There’s no demographic I know that holds themselves up to such high standards as mums, and women in general. For one reason or another we always seem to set ourselves the most ridiculous high bars of achievement. At home, at work, with our friends…. Everywhere.
This is something I’ve noticed increasingly in myself as I’ve grown older. Back at school I was highly mediocre in my effort levels – ‘rigorously competent’ as my friend Emma says. I was good because I was naturally talented but once I discovered boys and Topshop I didn’t push myself. Because why would you when the choice was between quadratic equations or daydreaming about skinny Baxters and Matt in the Upper Sixth? It was a no-brainer.
And so I did well – I didn’t excel like my hardworking friends but I did well. This level of achievement left me, if not my parents, totally content.
Fast forward 13 years (you’ve got to wonder why I’m still buying Topshop Baxters 13 years later?) and it’s a totally different kettle of fish.
Now, it has always been my ambition to write. After an anguished adolescence of diary keeping I started blogging at the age of 14, teaching myself HTML from a library book so I could build an online space and get my thoughts in front of an audience. I had huge dreams of being a fashion journalist, though if that dream had come true I’d literally only be writing about grey jersey jumpers and comfy gym gear. And those aforementioned Baxters.
My audience back then was small – only so many wanted to read about the electric glances I shared with Matt in the Upper Sixth – but it felt like the world. Blogging was my thing and I have kept up with it since, for 15 years, half my life. I started this blog over six years ago, the day I fell pregnant with Elfie and it’s since been a huge labour of love (and important therapeutic outlet).
But with little money to be made from online writing back in the day I fell into a Marketing career and always viewed writing as a passion, not a money maker. I love Marketing, I enjoy it, I’m good at it. Rigorously competent ;) Though I always harboured thoughts of “what if?”, dreams of finally sitting down and writing that book, touching people with my words.
And then one day out of the blue I had an email from an Editor at The Telegraph asking if I’d ever fancied being a writer (HAHAH HAD I EVER) and my world turned a little upside down.
I was so flustered by the email that I couldn’t respond for a month, and when she invited me in for a meeting I turned up a day early. Smooth operator, right?
She asked me to pitch some ideas for columns to her, which I did after frantically Googling “what is a pitch?”. And to my huge surprise she told me she liked one of these ideas, and could I turn in 800 words on Friday? And then more a few weeks after that? And then on a regular basis?
I sat down, made notes, and word-vomited onto my computer my 800 word piece on Single Parent Sex that went live on the Women’s section of The Telegraph’s website two weeks ago. And that’s when my dream started happening, the ball started rolling.
Buzzfeed asked me to write a piece on PND, which I did. Another national newspaper got in touch to ask me to pitch some relationship ideas to them (I’m still not entirely sure I am doing this whole pitch thing correctly?). My editor called me ‘our new columnist’ on her Twitter feed. LBC radio dedicated a whole show to the subject of Single Parent Sex following my Telegraph article. They name checked me, calling me a journalist for crying out loud. A JOURNALIST. That’s dream-come-true stuff right there.
This is when I started feeling like a fraud. An imposter. I totally lost confidence in my abilities and my dream.
Yeah, I loved to write on my little blog that my mum reads (she’s my best proofreader) but I wasn’t a journalist. A blogger perhaps, at best. I make typos, I write bad jokes, I share experiences. The ‘journalist’ label was for professionals, not me.
I started noticing that I’d minimize my achievements when people congratulated me. I’d say I was in the right place at the right time, not owning the fact that it has been my talent that’s brought me here. As my favourite Sheryl Sandberg would say, I wasn’t ‘Leaning In’.
This imposter syndrome – the fear that you don’t deserve your success, that you’ll be exposed – is something I see so much of among my friends and it leaves me asking myself where it’s come from. In my world of talented and hardworking women, why do we bring ourselves down so much? Why do we set ourselves such high targets and lambast ourselves when we wrongly feel that we fail? Why do we feel that we don’t deserve our successes?
For me, imposter syndrome is highly harmful to my work. When I feel like I’m not good enough I bury my head in the sand, retreat from the world and feel paralysed. I can’t sit down and tackle my email or write that blog post, I just procrastinate until it’s time to pick the kids up from school. And then the cycle of self-flagellation begins; I feel guilty for not living up to my highest standards, not making the most of my time or my dream. The more guilt I have, the less work I get done. And so it continues.
This self-doubt is totally un-founded and is a cycle I need to find my way out of. For one it’s exhausting to live in my head when I’m feeling this way, and for another the feelings are completely unfounded. Deep down I know I’m good. I love to read what I write, and I love to write it. I can’t get better than that, right?
Interestingly, how often do you hear a man wondering if he’s good enough? Generally men are able to own their achievements, accept praise and feel confident in their abilities. So why do women find it so hard to do the same?
I’ve spent a long time wondering how we can escape these cycles of high expectations and low confidence. It comes down to a few things, in my opinion.
We need to say no to others more often. We need to not do things because we believe society expects it of us, but instead think about what’s right for ourselves. We need to be true and honest, working towards our passions. We need to say yes to our internal selves, knowing that we can make things happen. We need to believe.
Most importantly we need to talk. In this online world we see our peers excelling at their lives, completely flying in ways we never think we’ll be able to. That’s not real life – that’s just Instagram. Behind-the-scenes there are worries, confidence issues, messy bathrooms. We just don’t see it and we need to remember that. We aren’t the only ones struggling behind closed doors; we’re all brilliant in our unique ways and it’s important we talk about this more.
“She believed she could so she did”