There are some pivotal moments in recent history where individuals, depending on their age, can recall exactly where they were/what they were doing when they heard the event happened. Some examples include:
The shooting of John Lennon
The fall of the Berlin Wall
The death of Princess Diana
But this is probably the first time in my lifetime that we can add an entire year to the list. 2020. The year where everything and nothing happened. We might want to forget it but we won’t be able to because the global pandemic has impacted on every part of everybody’s lives.
How much of an impact there has been will massively depend on an individual’s circumstances and their mental health. What I might consider disappointing/inconvenient based on my circumstances might have a tremendous impact for somebody else. Therefore, what I’ve written below is very much how I might view things but I do recognise that the events may fall into an entirely different category for someone else…
For some, the impact has been disappointing and inconvenient but not necessarily life-changing or devastating – the annual holiday cancelled, a birthday not celebrated in the usual way, missing face to face contact with friends and family, a new alien work environment based from home.
For others, the impact has been more significant – job loss or reduced hours leading to financial worries, a holiday of a lifetime/ wedding/ anniversary/ big birthday cancelled, being kept away from a loved one in a care home.
And there are those for whom this year has been a tragedy – illness, cancelled operations, bereavement, not able to properly say goodbye to loved ones, businesses failing, acute loneliness and depression and, of course, exam results and the impact of that on college/university places or employment.
My immediate little family of three has been fortunate so far, falling mainly into that first category of a disappointing and inconvenient year: holidays, theatre trips, celebrations for my hubby’s 50th birthday and my birthday all cancelled. Zoom has been a weak alternative to meeting family face-to-face but we still have our jobs and we’ve both worked from home for several years so haven’t had to adjust to that. We have, however, had an unexpected family bereavement – not to Covid – and that was hard, not being able to rush round and give hugs. But we have been lucky and I count my blessings every day for that.
But today feels odd. Strange. Wrong. Because today I should be at my graduation ceremony.
I achieved my Masters in Creative Writing at the back end of 2019 but it was through Open University so ceremonies take place all over the country, with lesser frequency in the north. I’d hesitated as to whether to bother when the ceremony at the nearest venue to us – Harrogate – would be almost a year after graduating but hubby and the munchkin said I should definitely do it and they would be there cheering me on, as would my parents. When Covid hit, all graduation ceremonies were understandably cancelled for the foreseeable future. I have no idea when it will be considered safe to have an event like this again or how they will catch up with the backlog. Will there be any point in attending a ceremony two or three years after finishing? It feels like the moment has passed.
This weekend, I would also have started getting organised ready for our holiday over the October half term. At the start of the year, we booked a week in Portugal for May half term and a holiday cottage in Lancaster to be in easy reach of both Blackpool and the southern Lake District. Portugal was cancelled and, with Lancashire moving into a Tier 3 lockdown yesterday, that’s also cancelled. We had already made the decision not to go while they were Tier 2 as it made no sense to travel from a Tier 1 part of the country into a higher-risk zone, especially knowing we wouldn’t be able to do what we’d planned for our holiday anyway.
What am I doing instead?
I’m staying at home as usual, waiting for a courier to collect the swab kit for my Covid test. I was randomly selected and invited to do this as part of the research survey undertaken by Imperial College London and Ipsos MORI on behalf of the Dept of Health & Social Care. I agreed I was happy to participate and, yesterday, my kit and instructions arrived in the post.
Also in the post was a box of author copies of Making Wishes at Bay View from the print-run that has gone into The Works. A case of normality arriving alongside this strange new world.
It all feels very surreal. If someone had told me last year to guess why I wouldn’t be able to attend my graduation ceremony and what I’d be doing instead, I’d never in a million years have predicated this. Yet this is the new normal.
And seeing as ‘normal’ is different, is it too early to put up the Christmas tree this weekend? Yeah, you’re right. Maybe I need to wait until November. Ooh, 1st November falls on a Sunday. Could I…?
Sending hugs to anyone whose 2020 has hurt/is still hurting. Hang on in there.
Friday – Recognising it in others and helping them
Final day! Yay! What a mammoth tome this has turned out to be. If you have made it through all four posts so far, thank you so much. I never intended it to be this long but, as I said yesterday, one of the coping strategies is talking about it and, my goodness, have I talked! I do feel so much better getting it all out in the open. The weight has been lifted. I can move on. If you’re struggling with this yourself, I really hope that the combination of theory and personal experiences have resonated and will help you work on those coping strategies.
I will just point out that I am not qualified or an expert in this stuff but I am a trained and qualified career coach and a career development guidance counsellor so some of the advice does draw on those skills.
Today’s post will be shorter. I promise!
Recognising imposter syndrome in others
If you’ve read the previous posts, you should have a pretty good idea of what imposter syndrome looks like. I’ll remind you here of the three types I demonstrate but I’ll add in the other two.
The perfectionist – believes their work can always be better and focuses on flaws. They want everything to be 100% perfect 100% of the time. They’ll beat themselves up for not achieving the high standards they set. In the workplace, they may struggle with delegation (if you want something doing well, do it yourself!) and could be a micro-manager
The superhero – feels they must push themselves to work as hard as possible to overcome feelings of inadequacy. They work long hours and can focus purely on work to the determinant of hobbies and/or relationships. They feel they have to keep pushing themselves to do more in order to prove their worth
The expert – always trying to learn more and may focus on what they don’t know/can’t do instead of what they do know/can do. They feel there’s always much more to learn and worry about being exposed as a fraud because they’re not experienced or knowledgeable enough to justify their status/position
And here are the two types that don’t resonate with me personally:
The natural genius – they set the bar incredibly high, like a perfectionist, but this type is about speed and ease of completing their goals/tasks. They’ve likely sailed through academia, been told they’re ‘gifted’, ‘smart’, ‘brightest in the family’ and are used to excelling with little effort. Imposter syndrome sets in when they find themselves unable to do something quickly and/or effortlessly
The soloist – will avoid asking for help as that indicates their fraudulence. They will struggle on alone because that’s the only way to prove their worth
Recognise any of these traits in others?
How to help those with imposter syndrome
Here’s some general tips for helping others who have it although specific support would depend on which of the types of imposter syndrome they’re demonstrating:
Acknowledge that it’s real and it’s common but it’s different for everyone
As I mentioned on Tuesday, it is estimated that 70% of us will experience imposter syndrome at some point in our lives. If you’ve never experienced it, please don’t dismiss it. It’s a real thing and can be quite debilitating. If you tell the ‘imposter’ they’re being ‘silly’ or words to that effect, you’re only exacerbating their feelings of failure!
If you have experienced it, then you will have some understanding of what it feels like but do bear in mind that yours may have been brief and swiftly dealt with. Your friend/colleague may be having a very different experience affecting them much more deeply. So empathise but don’t assume their experience is the same as yours.
Listen to them
Find out what their experience is like. Empathise. Don’t tell them they’re wrong to feel this way. They very likely know that themselves. If they have put themselves out there and owned up to how they’re feeling, they don’t want you dismissing it. They want you to hear it and accept it and then you can both work out the next steps from there.
Also, if you have felt like this yourself but it wasn’t as strong/was a long time ago/you’ve found ways to deal with it, do make sure you don’t turn this conversation so it’s all about you and not them! Do listen to what they have to say first as it can be really hard to admit to something like this. When it feels appropriate, ask if they’re happy for you to share your experiences.
Ask them questions
Find out more. How does it manifest? How does it hold them back? What do they want to do about it. This is an important point. It has to be about them; not about what you think they should do.
Show them how valued they are
Help them see how amazing their achievements are. For an author, saying something like, “What are you moaning about? I’d kill to be in the Top 20!” is probably not the best approach to take. But saying, “What was the highest position you had before that? Wow! What an amazing jump!” is opening up a more positive conversation. Yes, you maybe would sell your grandmother for a Top 20 position but the issue here is not that the ‘imposter’ isn’t delighted with it. It’s that their inner imposter is not looking at the positive and you can help them do that.
