I just finished applying for a role. Nothing big or amazing. Something, lets face it, I should be awesome at. And yet, it took me over 3 hours to get everything to the standard I wanted and I had a breakdown in the middle.
But the real issue is: this isn’t the first time this has happened, and I’ve never really spoken about in such a public space. But I often have crippling impostor syndrome.
For those of you who don’t know what impostor syndrome is it is literally defined as:
It's very real, and it’s very common. But now I have to work on stopping it so that I can actually move forward as an actor and person. So get yourself a cup of tea and something chocolatey, and let's talk about how it manifests when it rears its ugly head and how we can punch it in its stupid face.
Disclaimer time: I am not a health professional, and Impostor Syndrome is a genuine mental health issue. My advice is based purely on what works for me, so please seek out assistance from a trained health professional.
Impostor syndrome is all about self doubt. Doubt that you can complete a task to the best of your ability. Doubt that you have any control in your life. Doubt that other people will respect you or believe you did all this amazing work by yourself.
It's that little voice calling you a fake and under-qualified. Saying you aren’t the best for this position! That little voice is your saboteur. They appear with many different faces depending on your own mental health history. They tear away at any positive thoughts and replace them with negative versions.
So this is how I deal with that brain gremlin: I give them a physical manifestation.
Some sort of appearance and voice that makes me instantly ignore everything they say because it's rubbish. My personal saboteur looks like a fat, middle-aged man, with a bad haircut and carotenosis. Then whenever I have a negative thought all I can think about is how much of a misogynistic simpleton my saboteur is.
And suddenly my saboteur has lost all their power.
I then take the negative comment and reword it to make it a positive one. For example:
“Your writing is $#!t and no one will read it,” becomes “Your writing is unique and you’re supported by your loved ones.”
This does take practice, and sometimes my saboteur will be so loud that there is nothing I can do. I take some deep breaths, I talk it out (to myself if I have too) and then I replace with positive terms.
I’m a perfectionist. There. I said it. It's so bad that sometimes I’ll give up on projects completely because it isn’t perfect and I wasn’t instantly good at it.
This is a facet of my impostor syndrome. I set the bar so high for myself that I can never be happy with my own work. Honestly, I could edit these blog posts for months!
So I lower the bar, and I give myself a deadline that can’t be changed.
Let me use these blog posts as an example. They come out every Friday. Would people forgive me if I missed a week? Yes. Is it an easily obtainable goal? Yes. Do I create more work for myself by pushing the date back? Yes. Therefore the easiest option is to just get it done. They aren’t long and let's face it - it's a blog post, not Shakespeare.
Perfectionism feeds your saboteur: it gives them the chance to say that you aren’t good enough, or skilled enough, and when you fail to achieve those high expectations you give your saboteur more and more proof to use against you in the future.
Perfectionism also negates any effort and time that you have put in to make such an achievement. The fun is in the journey, not the destination right?
Another trap I fall into regularly is being humble. Any positive trait taken too far becomes a flaw. So for a long time, I just thought that I was being humble and that was good, when accepting and talking about my achievements is one of the best ways to accept that, you know, I’m pretty cool and obviously did enough to get recognised for my talents.
You know that fun conversation starter, “What are you afraid of?” I wish mine was snakes or clowns or feet. Or burping, which one of my friends is very vocal about. No, my phobia is much more intangible than that. It isn't a bogeyman hiding in my wardrobe, or a shadow at my window. It's stupid atychiphobia: fear of failure.
This is the main course for my saboteur, their favourite food. It's what they’ll request as their last meal before the electric chair, but guess what? I’m going to give them bread and water and light them up like a Christmas tree.
Every tiny failure in my life has fed this monster to the point that I may not try out for something or start a new hobby because I might fail. Which leads to not feeling successful. Which leads to feeling like I’m doing things above my ability. Which leads to feeling like a fraud that will be found out any moment.
Acknowledging this fear is the first step. Then it's a long hard slog to readjust your thinking. I’m still working on it. I tell myself that it's not failure, just an unexpected outcome. I tell myself that without failure I cannot learn and grow as a person. And I tell myself without failure, I will become the most boring person in the universe.
There’s no fun in perfectionism. There’s no fun in winning all the time. I’m a girl, all I want is to have fun.
I could go into so much more depth, and maybe I will later. But I’ve already taken the hardest step. I’m talking to people about it and I’m learning to love and believe in myself. If I could go back in time 5 years to my younger self, this is what I’d talk about. That, and maybe some really good investment choices but that's off topic.
I’ve included the links to some websites that really helped me with these feelings and can highly recommend giving them a read.