It was a 60-second video that did it.
Tasked with recording a mere one-minute’s worth of tape outlining The Flock’s progress over recent months, I hit crisis mode. The sound on my phone was atrocious. The picture on my laptop worse. The light was out to get me, my voice was letting me down and anxiety was making my hands tremble to a degree normally confined to those drying out.
By conservative estimate, I’d say it was on my eleventy-thousandth take that I eventually hit export, by then close to tears. The real problem, of course, wasn’t the tech. The real problem was me.
I feel like an arse even typing this, but the only reason I’d been asked to capture my mug in movie form was that I’ve been shortlisted for an award. A start-up award, no less, for entrepreneurs.
The problem? I don’t think of myself as an entrepreneur, let alone an awards-worthy one. So, to talk about my own achievements in the space, in the knowledge better qualified candidates will see it? Well, it turns out a minute can feel like a month if the situation is uncomfortable enough.
When I tell people how anxious I can get about my new work life, they often react with surprise or disbelief. I’ve been a journalist for 18 years. I can happily read a news bulletin live on the radio. I can write on just about any subject. I can sit on a stage and interview household names in front of hundreds, even thousands, of people – and with practice, I can now do it without even vomiting first. But that’s all about telling other people’s stories. Ask me to talk about myself, and the whole confident façade falls apart.
The only reason The Flock even exists is that, when lockdown arrived, my year’s work pipeline disappeared out of the window. With live events cancelled and freelance budgets pulled in, it seemed as good a time as any to try and go it alone. I was scared, but the fear paled in comparison to the alternative – sitting around mourning jobs lost. Initially, I even managed to convince myself that no one need know I was behind it.
But over the past four months, as our audience has grown, I’ve found myself facing up to my own self-doubt far more often, and more frustratingly, than ever before. For me, the point of this site was always to tell other women’s stories. Increasingly, I’m being asked to tell mine. And it makes me feel hugely exposed.
So, I was surprised to see new research suggesting imposter syndrome among working adults has actually fallen by as much as 40 per cent in 2020. As we’ve all adapted to working from home, it seems, the number of people who say they’re prone to self-doubt has fallen from 70 per cent of the population to 30. Why would that be?
“Perhaps, during a global pandemic, we simply have less time to worry about what we think our colleagues think of our capabilities,” muses the report’s author, researcher Terri Simpkin. “Perhaps working from home has given many people more autonomy.
“Imposter Phenomenon is related to context. If the context changes, so can experiences of Imposter-ism. It’s socially constructed, so change the social circumstances and the experience may change too.”
Exceptions to the rule
But while workers who have found themselves secure in their employment have enjoyed greater independence between the hours of nine till five this year, the researchers found stark differences among those in a more precarious situation.
If an anxious worker falls over without any colleagues to witness it, did they ever topple at all? Apparently, yes. Among those who were furloughed or out of work in recent months, levels of imposter phenomenon are twice as high as the study’s average.
“People who experience Imposter Phenomenon are likely to see being on furlough or having their role made redundant as a failure – which can fuel a sense of ‘not being good enough’,” Simpkin explains. “They’ll likely diminish their own capabilities and past achievements, making job applications and interviews even more of a challenge.”
Here, self-doubt can often amplify into self-sabotage – something which, over recent years, a host of experts have warned impacts women even more keenly than men.
In her recent book Sabotage: How to Silence Your Inner Critic and Get Out of Your Own Way, author Emma Gannon touches on that very conflict. “Self-sabotage is the voice that tells you to drink a bottle of wine the night before a big job interview because ‘you probably won’t get it anyway’,” she writes.
“Self-sabotage is the voice telling you not to start that new side hustle because ‘it probably won’t be any good and other people would do it better.’ Self-sabotage is the voice that tells you to pick a fight with your partner without explaining how you’re feeling, because ‘they probably won’t understand’.”
Self-sabotage is also, I’d imagine, the reason I now have eleventy-thousand video files on my computer of me shouting “gaaaargh” with my head in my hands. Gannon goes on to explain that part of her motivation for changing her own approach, and for later writing a book about it, was that, “When you watch someone own their successes, you feel compelled to do the same. Therefore, by being positive about yourself, you are probably inspiring someone else in the process.”
Wise words, for sure, but despite having devoured the book in a few short hours, I can confirm that putting its lessons into practice takes a somewhat bigger time commitment.
I’ll never get used to seeing my face on camera, or to writing my own story down. But perhaps Gannon has a point about owning our stories. Instead of worrying about the video, maybe I should have been celebrating the fact I’ve been shortlisted for a prestigious award in the first place.
After all, as uncomfortable as entrepreneurship undoubtedly is for me, if the past few months have taught me anything, it’s that sometimes the rewards (if not actual awards) lie on the other side of terror. You just have to find a way to push on through first…