If they’re in the workplace, maybe challenge the long hours. What are they doing in those extra hours that they could do tomorrow instead? If their work genuinely can’t be done in ‘normal’ hours, there’s maybe another issue at hand and they actually have too much work. Not necessarily a failure on their part! They may have taken on more to try and prove their worth, feeling they’d be viewed as a failure or a fraud if they said ‘no’.
Celebrate successes with them
Because an ‘imposter’ tends to focus on the negatives, they usually can’t see the positives and therefore don’t celebrate them. So help them do that.
For an author example, Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow hasn’t got as high in the charts as New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms. Yet (positive mindset here!) However, it has gathered more reviews much more quickly so each of those books carries a different positive.
Remind them of the word ‘yet’
I even used this above. Yet is such a powerful word. You haven’t got to the top of the charts … yet! You haven’t been promoted … yet! You haven’t found love … yet! Encourage them to keep believing and stay positive.
Get them to set a plan and regularly check in
If they’ve shared their challenges with you, chances are they’re ready to work on them so get them to set some commitments – like I did yesterday – as to what they are going to change. This will cover HOW they’re going to change and WHEN they’re going to do this.
A good way to look at this is:
What will you STOP doing?
What will you START doing?
Because it’s no good doing some positive stuff if the negative stuff is continuing!
But don’t just leave them to get on with this as self-doubt is going to kick in and old habits will die hard. Discuss how they’d like you to check in so that it then doesn’t feel like you’re nagging; they’ve given you permission to ask how it’s going and give them a kick up the backside if needed.
As for my next steps…
I’m feeling so much more positive for having shared this. Thank you for ‘listening’. I also had a great conversation with my amazing editor, Nia, on Wednesday. Nia regularly reads my blog (thank you!) and I was able to talk about the humour behind some of my obsessiveness this summer and confirm, as I’ve done previously, what a pleasure it is to work with her and Boldwood. Couldn’t be more different to what I’ve experienced in the past.
The second round of edits on New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow are very limited and I was reassured that I had managed to sort that out after such an initial struggle. We also spoke about some concerns with where to start the third book in the series and Nia had a great suggestion which I’m excited to crack on with.
On top of that, an update on sales, newsletter subscribers, promo plans and what my next contract might look like have given me such a positive boost. I’m so incredibly fortunate to be able to spend my days doing what I love. It doesn’t feel like work … until I let imposter syndrome take over. So Imposter Syndrome is banished and I will get the edits on New Arrivals… finished today, take the weekend off, and start afresh on Monday with the NaNoWriMo approach to writing Hedgehog Hollow book 3 and a schedule for writing rather than procrastinating.
I’ll let you all know how I get on. In the meantime, thank you to those who have commented and particularly Eloise who has shared her experiences through the comments. Thank you to Samantha Tonge for letting me use her as a case study yesterday, to my editor Nia for being so amazing and supportive, to my husband for all the hugs and reassurance.
We’re on the penultimate day of a week of blog posts about imposter syndrome. Here’s a reminder of the plan for the series:
Monday – The theory behind it – what it is and how it manifests itself. Read it here
Tuesday – Where it comes from and how mine started. Read it here
Wednesday – How it affects me as an author. Read it here
Thursday – Coping strategies
Friday – Recognising it in others and helping them
Yesterday I gave some insight into how imposter syndrome has affected how I’ve felt about and reacted to the writing successes I’ve had this year. Yes, I do realise there have been amazing successes but the imposter in me has meant I’ve struggled to believe them/accept them/enjoy them.
Over the past month or so, I have become very aware that my mindset needs to change because it’s not healthy. My books have achieved things I never believed they could and I want to enjoy each and every precious moment. After all, my goal from when I first became published was not about getting a #1 or a Kindle Bonus or 100 reviews. My goal was to earn enough from writing that I could do it full-time. And that has happened. Everything else should be a bonus!
I do know that getting up at 3.00 a.m. then 4.00 a.m. and again at 5.00 a.m. to obsessively check chart positions is not good. I do know that refreshing my screen every 15-20 minutes to check for chart positions is not good. I do know that obsessively checking for new reviews and feeling tearful when there’s a negative one is not good. The list goes on.
I’ve undertaken a lot of research into how to cope with imposter syndrome and there are common themes that recur in all the articles/expert advice so I’m going to talk about the six main strategies, give some tips on dealing with each and state my commitment towards working on each.
Coping Mechanism 1 – RECOGNISE IT
Don’t they say that the first step in overcoming addiction is to admit you have a problem? It’s the same with imposter syndrome. I have realised this year that it has got out of hand and I need to do something about it.
TOP TIP: See if you can identify what triggered your imposter syndrome. On Tuesday, I gave a list of some common triggers and one or even several of those might resonate.
For me, realising the origin was a lightbulb moment as well as being a catalyst for moving on. The reality is that those workplace bullies aren’t in my life anymore and never will be again. I’m a full-time author based from home so work is a very different set-up for me now. There are no promotions, bonuses or pay-rises … or at least not in the traditional sense. There’s no being passed from manager to manager. There’s nobody taking credit for my work. There are no redundancies.
MY COMMITMENT: All of those workplace problems that gave rise to my imposter syndrome no longer exist. They’re in the past and they’re going to stay there. The new me is a full-time successful author and, instead of letting those bullies and negative experiences affect how I behave, I’m going to draw on those experiences and feelings for how my characters behave. Negative into positive. I like that!
Coping Mechanism 2 – SEPARATE FEELINGS FROM FACT
An ‘imposter’ may feel that they are a failure but the evidence will typically suggest otherwise. Remember that imposter syndrome is experienced by those who have achieved success but don’t perceive this in the way others do. They need to focus on the facts, not their feelings of inadequacy.
TOP TIP: Recognise the difference between facts and feelings. Are you really failing or do you just feel like you are? Is there evidence that you are inadequate in some way compared to your peers or is simply a feeling because the imposter syndrome demons are whispering in your ear?
MY COMMITMENT: For me, this means remembering how it used to be pre-Boldwood – zero sales, low chart positions – and rejoicing in anything that is better than that. And what I’ve had this year has been significantly better than that. I’ve had two books in the Kindle Top 100 for goodness sake. I’m in awe of any other author who achieves that. I should therefore be impressed with me and not focus on why one book has done better than another and feel like a failure if that’s the case. The only thing that’s important is that I’m ahead of where I was pre-Boldwood. Which I am. By miles. That’s my focus.
Coping Mechanism 3 – TALK ABOUT IT
Mental health as a topic has risen to far greater prominence over recent years with many high profile celebrities admitting to struggles in the hope that their stories will help others. With suicide, particularly among men, being at an all-time high, we’re encouraged to open up and talk about our concerns. This is particularly important in a Covid world where isolation and loneliness might sit alongside financial worries and health issues; including mental health challenges.
Talking doesn’t mean the problems are going to go away. That would be naïve. And I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that old saying “a problem shared is a problem halved” but a problem shared does take the weight purely off your shoulders. And that’s a good thing.
TOP TIP: It’s not a failure to put your hand in the air and ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness. When I was much younger (late 80s/early 90s), Bob Hoskins fronted a TV advert for BT with the slogan, “It’s good to talk”. It really is!
MY COMMITMENT: I’m ‘talking’ about it now in the way I know best: through writing. I’m saying I have a problem. It may be a fairly insignificant problem compared to what some people are going through at the moment but it’s there and it’s affecting me and it’s mine. I’d love to connect with others who’ve been there and found ways to push that imposter syndrome aside.
Coping Mechanism 4 – ACCEPT THAT PERFECTIONISM IS IMPOSSIBLE
This is a biggie….
Ah, perfectionism. It’s one of the types of imposter syndrome and, as stated on Tuesday, it’s the one with which I struggle the most. Many people without imposter syndrome may struggle with this too.
