others, or can’t shake the feeling that you’re going to be found out somehow? Or maybe you’re really good at celebrating the talents and accomplishments of your friends and loved ones, but are pretty crap at doing it for yourself?

I experienced a case of Imposter Syndrome only a couple of weeks ago after being booked for desk cover at a publishers. For those of you not in the world of journalism, this is when you stand in for a commissioning editor within a magazine or newspaper's editorial team to help out with everything from editing articles and writing, to working on pitches and transcribing interviews. I was nervous about it initially but really enjoyed the work and had some lovely feedback from the team after a busy two-week stint.

But when retelling this to a friend and colleague who had also been told I'd done a good job, I dismissed it as ‘they’re probably just saying it to be nice’. Rather than accepting the great feedback, I decided to diminish it.

Would I have felt like that before having a child? Probably, yes. But it's definitely more pronounced now that I spend a proportion of my week in a soft play centre or playground. And then there's the insecurity that I've never actually worked full-time for a magazine - I've only ever contributed as a freelancer.

In short, it's horrible to feel you aren't good enough even when those employing you feel that you are.

So what exactly is Imposter Syndrome and how can we recognise when we’re suffering from it? To find out I spoke to a couple of experts on the subject: Imposter Syndrome Solution Coach, Trisha Barker and author of Ditching Imposter Syndrome, Clare Josa.

“If I had to describe Imposter Syndrome, I would say it’s doubting our abilities and competencies and not being able to recognise our own success and achievements,” says Trisha. “We have a skewed view of competence so whatever we do or achieve, it never matches up to our own high expectations of ourselves. We are our own worst critic”.

“We don’t wake up in the morning thinking ‘Oh I feel like an imposter’,” she continues. “It is much more subtle than that. How Imposter Syndrome affects us all can be different - so how it shows up for me can be completely different for how it shows up for you, but the underlying theme is we don’t feel like we are enough. We may feel like we don’t belong in the spaces we are in, or unqualified for the job we are doing or want to do. This then affects the way we think, feel and show up in the world”.

Clare explains that as freelance parents we may also be particularly at risk. “You might notice it with putting off returning ‘that’ call, until it’s slightly too late,” she explains. “Perhaps you struggle with pricing your work at its true value or offer discounts without being asked. Maybe you’re giving too much away for free or struggling with client boundaries, ending up resenting over-giving. You can also spot it with the ‘4 Ps of Imposter Syndrome’ – perfectionism, procrastination, project paralysis, and people-pleasing”.

Interestingly, research shows that Imposter Syndrome isn’t just something that affects women – it actually affects all genders. The International Journal of Business Science reported in 2011 that seven out of 10 people will experience it at some point in their lives. And more recently in 2018, research by Access Commercial Finance found that 62% of adults had experienced Imposter Syndrome at work in the last 12 months. Within that study, 66% were women and 56% were men.

Additionally, the 2019 Imposter Syndrome Research Study showed that while men and women are both affected (52% of women and 49% of men), the way they handle it can be very different.

“Female respondents tended to wait until they felt ready before taking action,” explains Clare. “Whereas men tended to push on through the fear which could lead to anxiety and stress later down the line”.  And in the world of running your own business? Clare reports that this figure shoots up massively to 82%. ‘Comparisonitis’ caused by social media or networking events is one of the biggest triggers not to mention the isolation of working alone.

The great news? “You can change your beliefs,” says Trisha. “Imagine something you used to believe in such as Father Christmas. You used to believe in it but now you don’t.  Well you can apply that same principle to changing what you believe about yourself.  Start to question your thoughts and know you don’t have to believe everything you think. Start to work on building your inner confidence, recognising your own brilliance and be open to learning new things”.

Practical ways to beat Imposter Syndrome

“The first key to combatting Imposter Syndrome is to become aware of it,” says Clare. “Notice your self-talk. Ask yourself: Is this really true? It’s about starting with retraining your inner critic to be a genuine cheerleader and taming your self-talk, without pretending. Then it’s important to look at your hidden blocks, limiting beliefs, fears and excuses. By clearing those out, you no longer need the surface-level self-sabotage behaviours”.

Let’s take a look at some practical tips on quieting your inner imposter…

1. Figure out what your strengths are

“It’s good for you to be able to recognise what’s good about you,” says Trisha. “If you’re someone who struggles to recognise your own strengths, then reach out to 3-5 people who you respect and trust and ask them to tell you what they think.  Sometimes it’s good to get other people’s perception and it can definitely give you a boost”.

2. Recognise your past achievements.

“Again taking time to reflect on what you’ve achieved in your career can really help,” Trisha says. “Think about each job you’ve done and write down there of the biggest achievements from your time in that role.  You will then have a great factual reference tool that highlights some of your greatest achievements in your career.  Again, if you struggle with this, reach out to someone you have worked with and ask their opinion”.

3. Stop comparing yourself to others

Clare recommends reminding ourselves that often what we are comparing ourselves to isn’t reality. “On social media, it’s not just someone else’s ‘highlight reel’. It’s the social media algorithm’s curated version of someone else’s highlight reel,” she explains. “The way to set ourselves free from this goes back to the fear of others judging us the way we judge ourselves. When we clear out those deeper blocks that mean we beat ourselves up, then other people’s success (or our assumptions about it) no longer have buttons to press for us. We’re comfortable in our own skin. And if we see someone else doing what we think we ‘should’ be doing, we can use that as inspiration to up our game, instead of convincing ourselves we’re not good enough”.

4. Get prepared

Trisha advises taking time each day to get yourself in a good headspace. “There are many things you can do such as reading about your strengths and achievements or meditation, repeating positive affirmations, or listening to uplifting music,” she says. “When you sit down to start work, you want to feel in a positive energy, so find what works for you and commit to doing this each day”.

5. Take action 

If you’re lacking in self-belief, then you’ll probably feel overwhelmed and procrastinate from taking action - but Trisha says action is what breeds confidence. “Set yourself a timer and commit to spending an amount of time each day on something you want to change, no matter how uncomfortable you feel,” advises Trisha. “You cannot control the outcome but you can control the actions you take each day”.

6. Don’t de-select yourself 

How many of us have looked at a job spec or freelance request and listed all of the reasons we aren’t suitable for the job – even when we probably are more than qualified? “This often happens with people who doubt their abilities and you need to remember that the selection process is not your job,” says Trisha. “Put yourself forward and leave the decision whether you are the right for this work to the person hiring”.

7. Recognise your achievements

As a freelancer no one is going to give you an appraisal or pat you on the back at the end of a good year, so make sure you’re recognising your own achievements regularly. Trisha advises taking 5 mins at the end of each day to think of three things you did well.  “You will start to build up an evidence log of the great things you are doing,” she says. “It’s the little actions each day that contribute to the big achievements.  So recognise those steps”.

“Allow yourself to feel a wave of celebration and genuine gratitude to yourself for achieving these things,” adds Clare. “It doesn’t matter how small those wins are”.


Clare Josa has created a free training for subscribers to The Freelance Parent called ‘How to stop Imposter Syndrome in its tracks’. Here you can learn to press 'pause' and stop a bout of Imposter Syndrome in under sixty seconds. You can also find Trisha Barker on Instagram if you want to follow more of her work. Please let me know if you’ve found any of these tools helpful by replying to this newsletter. Oh, and don’t forget you can join The Freelance Parent Facebook Group here where we’ll be continuing the conversation on Imposter Syndrome.

I wish you all a happy and imposter-free week. Until next time…

Cat x