Next week we’re publishing a blogpost and podcast on Ellenor McIntosh, co-founder of Twipes. A couple of times in our discussion she mentioned that most human of qualities: Imposter Syndrome.
As a young woman starting a company, often surrounded by older entrepreneurs and business people, she felt like she didn’t belong. As she says now:
‘Coming in at the age I came into business at, there was huge Imposter Syndrome that plagued me for years. I’d go into meetings thinking “Oh my god, I’m the only one having these feelings” but no, actually, everyone has it.’
But it took her years to understand that major insight most of us have worked out: we all suffer from Imposter Syndrome.
The other day I was explaining what it meant to my 18-year-old son. He didn’t know the term but instantly recognised what I was talking about.
‘Why do they call it a syndrome? It’s just part of being human.’
Indeed. And who am I to write this post? Am I the world’s leading expert on the subject? Will anyone read it anyway? Douglas Adams, who at the time was the already famous author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, once said that what he feared every day was a man in a grey suit coming to his door and telling him, in a sad voice, that he had to stop what he was doing. He’d been found out. He couldn’t pretend to be a writer any more.
So we all recognise it in ourselves. But how do we counter it? There are many ways. One famous Arabic opera singer was feeling intimidated by the enormous audience of mainly Western people, quite a few of them very famous. But she calmed herself by looking at them and thinking that they all wiped their bottoms with toilet paper. And they weren't even using Twipes.
What we’re trying to counter is a feeling of inadequacy; that we’re not up to the job; that we’ll be found out by others who are the real deal. Understanding that this is a very common human emotion helps at the most basic level. You are not alone.
It’s important not to go too far down this rabbit hole. You need to take a look at the positives. Look back at when something has gone really right, when you received praise, when you made a difference.
There’s no point in comparing yourself to others. They’re all on their own personal journey and it’s not yours. Remember Dr Jordan Peterson’s Fourth Rule from his excellent book 12 Rules for Life: ‘Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.’
Another solid tactic is simply to talk about your feelings with someone. Choose the right person and, as you two sit there, you’ll find two people are listening. One is the other person, the other is you. You’ll hear yourself saying things that you didn’t realise you thought or had ever said. The art of articulating your thoughts can be surprisingly instructive.
When all is said and done, perhaps it’s also useful to simply accept that this emotion will come along every now and then but, as your experience and confidence grows, you will be able to see it in context and not take it to heart. Many decades ago, when I was starting out in book publishing, I was a novice editor, and I had to hand over the words and images for a book for the designer to lay out (all done then with paper and gum). He was an extremely experienced much older man who’d fought in WWII and was someone I respected greatly.
After I’d gone through the project and physically handed it over he nodded and said: ‘You know, you probably think old Patrick can do these things in his sleep. But the truth is that every single time I get a book to lay out I wonder if I can do it, if this time I won’t be able to.’ He smiled, I smiled, not believing him, but admiring his openness and, I guessed, his attempt to make me feel more confident. Only years later did I understand he meant the literal truth.
Finally, heed the wise words of Ellenor McIntosh, the GenZ Twipes founder we’ll be talking with next week. It didn’t take her long in business to find this out as an antidote to our anxieties about being shown up:
‘No-one cares, honestly, nobody cares what you’ve just done.’
GenZ Insight: How To Make Your Organisation A GenZ Magnet
Authors: Graham Scott and Guy Ellis
Publisher: The Message Medium
Pagination: 132 pages
Price: print £14.99 ($19.99); ebook £9.99 ($9.99)
Publication date: 31 July 2020
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Ellenor McIntosh, co-founder of Twipes, is an award-winning Forbes ‘30 Under 30’