As part of my research, I was shocked at the strong connection between perfectionism and suicide. Scary stuff. That’s probably not a surprise, though, given several high-profile celebrities who have taken their own lives after their flaws have been paraded in front of the world or where they’ve struggled to live up to a perfect image that may have been conveyed via reality TV.
Social media doesn’t help with perfectionism… or does it?
Social media (usually) presents a world that is shiny where the user shows us what they want to show us … and that’s not always reality. Look at posts on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter (showing my age by not talking about sites like TikTok here) and it can often seem as though the lives of others are perfect. Happy families, talented kids, delicious meals, celebrations with friends, amazing achievements… They’re all on there. We compare this to what’s going on in our own imperfect lives and can easily feel inadequate, particularly if we’re prone to imposter syndrome and already feeling like we’re failing.
I remember a friend once saying to me a few years ago, “You’re always out!” and me looking at her in astonishment. I barely ever went out. I had pretty much zero social life. But the few times I did venture out, I posted photos on social media. Her perception of my life was therefore far removed from my reality.
Instead of looking at someone’s social media posts and feeling inadequate by comparison, it’s good to pause and question whether that person could be posting lots of positive images to cover-up or help them during challenges times. I turn to the example of author and virtual friend, Samantha Tonge. In July 2018, Sam wrote an extremely honest blog post about her battle with alcoholism, an experience which provided the inspiration for her fabulous novel released that summer, Forgive Me Not. The blog post is in the public forum but I’ve checked with Sam that she is happy for me to share it here and she has given me her blessing. You can read the full post here. The part that resonated with me is where Sam talks about social media: “It’s helped no end to talk about the positive aspects of my life [on social media], whilst dealing with my demons away from the keyboard. Posting my inspirational memes probably helps me as much as anyone else.”
As Sam’s situation demonstrates, when aspects of our life are a little out of control, it can be easy to grab onto one of the few things we can control – our social media feed – and convey a happy and positive image when that’s not really how we’re feeling. Or to cling onto (and share) a success to help focus on that when other aspects of our life have gone awry. And that can be a good thing. Engaging with others on social media can provide a distraction/a confidence boost/reassurance or whatever it is we might need at that time.
Over the past few months, I’ve found social media to be a brilliant coping strategy for dealing with my imposter syndrome but I’m going to explain how a little later as it links to a couple of the other strategies.
Still with perfectionism but moving away from social media, the desire to achieve perfection can lead to significant procrastination because the ‘imposter’ worries about their ability to meet what are effectively unrealistic high standards so can put off cracking on with their work. Oh my goodness, I’ve been doing so much of this since I became a full-time author and I can directly attribute it to my imposter syndrome perfectionist. I have more time to write now but I also have more time to think about writing. The result of that is that I over-think and the result of that is I don’t get anything written. Nightmare!
Several years ago when I was working on my second novel, I joined the international writing initiative NaNoWriMo. This stands for National Novel Writing Month and is where writers and aspiring writers spend the month of November working towards a target of 50k words (a short novel) by writing roughly 1,600 words a day. The way to achieve this word count and the principle behind the NaNoWriMo approach is not to edit. You just get the words down there, even if they’re not perfect, even if they’re not inspired, even if they’re a bit muddled because getting down a 50k messy draft is far better than spending a month agonising over perfecting every word and managing only about 5k.
I absolutely love this approach. I’d struggled on and off for a decade writing my first novel, trying to perfect every single sentence as I went. I signed up to NaNoWriMo and finished book 2 then wrote part of book 3 and have used this approach ever since. Until now. When I wrote New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow, I morphed into the perfectionist and returned to my debut approach of trying to perfect every single word and every single sentence as I went. I’d regressed. I was doing it wrong. And it was painful.
The perfectionist is likely to brood over past mistakes. I’m currently brooding over how painful I made writing Hedgehog Hollow 2 instead of just getting on with book 3 using the approach I know works!
TOP TIP: If you’re an author, take the NaNoWriMo approach. Write a messy first draft. Edit later. It’s liberating.
MY COMMITMENT: I will be taking the NaNoWriMo approach with Hedgehog Hollow book 3 because I’ve written nine books using it. It works. You can find the website and learn more here.
Worry about disappointing people is another of the perfectionist’s issues. Will my readers like this book as much as the last? Will they like the change of setting? Are my publishers happy with me? Am I doing as well as they’d have hoped? Will they renew my contract?
As a perfectionist, I panic when I’m on a blog tour, scanning the review for a low rating or negative comment before I can relax and read it properly. Well, sort of relax. It might be all positive but I’d take something like “I really enjoyed this” as a negative because they didn’t say “I absolutely loved this”. Only a perfectionist gripped by imposter syndrome could find a negative in a 5-star review! Yes, do please shake your head and roll your eyes because I am too!
On Amazon or AppleBooks, I long for every review to be 4 or 5 star and it cuts me to the core when they’re not. Even though I know this is unrealistic. I feel sick if a reviewer is negative or, even worse, says they didn’t bother to finish the book because they hated it so much. Ouch! That hurts so much! Panic sets in. My loyal readers are going to hate it too. I’m a rubbish author. I’ve let my publisher down.
TOP TIP: If you’re an author, don’t read reviews when you’re feeling low because you will feel even lower if they’re negative, or you’ll read negatives into them if they’re positive. Don’t read reviews obsessively. Don’t read reviews at all if they upset or frustrate you. Or perhaps don’t read the 1-3 star ones and only read the 4s and 5s because, let’s face it, some readers say the kindest things and it’s so joyful and reassuring to read them.
MY COMMITMENT: Ooh, I wish I could take this advice! I read every single review. I feel physically sick when I get a negative one. I actually don’t have that many negative ones but I can recite the ones I have pretty much word for word. The 90-95% of 4 and 5 star ones don’t stick in my mind. Funny isn’t it? To be fair, this is human nature and not specific to imposter syndrome.
But, going forwards, I do commit to not reading reviews when I’m feeling down. I do commit to not reading reviews just before bedtime because I know imposter syndrome will keep me awake at night stewing, feeling like a failure, and feeling I’ve let people down if there’s a negative one. And I will try to stop focusing on the negative ones because it’s true what they say: you can never please all of the people all of the time.
I’m also going to stop worrying about disappointing others. I would never, ever submit a book to my publisher that I didn’t believe in with characters I didn’t care about. I love every single book I’ve had published. I believe I can write and I love doing it. If I continue writing books of the quality I’ve written already, my publisher and my readers will not be disappointed. If I stop writing books, they will be. So I’m going to crack on and stop creating problems that don’t yet exist and keep doing what I’ve always done: write uplifting stories of love and friendship.
TOP TIP: Whether you’re an author or not, please don’t try to be perfect. Just try to do well. Perfection is unachievable and you will tie yourself into knots trying to get there. Besides, what you think of as perfection might be what someone else thinks of as flawed so, by default, perfection is an impossibility. Is it worth the stress and the anxiety to try to reach something impossible?
Coping Mechanism 5 – BE KIND TO YOURSELF
This means quietening the voice in your head that tells you you’re a fraud or aren’t good enough or don’t deserve to be there. It means stop downplaying successes as luck/fluke/circumstance and take ownership of them. It means stop striving for perfection, as per the previous point.
For an author, this also means pushing aside that other pesky ailment – comparisonitis (not an official term but, for many of us, just as real as imposter syndrome). Every author is on their own journey at a different speed. It’s good to be aware of what’s going on around you – who has books coming out and how they’re doing – as that’s all about knowing your market. It’s not good to be obsessed with this and think of yourself as a failure compared to others.
I am my own worst enemy. I set myself ridiculously high expectations and I am constantly trying to out-do myself. I always compare myself to others and stamp ‘could do better’ on my performance. I work pretty much solidly. I don’t take breaks. I don’t take time off. I never relax. The world of Covid has provided me with a perfect excuse to work even more than before: can’t go out, don’t feel safe going out, can’t go on holiday, might as well work.
