A few days ago I watched a video from TEDEd about ‘Imposter Syndrome’ and it got me thinking: have I ever experienced imposter syndrome? How many people actually have this at some time in their lives? Firstly, it’s not a mental health issue, it’s much more common than people think – and it’s simply unknown in society because – like with many mental health problems – it’s not discussed so everyone thinks they are the only ones suffering.
First off – what is Imposter Syndrome? Imposter Syndrome – or ‘imposter experience’, ‘imposter phenomenon’ or ‘imposterism’ – is a psychological pattern where a person doubts their accomplishments and has an internalised – and often irrational – fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’. The majority of people feel this at some point in their life, but it’s not something that I’ve heard talked about before. And it’s definitely something I feel like I’ve experienced before – even now!
I’m currently working as a graphic designer in an amazing city centre office in Manchester for a company that in one transaction will sell something for hundreds of thousands of pounds, and it’s my job to create all the marketing materials for their stock. Now, those of you who know me personally or read my blog before my rebrand will know that I kind of fell into marketing after becoming a social media assistant at an agency in Gloucestershire after university – see this post for more info on that! I had no experience of marketing prior to this. I have a degree in criminology for goodness sake… But, somehow, I managed to get hired to work in marketing.
Now, I learnt a lot about marketing in the two and a half years following on from that and learnt bits about graphic design too, falling in love with it. Cut to now; one 12 week graphic design for business course and a hell of a lot of hours spent YouTubing how to use InDesign and Illustrator later and I’m a full-time graphic designer at an international company! Imposter Syndrome was bound to set in at some point…
I’ll be honest, it wasn’t until I watched the video from TEDEd on the subject that I really thought about it, but when I look back over the last two-and-a-half years of my life, I can honestly say I have experienced Imposter Syndrome for a lot of it. Firstly, landing a job in marketing that I had no experience in – despite learning an insane amount on the job, always pleasing my clients, hitting all my targets, and getting praise from my employers, I still didn’t feel like I should have beaten other candidates to the job.
When I left that company to be the marketing and events executive at a local college, I experienced Imposter Syndrome again. Having no qualifications in events and no experience in running an academic event past organising some meet ups and classes for the photography society at uni, I managed to put together a plan of action that impressed in my interview and landed me the job. And now, as a graphic designer who has gotten praise for my marketing materials from my employers, my peers in other offices, and clients, I feel like I’m experiencing Imposter Syndrome again.
It’s a really weird feeling to think to yourself that you’re not good enough. I’ve experienced it a lot in my life, being bullied because of my weight throughout school and after, but it’s a different type of feeling when it’s your skills and your career that come in to question. My weight doesn’t affect anyone else but me, whereas my work affects my clients, my co-workers and the future my partner and I want to build together.
Experts say that there’s a number of things that can bring Imposter Syndrome on – a new environment, a new school or workplace, relationship changes or social interactions – and I’ve certainly experienced all of these in the past few years! It’s affected me in a way that makes me think carefully about what I say to people in my office in case they think I don’t know what I’m talking about, or realise how ‘self-taught’ I really am on the graphic design front. I know it’s ridiculous and I should just accept that I clearly have a talent for design and the praise from my co-workers and clients aren’t lies, but I do feel from time to time that I’m incredibly lucky to have this job and be able to build a career in design.
Have you ever had these feelings? Have you ever told yourself “I must not fail” or “I have no idea how I got this job/partner/life” and been in awe at what you have achieved? It’s completely normal to feel this way, but because we don’t like to (as a society) show our weaknesses and like to talk about things that might make us look weak, a lot of people suffer in silence. It’s not a mental illness, and is in no way as serious as mental health conditions, but it’s still something that we should be taking baby steps in talking about – you never know what good it could do and how it could snowball into making talking about taboos more common-place.