In my previous blog post; Lessons from my quarter-life crisis, I briefly mentioned the issue of impostor syndrome, and how it affected me. In fact, it still rears its ugly head from time to time. We live in a time where there’s a lot of information being fed to us. Before the internet, we had to receive everything in drips, because we had to wait for the latest news broadcast, or the next paper to come out. All you need to do now is log on to Twitter, and you’ll see what’s going on in the world. A stupid tweet from Donald Trump or tea from Rob Kardashian is 2 seconds away. I covered this before, so I’m not going to go into much detail about it, but the danger with receiving so much instant information is that you can easily lose grip on reality.
What is impostor syndrome?
“Impostor Syndrome is a pervasive feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, or fraudulence despite often overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It strikes smart, successful individuals. It often rears its head after an especially notable accomplishment, like admission to a prestigious university, public acclaim, winning an award, or earning a promotion.
Impostor Syndrome doesn’t discriminate: people of every demographic suffer from feeling like a fraud, though minorities and women are hardest-hit.” Ellen Hendrikson, Smart American
Have you ever had that feeling that you weren’t good enough for a job or task? That’s what impostor syndrome is. Unfortunately, many people aren’t aware that this is a real thing. It’s used to describe the feeling of inadequacy amongst every demographic. If we all feel this way, then why don’t we talk about it more?
My first encounter
I was used to being the guy in school who was good at all the artistic stuff. A sketchbook was always carried with me wherever I went. I took every opportunity to draw some pages of a comic book, a character illustration, or a speed sketch of my classmates when they weren’t looking (thinking back on this it was actually quite creepy).
I took pride in the high marks and the recognition I got for my work. In college, I got high grades for my final major project, and I felt that I was ahead of the game because I had been using Adobe Photoshop since I was 12. Why’s this all important? It’s just to put things into perspective.
The rise and fall
I attended the Arts University College at Bournemouth after college, joining a whole bunch of other people who came from different backgrounds. We were all in the same position, excited to gain some deeper knowledge of the fundamentals of graphic design. The first year wasn’t too bad, I got decent grades despite it being challenging at times, and I still found the course quite interesting. Then came the second year. Things got a little harder. I struggled to maintain the same level of enthusiasm that I initially had. By the end of it, I had lost all interest in what I was doing. This was when I began to be more aware of other people.
I became envious of everyone’s enthusiasm for the subject. People were coming up with some amazing concepts for their projects, especially the finals. Meanwhile, I spent every day wondering what the heck I was doing there. I began to doubt my skills as a graphic designer, and without realising it I was comparing myself to them. It was a new feeling for me because I was so used to be being highly regarded at what I do. Now I was a small speck in a competitive environment. Needless to say, it was a huge wake-up call for me. After graduating I quickly started volunteering and was able to rebuild my confidence.
It’s a recurring issue
When I was younger, there used to be this Shreddies advert on TV. A character called Hunger was causing mischief, and in order to “Keep Hunger Locked-Up until lunch”, you had to have a bowl of Shreddies. This weighed on me a lot because I always thought to myself, “So Hunger’s going to come back?”.
Impostor Syndrome is the same in the way that when you deal with it. It’s only going to come back and start gnawing at your skull again, so it’s important to build some fail-safes around it to manage the next attack. There is no perfect solution, but here’s what seems to work for me.
Don’t compare yourself to others
For me, I will say that this is the most important thing. Comparing yourself to others digs yourself into such a deep hole and then you end up believing that you’re not good enough. Believe me, you don’t want to be in the Sunken Place.
Everybody has their own journey, meaning that they had to go through their own hardships to get where they are now. For all you know, they might be looking at you in the way that you’re looking at them. They might wonder if they would ever be as good as you are at that thing that you do so well. Also, things change overnight all the time. Somebody that’s a huge success today can end up losing everything tomorrow. This is life, and it doesn’t choose any favourites.
You are good enough! So focus on your strengths, which brings me to the next point.
Acknowledge your accomplishments
It helps to recognise what you’ve accomplished so far, even if you’re not at the place that you want to be. You might be in a job that’s not directly related to what you want to do. You might even be a recent graduate who hasn’t found their break yet. It will take a while for things to change, but while you wait, get into the habit of reflecting on everything you’ve achieved so far.
How did you get to where you are now?
What did you learn from your current position?
What skills do you have that are in demand?
Thinking about these things will hopefully build your confidence, and prepare your mind for what comes next. It might even excite you for your next step, which segways into my last point.
Plan out your next steps
Logically planning where you want to be in the next phase of your life gives you something to look forward to. This means that you can deliberately make conscious decisions in order to reach that goal. You might want to learn a new skill that will prove useful in the future, or there might be a dream job that you are aiming for. I understand that this can be difficult if you’re already in the Sunken Place, so what you want might not even be clear. This is normal. My advice would be to focus on something that you enjoy doing. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to relate to your career. You could plan an event, start a blog, develop a product, or travel somewhere. Whatever it is, make a decision and give yourself something to focus on.
I hope this has been helpful to you. If you’ve found this blog post insightful, make sure you share it with others. Have you been in the sunken place? How have you overcome it? I’d like to know, so tweet me @_ojharper, or drop a comment below!
Thanks for reading!