*Warning, this post contains a clickbait title and a little bit of swearing*
When I started this blog, I think both my audience and I expected that I’d be writing about horses. I still do plan to write about horses, eventually, but for the moment, my own personal development seems to be my muse. I hope that through sharing my experiences I may help others in their personal and professional endeavours.
Before I became an equine massage therapist, I wanted to be a writer. Specifically, I wanted to be the youngest published author in Australia, but Alexandra Adornetto beat me to it.
By the time high school ended I was already well on the way to fulfill my destiny as the next J. K. Rowling; I’d already written an entire 154,898 word manuscript and received my first rejection letters from potential publishers. I went to university believing myself a prodigy – all my teachers had believed in me, after all. But at uni, I was average. My stories were criticised. I compared myself to the dark-haired girl who had confidence and wrote in the style of F. Scott Fitzgerald.
I had been rewarded for good grades my whole life. Being a high achiever was part of my identity, my value. I worked very hard to be good at things, because if I wasn’t good, I was a failure.
My problem is that my inner critic is also a high achiever. It reminds me that I am a fraud, that I am not naturally talented, that I don’t know as much as I should, that I don’t deserve success and opportunity as much as somebody else. It warns me that one day I will be exposed for not being as competent as people think I am.
There were a number of reasons I didn’t pursue writing in the end, but imposter syndrome was a big one. The thing is, though, you can’t escape it by switching focus to something else; it follows you with everything you do. And there are plenty of experts in the horse world, which means plenty of opportunity for comparison.
Imposter syndrome is not an official diagnosable condition but describes a pattern of thinking that may have developed in response to a number of influencing factors. Telling someone with imposter thoughts to ‘be more confident’ is a bit like telling someone with anxiety to ‘calm down’. It’s just not that simple, and there’s usually a lifetime of habits, behaviours and ingrained beliefs to contend with. If any of this has sounded familiar, you are not alone; apparently imposter feelings affect a large number of the population. Not surprising in our results-driven society. I haven’t yet learned to silence the inner critic entirely, but I have learned a few tricks that can help.
Be kind to yourself
It sounds cliché, I know, but in my experience overcoming imposter thoughts has less to do with gaining confidence and more to do with breaking down the impossibly high expectations of oneself. Comparing yourself to people that may have 20 more years of education and experience than you is not fair. And expecting perfection in everything you do is unrealistic. Cut yourself some slack.
Compare the pair
Following on from the previous point, if you are going to compare yourself to others, at least level the playing field. As much as there are people out there who are amazing at what they do, there are also people who are just good at marketing themselves. Have you ever heard the phrase “Those who know least shout the loudest”? When I come across these people I remind myself that I do belong; and even though I am not perfect I am doing a better job than some.
Everyone has doubts
The truth is that no one has all their shit together all of the time. When I learned that others in my industry (people I idolise, people I compare myself to) have doubted themselves as well, I realised that being great doesn’t mean having the absence of doubts, it just means getting on with things anyway.
Use it for good, not evil
A friend said to me: “I think you’re one of the best ones out there, Anna. But you doubt yourself, which as much as that fucking sucks, it makes you better for it as you don’t have your head up your ass.” Imposter feelings can paralyse you completely if you let it (remember that writing career?) – set your expectations too high to be attainable and what’s the point of even trying? At this point you may be thinking imposter syndrome is a curse, but it does have some redeeming factors that you can make work for you. The critical mindset helps keep you humble, for one. But it also fosters a desire to keep learning. Just make sure that you check in with yourself – learn for the sake of growth and improvement, not perfection or validation.
Look after yourself
Although mainly discussed in a professional sense, imposter thoughts could intrude on any aspect of your life. It goes without saying that nothing written here is a substitute for professional advice – if you are really struggling with imposter thoughts then therapy may help you develop strategies to manage it.
This post has been challenging to write (what imposter wants to admit they’re not perfect!) but I hope you have found it useful. If you struggle with imposter thoughts too, and are brave enough to share your experience, or any other tips, please leave a comment below 😊