Before I set-up Virtual Satsuma, I was employed as a School Business Manager. I always explained to people who asked that a School Business Manager enables schools to focus on teaching - School Business Managers (SBM) are responsible for lots of what happens behind the scenes in schools, so finance, human resources, health and safety etc. The job can be incredibly demanding, lots of pressure and stress but also lots of challenge, which I relished. I would still be a School Business Manager now, if it wasn't for the fact that I had a long-held dream to own and run my own business. So where is this going, I can hear you ask?
Whilst I was a SBM, I ran budgets of up to £8 million, project managed refurbishments, applied for and won grants for developing the school site, even project managed the build of an Astro Turf - however during this career, I often had a creeping doubt in the back of my mind "what will happen when they discover it is all just luck that I can do this" - "what will happen when they realise I am not that good?".... Now at the time I just thought these were normal doubts on my own ability, until recently I discovered that lots of people have these thoughts and it has a name: Imposter Syndrome.
Impostor syndrome (IS) refers to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. While this definition is usually narrowly applied to intelligence and achievement, it has links to perfectionism and the social context.
To put it simply, imposter syndrome is the experience of feeling like a phony—you feel as though at any moment you are going to be found out as a fraud—like you don't belong where you are, and you only got there through dumb luck. It can affect anyone no matter their social status, work background, skill level, or degree of expertise.
Some of the common signs of imposter syndrome include:
An inability to realistically assess your competence and skills
Attributing your success to external factors
Berating your performance
Fear that you won't live up to expectations
Sabotaging your own success
Setting very challenging goals and feeling disappointed when you fall short
While for some people, impostor syndrome can fuel feelings of motivation to achieve, this usually comes at a cost in the form of constant anxiety. You might over-prepare or work much harder than necessary to "make sure" that nobody finds out you are a fraud.
This sets up a vicious cycle, in which you think that the only reason you survived that class presentation was that you stayed up all night rehearsing. Or, you think the only reason you got through that party or family gathering was that you memorised details about all the guests so that you would always have ideas for small talk.
The problem with impostor syndrome is that the experience of doing well at something does nothing to change your beliefs. Even though you might sail through a performance or have lunch with co-workers, the thought still nags in your head, "What gives me the right to be here?" The more you accomplish, the more you just feel like a fraud. It's as though you can't internalize your experiences of success.
This makes sense in terms of social anxiety if you received early feedback that you were not good at social or performance situations. Your core beliefs about yourself are so strong, that they don't change, even when there is evidence to the contrary.
When I first read about 'Imposter Syndrome' it was such a feeling of relief, as in - 'lots of people have these doubts' - we don't tend to talk about these types of feelings - who is going to go to their boss at work and say, "by the way I think I'm a bit pants at my job"?? But understanding what it was that I was thinking, and realising that lots of people have similar thoughts, has helped me to analyse my thoughts - and to put them in perspective.
To the outside world I am confident and competent - (looking back colleagues used to phone me for advice and guidance), so why did I have these 'imposter syndrome' doubts??
Did they stem from the Head at Department at college telling my whole class that we would only ever make it as gardeners (no offense to gardeners by the way - Alan Titchmarsh has done okay for himself...) or was it from boarding school, when I was put in bottom set and left to fester for 5 years (hence a loathing of streaming children). I have no idea - part of me actually believes that having these reservations makes you work harder to prove people wrong.
So, what is this blog all about - I think what I am trying to say, is that we all have doubts on our ability - it is human nature, and sometimes stepping back from a situation and just thinking about what you have achieved will alleviate them - and sometimes these doubts, do make you work harder and stronger. I know in hindsight that I did a good job - I worked hard and met targets. I also know what I can achieve - I can set up and run a successful Virtual Assistant Business and through my 'have a go' mentality I am always happy to have a go.
Imposter Syndrome is a thing - it is real, lots of people have these doubts and lots of people do suffer from anxiety from them. I cannot offer advice on how you as an individual may deal with these thoughts. Personally, I now focus on my achievements and the relationships I built and build now with colleagues and clients. What I am struggling to say is be proud of what you have achieved and celebrate your successes.
I am going to end with a picture of something that was given to me as a leaving present from one of my old schools - knowing that actually I did okay.