Not so long ago, I negotiated a freelance contract that genuinely made me stomach-in-throat, toes-a-tingling kind of excited. Reading the brief, it was like the role had specifically been written for me. With a little dutch courage and not thinking too much about it, I sent off an application and – strike me down with a kitten’s tail – they picked me.

Then it started.

“Who do I think I am? This can’t be real. There are so many others who are far better than me. They’ve made a mistake. Soon enough, they’re going to figure out my con game.”

Ahhhh, imposter syndrome. What a joy, right?

That relentless internal chitter chatter. The belief we’re just pretending at this whole grown-up malarky, that we’re phonies and fakes who will eventually be found out.

The irony that those who deal with this crippling self-doubt tend to be the highest achievers shouldn’t escape you. And if this is you, you’re in good company – everyone from Lady Gaga through former Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg and award-winning comedy writer Tina Fey are reported to understand this internal derailment, with even Einstein supposedly saying, “The exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me feel very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.”

When Baz Luhrmann released his seminal spoken poetry piece, ‘Don’t Forget To Wear Sunscreen’, I – along with many others of my vintage – felt like he was talking directly to me. The poem’s line, ‘… the most interesting people I know didn’t know what they wanted to do at 22, and some of the most interesting 40-year-olds still don’t’ absolutely applies to me. I’ve had a number of truly successful careers in my life across a number of industries.

I’ve co-hosted drive time radio, run award-winning restaurants, been in magazine features, and mentored dozens of young hospitality guns; I’ve ghostwritten three books, been published in a swag of magazines and often get asked my professional opinion on a number of topics.

I’m still trying to figure that last one out, but hey, whatever…

I read somewhere once that women won’t apply for a job unless they meet 90% of the criteria, whereas men will apply with only 60%. The truth is, I’ve built my entire working life on just giving it a crack. On paper, I’ve not been qualified for many of the things I’ve done. In fact, I’ve always been about side hustles and back up plans. 

I was hired in radio because I was relentless in my hounding them to let me on air… while I was studying biomedical science (of all things). 

Despite never having run a business before, I became a partner in a restaurant because the owner and I knew we were onto a good thing (and we both liked Kiwi wine). 

My entire copywriting career came out of a blanket email sent to everyone in my LinkedIn list telling them I was the missing comma in their copy, a gun-for-hire they never knew they needed. I didn’t even know what a copywriter was.

The disparity between my extraordinary confidence and lack thereof is breathtaking.

And yet… whenever I start something new – a project, an article – I am in constant bone-crushing fear. Fear that I don’t deserve this. That someone’s made a terrible mistake. That I’ve fluked the whole thing, and someone’s going to see the light any second now. Even though I’m doing the thing I’ve done thousands of times before, can I do this? Really?

Feeling like a fraud doesn’t get any easier with the dizzying heights of success. In fact, it exacerbates it. However, in the moments I grab away from the mental chatter where I can talk myself back from the ledge, I’ve been able to put together a toolkit for managing the monkey mind. 

You’re welcome. (I hope it helps).

Keep A Brag Folder

A portfolio, a spreadsheet, any media, emails from clients, employees or employers – document it ALL. It’s a file where you can remind yourself that you matter, that your work matters and that victories, big and small, are absolutely victories and they have all added up to help create the magnificent talent you are. When feeling a little wobbly, read your brag file to remind yourself you’re better and stronger than you think.

Remind Yourself Of All The Times You Nailed It

Write it down. There’s a surprising amount of power to seeing it on paper. Go through all the roles and jobs and wins you’ve had. Ask yourself, what did you know in the beginning about that role, job or company? What did you know at the end? What was the takeaway? Every single piece of the puzzle is supposed to be there, even if it feels like a loss, making up the greater whole.

Control What You Can, Let Go Of What You Can’t

This one seems pretty basic, but it’s often the one that gets us all kerfuffled. The thing I know about myself as a writer is that I can tell a good story. But I need preparation. This whole ‘wing-it’ idea doesn’t work for me – I like to know the context around telling my story and making sure I’ve got the banger punchline. There is literally nothing worse in my world than a story that just trails off, dying a sad lonely death with no definitive end… which I’ve certainly done many times! The moral here is to be prepared – prepared for the small chunks of a big project, prepared for the long journey, prepared for the win. And if you don’t win? That’s okay. It happened to Einstein too.

Stay Curious

Everyone, regardless of age, should forever strive to be a student. And not in a ‘I’ve got several unfinished uni-degrees’ kind of way (please stop looking at me now), but in that we are forever students of life and there is always something to learn. A yoga teacher once told me there’s a reason why it’s called a yoga practice – we are always practicing, learning about the pose, about the meditation and about our body. Zen is where we reach no ego and no attachment, only humility and curiosity.

Failure will always be part of the process. It’s what makes us stronger and more resilient. There will always be grand culinary attempts you mess up,  work projects you walk away from, relationships you leave. But it is vital that you separate your self-worth from what you do, because what you do is not who you are.

It took me forever to learn that.


You may also like:

The health space where you get to take back control of your body, your health, your emotions, and your life.

© 2024 Xali. All rights reserved.