I have just been offered an amazing opportunity.
I hate that phrase because it sounds a little “too much,” like I’m over-hyping the situation, but it’s true. There’s a chance I will be able to send a few original pieces to a well-established journalist, who would give me some feedback and advice. As exciting yet inconsequential as that is (because let’s be real, it’s only one person’s opinion), I’m absolutely terrified.
Even though I’ve written quite a few articles for various brands and companies, I’m sitting here telling myself, “Don’t send them anything. Don’t do it. It won’t be as good as the other articles they’ve read.” A similar thing happened when I got some in-office work experience helping with content contributing for a fashion brand. I spent the entire two weeks thinking that someone was going to turn around and tell me how awful I was at everything I did and that I didn’t belong there. That feeling that I’m just lucky and not actually good at anything follows me everywhere, and to be honest, it’s quite debilitating.
It’s a feeling that someone is going to realize I’ve bluffed my whole career path. It’s constantly downplaying any academic or professional achievements by assuring people that anyone could do it or insisting that I’m not actually clever, I’m just good at following instructions. I didn’t realize how often I thought these things and how much they affected me until I told my boyfriend I’d decided not to send this journalist any of my work. After the initial “You can do it, no I can’t” dance we did over text, I was left with understandably frustrated responses. This is the kind of opportunity most aspiring writers would jump at, and here I was, withholding my intellectual property and hard work. Why? Because I was worried this journalist might be the person who realizes that I’m not very clever or talented and exposes me to the rest of the world as the big fat BS-er that I am.
I started to wonder why exactly I felt like this. In reality, I’ve always succeeded academically, generally had my articles accepted and acquired work-experience and volunteer work reasonably easily. So I searched for other recounts of these feelings of anxiety and self doubt online and it turns out 40% of young female professionals and 22% of young male professionals suffer from Imposter Syndrome. This is basically all those feelings of “They’re going to realize I don’t belong here, I can’t do this” I was describing earlier. It’s those nagging thoughts in the back of our minds that tell us our work isn’t enough, or that we’re not deserving of our careers; this, in turn, holds us back and drains our confidence. Even as a student, not even a young professional, I’m held back by this apparent “syndrome”.
How could that be happening before I was technically even a professional? With so many young people getting degrees and internships these days, it can be hard to remember that they’re actually hard work, so those thoughts of “Oh, it’s nothing” kick in. On top of this, many of us are willing to work for free at the start of our careers (or before they’ve even really began) just to boost our profile, which has the potential to set us up to be over-achievers. We have to be the best, the most experienced, the most exposed before our careers have even truly began. We work so hard (and are often paid so little, if at all) just to get our foot in the door that we often end up going above and beyond just for small C.V. fillers. It’s no wonder that by the time we get to actually working, no amount of corporate progression will make us feeling like what we’re doing is enough.
Equally as worrying, we spend so much time on social media flaunting our achievements, our promotions and newest purchases, but none of the struggle and effort that has gone into them. Our biggest accomplishments are laid out for everyone to see so often that we forget that working towards them took intelligence, competence, late nights, long hours and probably a bucket-load of talent. When we try to capture our self-worth in a social media post, we actually forget that achieving things means we have succeeded at all.
Weirdly, I’m so comfortable writing this, knowing it’s probably going to be online for the world to see, but I’m so scared of sending a couple of pieces of writing to this one journalist. I don’t know what the difference will be in what I’m writing now and what I’ll send to them. I guess that’s the nature of the beast. But writing this has taught me it’s worth stopping and acknowledging everything I have already achieved once in a while, and even reconsidering what I class as true success. Success isn’t something we can post on Instagram in a neat little flat-lay picture, or summarize in a quick tweet. It isn’t overworking ourselves just for a pat on the back but no real personal gain. Success is being able to look at yourself and know you have what you deserve and truly believe your contributions are good enough. It’s evaluating not only the result, but the steps you took to get there. When we take the time to remember those steps, we take the time to realize we’re worthy of everything we already have, and everything we aspire to.
By Laura Cowen