I want to empower women – but I'm an imposter

I have a confession – I’m a fraud. I started 50Sense to empower women, to celebrate all that life and experience has taught us and see it as a positive, not just another worry line on the forehead. But I’m fighting Imposter Syndrome with every keystroke I make.

People I know will now be laughing. To anyone looking on, I’m a gobby Geordie, not scared of talking to people and trying something new. I’ll go to events by myself and find people to talk to. Hell, I’ve even exchanged Instagram accounts with some of them and you can’t get more confident than that.

Scratch the surface, however, and you’ll find Mrs Wobbling Jelly of Wobbling Jellyville. While I’m chatting away, there’s another part of me also talking – my inner voice, incessantly chipping away at any self-worth like Alexandros of Antioch with the Venus de Milo (why do you think it has no arms?).

“God, why did you say that? You have no idea what you’re talking about. Look, she knows you have no idea what you’re talking about. She’s bored. You’re boring her. She wants to go talk to someone else. That group over there are laughing. They’re having a much better time. She’d rather be with them. Jayzus, that was such a stupid thing to say…”

It’s no better at work. Becoming the first woman night editor in my newspaper’s entire history? Well, that was because the editor was a woman and liked me. What other reason could there be?

It even stopped me getting my dream job. Sitting in the interview room, having researched the people interviewing me and discovering how incredible they were, my first thought after the first question was: “He knows you’re a fake,” and that was it. Imposter syndrome came and gobbled my ideas and my tongue.

Imposter Syndrome has made me hide my posts away, shake before I hit publish and feel embarrassed about putting them on social media.

I almost wish no one I knew saw them and I could be invisible.

Yes. Me. 50Sense – the site that wants women to break free of the invisibility of age.

I know I’m not the only one. Too many women feel this way – including some amazingly talented women I’ve worked with. One told me how she sits in news conference, looks around and thinks: “What on earth am I doing here? I have no right to be here.” Another once told me she couldn’t go for promotion because: “I don’t have enough experience,” even though she’d practically done the job for more than a year.      

Even former first lady Michelle Obama says she felt like an imposter when she entered the White House:

“In different moments, I'd felt overwhelmed by the pace, unworthy of the glamour, anxious about our children, and uncertain of my purpose”

Studies suggest that 70% of people suffer from Imposter Syndrome. Neil Gaiman put it wonderfully in his blog about Imposter Syndrome: “Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.”

But, as with talking about loneliness, it’s something we’re loathe to admit. Writing this, I feel like I’m baring my soul, opening up a weakness that “they” can use against me.

Perhaps that’s the problem. We live in such a macho world that admitting you feel scared or have doubts feels as if you’re admitting that you’re lacking in some way. You’re not perfect.

So what’s the answer?

Talk about it

Tell people how you feel because you’re practically guaranteed to find the person you’re talking to (male or female) feels the same way. Knowing I’m not alone and that what I feel is natural always helps me.

Mentor

I’ve loved nothing more than helping younger women in my industry. It reminds me why I love journalism and also how much I’ve grown and how much I know about it. It also stops you feeling invisible. I still glow when I remember how one young journalist, when we were discussing my career, told me her “girl crush had grown”. I was fangirling on her – she was so young and worked at The Spectator – when in her eyes, I had achieved so much.

Learn

It’s one of the greatest side-effects of teaching – stretching your own mind and learning from others. Keeping your mind open to new ideas means you stay fresh. Also, admit (to yourself at least) what you don’t know and put that right. I have a good friend who knows everything – and she really does – and can discuss it as easily as I discuss Victoria Beckham’s past collections. Whenever I leave her, I always head to the library to read up on what she’s been talking about.

Put yourself out there

Facing fears is difficult. At times it feels impossible. But the feeling of accomplishment afterwards is worth it. So push yourself – speak up at work, apply for the job even if you don’t have all the qualifications, try the wacky outfit and go chat that man/woman up. Yes, you may make an idiot of yourself, but you’ll get over it. Trust me, it may take some time, but you will get over it, whereas the disappointment that you never even tried will never go away.

Praise others – and yourself

It was interactions on social media that encouraged me to write this. People who said they’d liked what I’d written, that they agreed with it and had opinions about it. It’s what every writer wants: to connect. Isn’t it what we all want? So praise your colleague’s work and if they do the same to you, don’t dismiss it.

Love your Imposter

In some ways, I have to thank my inner voice. Feeling I’m the odd one out and don’t belong has pushed me to work hard, learn more and – perhaps the most important one – try to treat others kinder. Because you never know what their inner voice is saying.