TOP TIP: Challenge any negative thoughts you have and react differently to any mistakes you might make. You’ve probably heard the classic quote from Thomas Edison, inventor of the lightbulb: “I haven’t failed – I’ve just found 10,000 that won’t work.” He nails it. Failure is a mindset. Everything about imposter syndrome is a mindset.
MY COMMITMENT: I am going to work hard at being kinder to myself and celebrate successes more (see coping mechanism 6). I am going to start taking breaks. The superhero feels guilty if I am not writing yet I know deep down that I’m better off walking away from my desk and taking a break than sitting at it for two hours procrastinating. So that’s what I’m going to do.
The next steps towards being kind to myself will be difficult because they are long-held habits. I’m going to take lunch breaks. I’m not going to work every evening. I’m going to take time off at weekends or during the week so I have a proper break. I’m going to develop a routine around this.
And I am going to stop comparing myself to others. My goal was always to be a published author who can write full-time. I’ve achieved that. The goal is now to keep doing that and have a work/life balance with it.
Coping Mechanism 6 – EMBRACE SUCCESS
It does what it says on the tin. Focus on positives and not negatives and celebrate them. Stop invalidating the smallest win. Stop berating yourself for not doing even better.
TOP TIP: Fake it until you make it. I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase before and, in terms of imposter syndrome, it’s about sharing your successes even if the imposter feeling is that they’re not real/you don’t deserve them/you’re worried someone is going to take it away because, if you keep acknowledging those successes, you will eventually start accepting them and believing them.
MY COMMITMENT: I mentioned social media earlier and said there’s something I’ve started doing recently. Followers on Facebook will have seen me post ‘MILESTONE’ memes where I declare when a book has reached a milestone number of reviews e.g. 100, 150, 200 etc. Reviews seem to be coming in thick and fast at the moment (woo hoo – embrace the success!) and I’ve had quite a lot of books hit milestones over the past fortnight. I sometimes mention two together and, if it’s one, I will typically say what percentage of reviews are positive (4 and 5 star). Note, this is about celebrating (a) a milestone achieved and (b) the positive reviews instead of focusing on the negatives. It’s a mindset change.
Do I feel comfortable doing it? Absolutely not. The imposter in me says: How have you managed to get that many reviews? How are so many of them positive? What about the negative ones? Should you really be ‘boasting’ when you’ve got negative reviews? But I’m telling that voice to shhhh because I’m sick of listening to it. I worked hard to write those books. I’m very proud of those stories. I should embrace those milestones.
And, do you know what? Each milestone post has made me feel a little more positive. Each one has made me believe I do have a right to be here. I’m not a fraud.
I’ll end today’s post with a quote from a recent review on my Christmas at Castle Street blog tour from Rajiv’s Reviews. Rajiv is a new reviewer to my work but read both the re-issued Christmas books – Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes and Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Cafe – and summarised his final review with this:
“The author is now one of my favorites for contemporary romance. The pacing is perfect, the characters are lovable, and the story-lines are heart-warming. Moreover, she paints the characters and writes emotions in such a beautiful manner, that you love the main characters, and hate the negative characters with a passion”
This! It wasn’t just luck and being in the right place at the right time that moved my books up the chart and got all of those reviews. It was this. And that is why I write. I OWN THAT SUCCESS!!!!
Tomorrow is the final day on this series of imposter syndrome posts and I’ll talk about recognising it in others and how you might be able to help them move forward.
I’m feeling very positive and I’m thinking that I need to type up my commitments separately and pin them on my noticeboard as a reminder of what I’ve promised to myself. Ooh, I might even laminate them! Mmm, using stationery. That makes me soooo happy!
Wishing you a fabulous Thursday and thank you for reading so far.
I explained yesterday how my imposter syndrome developed through bullying at school and in the workplace as well as when I first experienced it in the presence of famous/successful authors. Today I want to talk more about how it has affected me recently.
Yesterday, I finished with these words:
This year, my amazing publishers, Boldwood Books, have done things for my career as an author that have been beyond my wildest dreams. But that damn imposter syndrome has been there throughout every success like a fly buzzing around my ear,stopping me from enjoying every amazing moment.
I want to explain what I mean by that but, first, I need to recap on a couple of quick bits of theory as I’m going to refer to these. On Monday, I said that imposter syndrome manifests in these ways:
Fear of failure – desperation not to fail so pushing for continued or bigger success
Feeling like a fake – feeling like a fraud and waiting for someone to acknowledge the success has been a mistake
Downplaying success – making out any achievements were nothing/luck/fluke
Yesterday, I talked about the three types of imposter syndrome that I demonstrate:
The perfectionist – believes their work can always be better and focuses on flaws
The superhero – feels they must push themselves to work as hard as possible to overcome feelings of inadequacy
The expert – always trying to learn more and may focus on what they don’t know/can’t do instead of what they do know/can do
So let’s pull all of this together and talk about how it has affected my writing career.
As an author, I constantly have a fear of failure but I would suggest that most authors have this and it’s not unique to having imposter syndrome. Failure or rejection comes with the territory. In the same way that someone applying for a job might not secure an interview or might progress to interview stage but not be offered the job, authors will likely receive several rejections from publishers and/or agents during their search to find a home for their manuscript. It happens to most authors and it’s widely documented that exceptionally successful authors like J K Rowling and Stephen King, for example, had many rejections before finding their publishing home.
On an aside, isn’t ‘rejection’ such a horrible word? In my recruitment roles in HR, I was always trained to use the term ‘regret’ instead of ‘reject’. Same outcome but kinder sentiment.
Anyway, it’s scary applying for a job/submitting a manuscript and knowing you might get that rejection but it happens to us all and we do have to accept it and develop some resilience because nobody sails through life getting everything they want when they want it. The difference between a general fear of failure and the fear from someone with imposter syndrome is how that fear of failure manifests itself once you’re successful because, remember, imposter syndrome is something that is associated with those who are doing well; not those who are on the first rungs of the ladder.
As it happens, when I started out submitting my debut novel to agents and publishers, I actually didn’t struggle with rejection because imposter syndrome wasn’t at work here. I was an aspiring writer with no books out there and therefore no readership, no reviews, no track record, simply wondering whether there was a chance my MS was good enough to be published. When a ‘no’ came back, I had a moment of disappointment then looked to see who was next on my list. I never shed any tears.
A few years later when I was a published author and looking for a new publishing deal, imposter syndrome kicked in and I took rejection very hard. I had an 8-strong back catalogue, a readership (small), sales record (limited) and reviews (small in number but mainly very good). It was limited success but it was success because I knew those who discovered my books loved them. Rejection at this point floored me. I could barely write. I could barely sleep. I felt low all the time and frequently broke down in tears. It wasn’t pretty. I even toyed with giving up but the perfectionist and superhero in me actually became a positive here, pushing me to keep trying.
And then I got my Boldwood Books deal. Yay!
Thanks to the amazing work from my brilliant editor, Nia, and the wider team at Boldwood Books, I started to climb the author career ladder at the back end of last year with the release of The Secret to Happiness and I clambered much higher this year. My stories became visible for the first time ever and a large readership built.
Some achievements have included the following (all of which are UK and Kindle unless otherwise stated):
#1 Best Seller tags on all of my books which remained for weeks/months instead of for an hour or two
#1 Best Seller tags showing on 9 out of 10 of my books at the same time
Top 10 in Canada and Top 20 in Australia for The Secret to Happiness
#14 with New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms
#8 in the free chart, #15 in the USA, and #20 in Canada with Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes
#1 in the free Apple chart and #16 in the USA with Making Wishes at Bay View
#86 with Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow and over 250 reviews within 2.5 months of release
Top 200 for the remaining books in the ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series and Top 100 on Apple
Several very successful blog tours
Two books in The Works
Lots of tweets, Facebook messages and emails from readers saying how much they’ve loved reading my books
Contract addendums to sign-up my remaining indie books, resulting in a total 12-book contract with Boldwood
140,000 copies sold through Boldwood
3 Kindle bonuses for pages read on my indie books that haven’t yet been re-released through Boldwood
Last year, before my first Boldwood release, all of the above felt like a distant unachievable dream. I sold very few books, had very few pages read, loitered anywhere between 20,000-120,000 in the UK Kindle charts and made zero impact overseas.
