How I overcame imposter syndrome

Have you ever suffered from imposter syndrome?

Early on in my career as Creative Director of my first business, GetFrank, I stood in a recording studio listening to Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett – some of the biggest stars of the day – as they explained their vision for a new concept band, Gorillaz.

Damon lay across the mixing decks as he spoke and as I stood staring at him, I was gripped with the most intense sense of imposter syndrome I’d ever experienced.

What was I doing there? What were any of us doing there? My business partners and I had only been in business for a few months and here we were, being asked to create a website and online space for Gorillaz by Damon ‘yes that Damon from Blur’ Albarn.

What could I possibly have to offer? There must have been some kind of mistake. I remember the claminess of my skin as clearly as if it were yesterday. I was sure someone was about to tap me on the shoulder and say ‘oh, sorry, we didn’t mean you!’.

None of this was made any better by the fact that years previously, as Entertainments Officer at Newcastle University, I’d turned down a fledgling band called Blur for a gig… just before they exploded onto the music scene and became mega famous… but that’s a story for another day.

The tap on my shoulder never came but that did nothing to assuage my imposter syndrome.

The older I get, the more convinced I am that we’ve all suffered from imposter syndrome at one time or another. For some of us, it’s a continuous feeling that we aren’t good enough, for others an intermittent feeling that we’re going to somehow be ‘rumbled’.

In my experience, it’s rare that the fear is founded in reality. No matter our expertise or success, we all doubt ourselves, it’s human nature. So how do we overcome it?

For me with Gorillaz, I took a hard look not only at my own expertise and experience, as well as that of my business partners. I told myself that whatever I was feeling, they’d come to us for a reason. All of us had worked in the Internet since the very beginning, we had huge amounts of value to add.

I had to separate out how I felt from what was actually true.

The more I think about it, the more I’m sure this is key in overcoming imposter syndrome. There is an objective truth that isn’t clouded by your own, sometimes skewed, perspective and baggage.

As I listened to them talk, I realised that we weren’t Daman Albarn or Jamie Hewlett and we didn’t have their talents… but crucially, I realised we didn’t need to be. They needed something else from us.

There and then, I changed the script in my head. Everyone starts somewhere, everyone is constantly moving on and progressing, even famous stars. At some point in their lives, Damon and Jamie had struggled to know how to deal with things, too. They’d felt out of their depth and they’d pushed through it.

I took a deep breath and visualised success. I saw myself confidently answering their questions and chatting to them, person to person – and it worked. As they launched the band, their online presence and website was launched and developed by us.

It was an amazing experience and one I’m incredibly proud of but it also taught me a hugely valuable lesson to trust what other people saw in me, even if I didn’t always see it myself.

It’s come full circle now and I still use these lessons in my business life.

Imposter syndrome can strike even the most confident of people. For example, we often see it rear its head when clients launch their employee advocacy programmes. 

Even the team members who are most excited and gung-ho about becoming online brand ambassadors for their company get a ‘rabbit in the headlights’ moment when they first start posting on social.

Who am I to be posting my opinion online? Look at all of these well-established experts getting hundreds of likes whenever they post anything… what could I possibly have to offer? Will my bosses like what I’m posting? What if I get it wrong?

The fact this happens so often has inspired us to create a new course helping employees to become social media influencers on behalf of their company.

I’ll let you know more about the course we’re launching later on this week but in the meantime, I hope this post has helped you to identify some areas in your own professional life where misplaced imposter syndrome is holding you back.

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