So, looking down that list of achievements, I should be bouncing up and down doing a happy dance, right? I should be grinning from ear to ear. I should be buzzing. Even better, all of this has enabled me to leave the world of HR and become a full-time author which is absolutely my dream come true. Writing full-time was always my goal. It was never about sales or reviews or chart positions; it was always about this thing that I’m so passionate about, that is completely part of me, being my job instead of the ‘hobby’ I squeezed in on an evening and weekend around a demanding day job.
But the only buzzing was that imposter syndrome fly in my ear saying: You don’t belong here. They’re going to find you out. No point enjoying it because it won’t last. Yes, classic imposter syndrome feeling like a fake.
I can’t deny looking at the above list that I have achieved writing success. If any of my author friends told me they’d achieved any of those things, I’d be so thrilled and excited for them. So why couldn’t I be for me?
Do you know what I tend to do if anyone mentions how well my books have done? I downplay success.
I was lucky. It was good timing. Boldwood re-released my ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series just before we went into lockdown
People wanted escapism and turned to books so I was in the right place at the right time
There happened to be a free promo planned on Apple for book 1 in March and Apple USA decided to do it too
Amazon put book 2 in a Prime deal in May which pretty much guarantees a Top 100 so it was thanks to them that I got a #14
Yes, I was definitely lucky. Right place. Right time. Nothing to do with talent
And, as I read that commentary back, I’m telling myself some truths:
Apple USA wanted the free book deal for Making Wishes at Bay View (book 1)because they were so impressed with how the promotion had gone in the UK. It wasn’t necessarily about volumes of free books but about the rest of the series selling on the back of it. Which it did. Very well
Amazon only put books in Prime that they see as being the best because they want to offer a quality product to their Prime readers
New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms (book 2)would not have stayed in the Kindle Top 100 for four months solid if it wasn’t getting good reviews and recommendations
Readers would not have gone on to buy the other books in the series, keeping them all in the Top 200 for spring/summer if they hadn’t enjoyed the first ones
My logical mind is screaming: REJOICE!
But imposter syndrome is screaming: BEST NOT. IT’LL ALL FALL APART SOON LIKE IT ALWAYS DOES.
As well as the imposter syndrome traits rearing their ugly heads, there are also the types of imposter syndrome at play:
The perfectionistin me was not impressed, wanting to push for bigger success and always somehow finding and focusing on the flaws:
You got to #14 in the UK Kindle chart. Hmm. It’s not Top 10 is it?
Books 1, 3 and 4 didn’t make it into the Top 100. Tut tut
Look! You got some 1/2/3 star ratings. One of your 1-stars says, “Absolute pish. I didn’t know it was possible to publish something so bad”. Wow! Take it in! You’re not all that, are you?
9 out of 10 books with #1 Best Seller tags? 10 would have been more impressive
Argh!!!! Make the voices of doubt stop!
While I was an indie author, I dreamed of cracking the Top 1000 but, the second it happened, I wanted Top 500. Then Top 200, Top 100, Top 50… those goalposts kept moving further and further away and, instead of celebrating each amazing achievement, I’d give myself a kicking for not reaching the next goal.
This summer, I became obsessed with chart positions, barely able to concentrate on writing because I felt the need to refresh my screen hourly to see if there’d been any change, feeling instantly deflated if any of my books dropped down the chart. When a book looked like it was climbing that evening, I’d frequently wake up during the night to check its position. This nocturnal activity also became obsessive after discovering that my books seemed to climb a little higher in the early hours.
I needed screen shots of everything. Even though authors can access something called ‘Author Central’ on Amazon which produces a graph showing the highest position achieved for each book each day, I felt that if I didn’t have the screen shot from Amazon rather than the bar chart on Author Central capturing the actual moment it was at the highest position, it was like it never even happened. Yeah, I know, I hear how mad this all sounds!
This was worst with New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms because, once a book is in the Top 100 on Amazon, the whole of the Top 100 is depicted visually. Instead of just seeing a chart position among the details about page length, publisher, publication etc, you can click into the chart and see a picture of your book alongside the rest of the Top 100. And it’s pretty exciting when you’re brushing spines with super-famous authors or perhaps even higher than them for a moment.
The superhero was desperate to do better. Okay, so New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms didn’t make it into the Top 10 but could brand new book Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow achieve that? The obsession began again when it was released in July. It peaked at #86 in mid-August and even though I kept telling myself that it got to this position without a Prime deal and without being on a BookBub promotion which was brilliant, I couldn’t help feeling disappointed. Fear of failure crept in. You peaked with writing the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series. They were the first books you wrote and you obviously can’t do better than that. You’re not improving. You’re getting worse. Why did you take a chance on a new setting when you knew readers liked Whitsborough Bay? What a muppet!
Yet, even though Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow didn’t get quite as high as New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms, it has stuck around in the Top 200 for 2.5 months and it has nearly as many reviews as Seaside Blooms which originally came out under a different name five years ago. Which must mean readers love it.
Yes, but, will they love the sequel? Imposter syndrome took a grip again as I wrote book 2 in that series: New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow. I had started to accept that readers had warmed to the new setting. The chart positions, the blog tour feedback and the reviews were all pointing in that direction but fear of failure set in again. What if book 2 doesn’t sell as well? It’s not as emotional as book 1 and if readers loved the emotional punch, they’ll be disappointed with book 2. It’s written in a different way to the Welcome to Whitsborough Bay series because it’s the same main character instead of a different character with each book. What if that doesn’t work? What if they say the Hedgehog Hollow series is okay but not a patch on my first series?
The voices of self-doubt made it extremely hard to write that book. Procrastination took over and, now a full-time author, I wasted full days staring at my Mac, obsessively checking chart positions, drifting in and out of social media yet not paying much attention to any posts. And panicking. Lots of panicking.
My deadline loomed and I have never missed a deadline in my life – the perfectionist would absolutely not allow that – so I knuckled down and somehow finished it by working a lot of long hours. I was actually pretty pleased with it. It wasn’t a sequel for the sake of it. I did have a good story. But was it as good as the first book? Jury was out. When my edits came back, there was quite a lot of work to do. The feedback was that the story itself was great (phew!) but the emotion of the story – my trademark – wasn’t coming across strongly enough and there were several other adjustments to make. I agreed. Every point my fabulous editor made was extremely valid and would definitely improve the book. But imposter syndrome was there.
I’d already edited eight books with Boldwood and this one needed the most work. Instead of systematically working my way through it, the expert focused on what I didn’t know/couldn’t do – you don’t have the ability to write a sequel involving the same character – instead of focusing on what I could do – you’re brilliant at writing emotion and all your books are linked so writing a series in whatever format that takes is absolutely your thing. You’ve got this! And this stopped me in my tracks. I found anything to do but tackle the edits.
I’m pleased to say that, after a lot of procrastination and down days, I did knock it into shape. Or at least I hope I have! I have a phone call with my editor this afternoon and will find out for sure.
In the meantime, I’m back to square one. I’m meant to be writing book 3 but the challenges of editing book 2 and the self-doubt from that are stopping me from writing it. The perfectionist wants each book to do better than the one before and fear of failure is there in case it doesn’t and I’ll be outed as a fake. The superhero has me working evenings and 7-days-a-week to try to succeed, even though I shouldn’t need to work these crazy hours now that I write full-time. The expert keeps reminding me what I don’t know/can’t do and I can’t stop downplaying successes as luck/right place at the right time and nothing to do with ability to write. Procrastination is still rife.
Do you know what I did on Monday? I was meant to be writing but I had 8 coloured mini bulldog clips on my desk. I carefully clipped them together. Then I unclipped them and clipped them together in a different pattern. Then another. I now have a rainbow of bulldog clips sitting in front of me and I’m shaking my head. What the….? And all because imposter syndrome has me in its tight grip and I’m finding all the excuses in the world not to tell the story. The crazy thing is I have a great story to tell. It’s not like I’m struggling with ideas or anything like that!
Last year, I graduated from Open University with a Masters in Creative Writing. Even that was driven in part by imposter syndrome. There is absolutely no requirement whatsoever for an author to have a qualification in creative writing yet I felt I needed one to prove that I was an expertif I ever made it. I want to use my skills as a trainer and tutor creative writing in the future. Again, no requirement to have a MA in it but I convinced myself I wasn’t good enough if I didn’t because my writing career at the time (pre-Boldwood) wasn’t enough to give me any credibility so I needed something.
I took a superhero approach to studying, working super-long hours to do my MA, hold down my demanding full-time job and still write. I was a perfectionist with my assignments, gutted if I got less than a distinction. But I’m already a published writer and I’ve studied my craft for years. How can I only get a pass or a merit?
Yes, I hear it, I see it, I know it all sounds bonkers but this has been my day to day existence, constantly berating myself for not doing better, pushing myself to do better all the time, worrying it will all end soon, rendering me unable to enjoy all the positives. Of course, there is a little thing called Covid loitering in the background which I think is exacerbating all these feelings because, let’s face it, I am soooo sick of these four walls! Aren’t we all?
I’ve realised this can’t continue and, although it will be a long journey, I have already taken some steps to stop imposter syndrome controlling my life and that’s what I’m going to talk about tomorrow. I’ll share some more examples of my erratic behaviour/thoughts to help illustrate the changes I am making or trying to make.
If you’re recognising the traits or types in yourself, hopefully tomorrow’s post will help you in some way. I know that writing it down has already helped me massively. That and a big hug from the hubby who has just been reading yesterday’s post. I love a hug, I do. So here’s one for you…
Warning: Today’s post is longer than yesterday’s and also more personal.
Why does imposter syndrome happen?
The concept – originally called ‘imposter phenomenon’ – was first identified by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in 1978. At the time, it was thought to apply to high-achieving women. It’s now recognised that it can affect anyone regardless of gender, work background, skill level or expertise. So basically any of us can experience it and most of us will.
In fact, according to Cuncic’s article (referenced yesterday), “it is estimated that 70% of people will experience at least one episode of this phenomenon in their lives”. Wow! Big percentage!
Have you ever started a new job and initially felt out of your depth because it’s all so new? I certainly have. It usually takes time to get up to speed, work out who’s who and what’s what. It’s natural to worry during this transition period that you’ll disappoint the person who recruited you and that you might have both made a big mistake. This is imposter syndrome. But you usually soon settle in and start contributing and those feelings go away.
I say usually because this is not the case for everyone. For some, this feeling of imposter syndrome sticks around for much longer, like a guest at a house party who’s just opened another can when all you want to do is crawl into bed and sleep.
Why do we feel like this? Why is this feeling of being an imposter so much longer and more intense for some?
Various things can trigger imposter syndrome ranging from how an individual was treated during their childhood to experiences years down the line as an adult in employment.
Coming from a high-achieving family where expectations are very high
Only being praised for high success and never for a good attempt
Never being praised for succeeding or perhaps being ignored
Only ever receiving criticism
Having flaws pointed out when there has been success e.g. You got99% on your test – what happened to the other 1%? You scored 3 goals but you would have scored 4 if you’d passed the ball properly. We won the client’s business but only after you sorted out those problems you’d caused
A role change e.g. starting college, university, a new job, a promotion
Being passed over for a promotion, training or other opportunities at work
Being over-looked for bonuses and/or a pay rise at work
For me, I will put it straight out there that my imposter syndrome is nothing to do with my parents. I remember being encouraged to work hard, being praised when I did well and not being criticised when anything was a struggle. I feel the need to emphasise that because my mum will be reading this and I know she’ll worry. Mum – it’s absolutely nothing you or Dad did or didn’t do so please relax xx
Having said that, it did start for me in childhood and became worse when I entered the world of work…
How did my imposter syndrome start?
Right at the start of yesterday’s post, I said I suffer from imposter syndrome. It’s a term I started using loosely about six or seven years ago without a real understanding of what it meant and how badly I’d suffered from it in the past. At the time, I was an aspiring writer and had joined the Romantic Novelist’s Association (RNA). I attended a conference where I brushed shoulders with really famous authors. Eek! We’re talking authors whose books I’ve read and loved. Authors I idolised. And I had this overwhelming feeling that I had no right to be there, that I didn’t belong.
At this point, I must emphasise that this wasn’t any RNA members saying or doing anything to make me feel like this; this was all my issue. I never even approached any of them to introduce myself because, in my mind, why would they want to speak to me – a nobody – when I was so clearly out of my depth?
Thoughts raced through my mind preventing me from saying “hello”:
Author A is soooo famous
Author B is a Sunday Times No 1 Bestseller
Author C has sold millions of books worldwide
I could never achieve that. Why am I even here?
I felt like I didn’t belong and never would and, for someone who is normally confident, I felt extremely inadequate and anxious in that social setting. It was ridiculous. I knew it was ridiculous but I couldn’t seem to change how I felt.
Yes, there were some very famous and successful authors there. But there were also mid-listers, authors with whom I was unfamiliar, authors who’d written a couple of books years ago and attended for the social aspect. Plus, there were large numbers of attendees who, like me, hoped one day to be published. I’d find myself watching the latter in astonishment as they chatted easily to published authors and wished I could do that. I wished I felt like I had a right to be there.
I thought it would be different a couple of years later when I braved the conference again, this time as a published author. It wasn’t. I still felt this sense of not belonging. Of being a failure.
This time a whole new set of thoughts ran through my mind:
I had a publishing deal but my publisher ceased trading so it’s nothing special, is it?
My books don’t sell well
My books don’t climb the charts
I don’t get #1 Best Seller tags on Amazon
I’ve never had a Kindle bonus for pages read
I’ve never been contacted by a reader to say they love my work
Again, this sense of not belonging was nothing anyone said or did but it was my own internalised feelings brought on by the dreaded imposter syndrome.
Away from other authors, I couldn’t even bring myself to admit that I was one. “What do you do?” someone might ask. Stock answer: “I work in HR.” Because there was the fear that, if I admitted I was an author, there’d be the dreaded question: “Would I have heard of you?” Er, no. I’m a nobody. Only my mum and a very small number of friends and family have ever bought and read my books.
Then this year, something strange, unexpected and perhaps a little bit scary happened. Actually, it was something quite amazing and wonderful and signalled all of my dreams coming true … but my reaction to it made me realise that I absolutely do suffer from imposter syndrome in the truest sense of what it means. It’s not just about me being in awe and a bit fan-girly when I’m surrounded my famous/successful authors. It runs so much deeper than that. I’m going to talk a lot more in tomorrow’s post about how imposter syndrome has affected me as an author but, first, I think it’s important to understand where it came from because that’s something I’ve only just realised myself in the past month or so.
In order to do that, the starting point is to look at the types of imposter syndrome I demonstrate.
Types of imposter syndrome
The theory suggests that there are five main types of imposter syndrome and I recognise three of these in myself so these are the ones I’m focusing on:
This individual believes their work can always be better and tends to focus on any flaws or mistakes instead of focusing on what they’ve done well.
Because of feelings of inadequacy, this individual feels they must push themselves to work as hard as possible. This could involve working long hours, taking on extra responsibilities, and/or going over and above what’s expected or needed.
This form of imposter syndrome is where the individual is always trying to learn more and doesn’t feel satisfied with the understanding they already have. They undervalue their expertise even though they may actually be highly skilled/knowledgeable. They may focus on what they don’t know/can’t do instead of what they do know/can do.
The perfectionist trait is where I suffer the most. It’s something I’ve been aware of all my life. At senior school, I always put in that bit extra effort with my homework because I felt like one of the invisible kids who didn’t excel but didn’t cause trouble and therefore flew under the teachers’ radar. ‘Quiet’ was a phrase that regularly appeared on my school reports.
I didn’t have a huge circle of friends and was bullied at school so I threw myself into studying figuring I might fail at being popular but I could aim for perfection in my grades. This, in turn, led to further bullying! Irony eh?
I joined a graduate scheme for a high street bank after university and felt invisible again. A clique formed among the majority of other graduate trainees and I was one of a handful of outsiders to this. It didn’t seem to bother the others as they had partners but I was single at the time and it definitely bothered me. It gave rise to all sorts of feelings of inadequacy: They don’t want to spend time with me. I’m obviously boring. I’m no fun. I’ve got nothing of value to add to the group.
My feelings of inadequacy triggered the superhero mode. I threw myself into my job, working hard, working long hours, being enthusiastic about my work, sharing ideas and was rewarded with … my first of many experiences of bullying in the workplace.
While on the graduate scheme, one manager gave me a project that was set up for failure then reprimanded me for limited progress. Another repeatedly allocated me very little work then would suddenly have something urgent I had to do on a Friday afternoon. I’d have to work late to complete it when she knew I went away at weekends to see my then-boyfriend who lived a couple of hours away.
It was a few years later that I discovered independently from colleagues on each of those teams that both managers had been vocal about how they resented me for being on a fast-track programme to management, didn’t like that I was enthusiastic and confident in voicing ideas when I was so new to work and should know nothing, and therefore they wanted to take me down a peg or two. Who does that?
Graduates completing the scheme were appointed into permanent positions at grade M5 or M4 (M for management, 4 being higher). An opportunity arose that was perfect for my skills (training design and delivery) but it was a higher grade of M3. I applied and, to my surprise and delight, I got the job. An M3 appointment was practically unheard of for those coming off the graduate scheme yet I’d secured it. Yay!
My joy was short-lived. One of my fellow graduate trainees – a clique leader – was on a training course with me and asked if the rumours were true about my appointment at M3. When I admitted they were, she looked me up and down with her lip curled and said: “How on earth did you get an M3 position?’ I’m only 5’ 2” so I feel pretty small every day but, that day, I’d never felt so small and insignificant.
We’re talking 25 years ago and I still vividly remember how I felt. That’s how much it impacted on me. Still does.
And do you know what I said in response? I gave a classic imposter syndrome reaction and down-played my success: They couldn’t confirm whether the role would be Birmingham or London so not many people applied. I therefore got it by default.
Yes, the thing about location was true but my new manager had specifically told me that I’d been the best person for the job and she would never have appointed me if she didn’t think that. She’d also said that she’d been advised by the graduate manager that she could offer me a M4 grade which was more usual but she personally felt that my skills and experiences justified the M3 appointment. I knew that. Yet I didn’t share it. Because I didn’t feel I had the right to have that grade because of how the bullying managers had made me feel. I couldn’t find the words to declare proudly that I had the skills and capability because they had made me doubt it.
The bullying continued throughout my working life. I had some amazing managers for whom I’m eternally grateful – including the manager who gave me that first management position – but it’s the bullies who escalated my imposter syndrome. I’d learned the hard way that a confident young manager caused resentment so I embraced my inner perfectionist, superhero and expert by working long hours, lapping up all the knowledge I could to become an expert in my role and hopefully provide justification for any future progression. I hoped that my high-quality, perfectionist work would speak for itself and I wouldn’t need to shout about any achievements.
This plan back-fired.
I’ve always worked in Human Resources and my roles have typically been unique specialist ones. At a result, I had lots of manager changes both at the bank and in other roles because the business couldn’t quite decide where my specialism should sit on the structure chart. It was worst at the bank with a new manager roughly every 6-12 months. Every single one of those managers passed me over for the annual bonus.
I remember sitting in the office of one manager who’d never bothered to get to know anything about me or my role. He said, “I think I’ve allocated you a small bonus but I can’t remember how much.” He’d printed out a spreadsheet for everyone in the team. My maiden surname was Williams so I was at the bottom of the alphabetical list. I watched him scroll down with a piece of paper, revealing amounts ranging from £500 up to a whopping £5k. Then he got to mine. £0. “Oh yes, that’s right,” he said. “You’ve not been on my team for long and I don’t really know you so I haven’t allocated anything this year.” He didn’t even have the emotional intelligence to sound apologetic or to appear embarrassed that he’d just shown me everyone else’s bonus and I was the only one with nothing. The ONLY one. Would the person with £5k really have noticed much difference if they’d received £4.5k instead and I’d got £500? I smiled politely, thanked him (why????), returned to my office and sobbed my heart out. It wasn’t about the money although, as a skint graduate up to my eyeballs in debt, it would have come in very useful. Instead, it was the principle. I couldn’t seem to win. Show confidence and be vocal with ideas and I got bullied. Get on with my job quietly and I got ignored.
It became a recurring theme for the rest of my career. The bullies made me feel so inadequate that, the couple of times I did get promoted, I kept waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder: We’ve made a mistake. We meant to appoint someone else. You’re not good enough and never will be. And when I got over-looked for other bonuses or promotions or was the only person on a team to be made redundant, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy: See! I wasn’t good enough and they knew it which is why this happened.
I mentioned in yesterday’s post that imposter syndrome isn’t about lack of self-confidence or self-esteem but is instead about self-doubt. I’m actually a really confident person in most situations. With a background in recruitment and training, I’m used to speaking in public and I love it. Gives me such a buzz. As for self-esteem, I’m very conscious about my weight but it doesn’t affect my self-esteem most of the time. My food demons also go back to being bullied but that’s a separate issue and nothing to do with imposter syndrome so I won’t talk about it now. So I don’t have a lack of self-confidence and I don’t have low self-esteem. But I frequently crumble with self-doubt because of my imposter syndrome. Damn you imposter syndrome!
Throughout my time in HR, I worked my socks off, being the perfectionist, superhero and expert. I achieved some awards, I exceeded objectives, I had amazing feedback from customers and, as stated earlier, I did have some fabulous managers who made me feel valued. I knew I was good at my job because of the effort I put into it and because of those who were kind. Yet I never felt good enough. I never felt like I deserved a management position. I kept waiting for it to be taken away from me and, when I was made redundant several times, that felt like my punishment for trying to be more than I really was. Despite all the successes and the many occasions where I had positive feedback, the voices that spoke the loudest came from the manager who seemed to get a kick out of making me cry (something he did on more occasions than I care to remember), the manager who laughed at me and asked me why I cared so much about my job, the HR Director who rolled his eyes at me and didn’t even try to hide how bored he was when I asked for his advice, the manager who passed off my work as her own then put me forward for redundancy, the two managers who bullied me on the graduate scheme, the one who showed me my zero bonus…
Those voices have stayed with me for over two decades. Those voices have carried over into my writing career. Those voices have given me imposter syndrome.
This year, my amazing publishers, Boldwood Books, have done things for my career as an author that have been beyond my wildest dreams. But that damn imposter syndrome has been there throughout every success like a fly buzzing around my ear, stopping me from enjoying every amazing moment.
Hello, my name is Jessica, and I have imposter syndrome. There! I’ve admitted it.
No, it’s not contagious.
Yes, it is a real thing.
It’s a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot this year and I started writing a blog post about it several weeks ago. I kept adding to it to the point where it became far too long to read in one go but, if I was to cut it down to become a shorter blog post, I knew I wouldn’t do justice to the subject and it would defeat the point.
The whole point of sharing this is to help followers of my blog to recognise it in themselves if they’re experiencing it, to feel comfort that they’re not alone, and to hopefully find some coping strategies. And for anyone not experiencing it, it may help you recognise it in others and help them cope.
So, over the course of this week, I’m releasing a series of five posts:
Monday – The theory behind it – what it is and how it manifests itself
Tuesday – Where it comes from and how mine started
Wednesday – How it affects me as an author
Thursday – Coping strategies
Friday – Recognising it in others and helping them
What is imposter syndrome?
According to Gail Corkindale in Harvard Business Review (2008) imposter syndrome is defined as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.”
Or, in a shorter quote (and layman’s terms) from Arlin Cuncic, Very Well Mind (2020), it “refers to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be.”
At this point, I’ll emphasise the word ‘self-doubt’ from Corkindale’s quote which is not to be confused with an individual having low self-esteem or a lack of self-confidence. This is not the same thing. Quite often those with imposter syndrome do have high self-esteem and good/high levels of confidence. It’s usually high achieving successful individuals who experience this phenomenon, hence the point of inadequacy “despite evident success”.
I’ll also point out here that social anxiety and imposter syndrome can overlap but, according to Cuncic, they are not the same thing either. Someone with social anxiety disorder can feel a lack of belonging in a social setting, sometimes driven by lack of confidence and/or low self-esteem. They may choose to avoid putting themselves into such a scenario because they don’t feel confident there but it doesn’t necessarily follow that they have imposter syndrome. Someone with imposter syndrome can feel very confident normally and typically won’t have anxieties in a social setting except when they find themselves in a situation where they feel they are inadequate. Examples would include an actor at an awards ceremony, a CEO at a business convention, an author speaking on an expert panel and so on. In these scenarios, the ‘imposter’ would perceive everyone around them to be high-achieving and could become anxious about being exposed as a fraud because they don’t see themselves as being of the same calibre.
What does imposter syndrome look like?
There are several ways in which imposter syndrome can manifest itself but here are the three most common ways which do interlink:
Fear of failure:
I mentioned earlier that imposter syndrome is about self-doubt and believing you’re not as competent as others think you are. Here, the ‘imposter’ is desperate not to fail because, if they do, then they will definitely be ‘found out’. They therefore push and push for continued or bigger successes in order to avoid said failure. Unfortunately, they can struggle to enjoy success when it comes along because the fear is ever-present that they’ll be found out and the success will disappear.
I must get that promotion otherwise I’ve failed
I need to get that part in the film or it will prove I’m not good enough
I need to get higher in the charts/stay there for longer or it will be proof that I can’t write/sing
Feeling like a fake:
Here, the ‘imposter’ feels like a fraud. Their self-doubt about their own abilities makes them question how their success happened.
How did I get to be a senior manager?
How did I win an Oscar?
How did I get a Top 100 bestseller?
How did I manage to sell out an arena tour?
They’re waiting for someone to find out that it’s all a big mistake and they’ll be outed and put back where they ‘belong’.
Here, the ‘imposter’ may attribute success to luck/fluke rather than their ability and/or they play down their successes.
I was in the right place at the right time
It was easy to achieve
It wasn’t anything special
The film/book/song happened to hit a trend
I only reached that position because there weren’t many films/books/songs released that week
Are there any famous sufferers?
David Bowie admitted in an interview that he often “felt so utterly inadequate” which he “hid behind obsessive writing and performing”.
Mary Angelou admitted that she often felt like a fraud: “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out’.”
There have been many cases of actors admitting to these feelings, Natalie Portman said, “I felt like there had been some mistake,” about her movie success. Comedian/actor/author Tina Fey has admitted to it and Emma Watson said that, when she receives recognition for her acting, “I feel incredibly uncomfortable, I tend to turn in on myself. I feel like an imposter.” Even Hollywood royalty, Tom Hanks, talked about how he could relate to the self-doubt of the character he played in the 2016 film A Hologram for the King: “No matter what we’ve done, there comes a point where you think, ‘How did I get here? When are you going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?’”
Many CEOs including the CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, have admitted to feeling the same way. In an interview with the New York Times, Schultz said, “Very few people … get into the seat [of CEO] and believe today that they are now qualified to be the CEO. They’re not going to tell you that, but it’s true.”
Former first lady Michelle Obama has also spoken about the subject.
When researching this, I came across a lovely story from author Neil Gaiman meeting fellow-sufferer Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon. It’s a fairly short anecdote but it’s a bit long for me to quote so you can find it here.
I hope this helps position what imposter syndrome is and how common it can be. Tomorrow I’ll talk about where the experts believe it comes from and where mine started.
You can read the full article from Corkindale here
Yesterday was publication day for Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Cafe and, on the evening, I participated in a Facebook Live with my fabulous editor, Nia Beynon.
I was thrilled with the number of attendees and how many have watched the video since. If you would like to watch it, you can access it on Boldwood’s Book and Tonic Facebook page here.
There were some fabulous questions posed before the event and some great ones on the night. One came from the 10-year-old daughter of fellow Boldwood author, Emma Murray (do check out Emma’s witty and uplifting debut novel, Time Out, if you haven’t already done so – find it here). Ava asked: “Do you reward yourself for reaching writing milestones? And if so, what do you reward yourself with?”
My initial response was to say that no I don’t, but I probably should and then it struck me that there is something I used to do which I hadn’t really thought of as a reward for reaching a writing milestone yet it is exactly that. More on that later.
When my debut novel – New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms – was originally released in June 2015 (under a different title), I held a launch party for friends and family. I certainly wasn’t expecting presents but I was spoilt with flowers, bubbly and other gorgeous gifts. One of my friends, Carrie, gave me a leather thong bracelet with a Trollbead charm on it in the shape of three books. This was extra perfect for me as that novel was originally part of a trilogy (it is now the 2nd book in a 4-book series).
Carrie’s husband’s family owned a jeweller’s at the time but they were selling up as Carrie and her family were emigrating to Canada. We therefore took advantage of their closing-down sale and brought several more troll beads which I felt represented my writing journey so far.
The bracelet is now (almost) full and takes me from first putting fingers to keyboard until the publication of my last pre-Boldwood release. All of my back catalogue has already been or will be re-published by Boldwood so the only books not represented here are the ones that were new for Boldwood Books: The Secret to Happiness and Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow. I need to decide whether to buy charms to represent them and squeeze them onto the bracelet, to start a new bracelet or to think of something different. Hmm. If I did stick with charms, a hedgehog is the obvious one for Finding Love… but I’m not sure about Secret. Again, hmm.
I’m so delighted that my friend brought me my first Trollbead. My bracelet of charms means so much to me. Going back to Ava’s question, I originally thought that adding a charm was simply to remember each book I published but it’s really to celebrate a major milestone achieved and all the highs and lows that may be experienced in getting that book out to publication. Thank you so much, Ava, for making that connection for me as I honestly hadn’t thought of it like that.
I hope you enjoy my journey through my Trollbeads. Do you do anything to celebrate milestones achieved, whether that’s relating to writing or any aspect of your life? I’d love to hear your comments.
PS Apologies for the formatting. It looked perfect until I uploaded it and I’m too lazy to change it as I haven’t got my head around the new block layout yet!
Last Monday, I started a weekly #MondayMotivation blog post about what inspires me in my office and here’s the second post in the series.
In the UK, it’s evening now but the late posting is not because I’d forgotten (although with my sieve for a brain, that was very likely). I’ve actually been on a book deadline so needed to prioritise getting the manuscript for my second book in the Hedgehog Hollow series to my editor. Which I’ve now done. Eek! The anxious wait for the verdict starts now.
So, onto my wall and today’s choices is…
I picked up the picture in a gorgeous independent gift shop in Derby in November 2017. I’d love to give the shop a plug but remember that thing I said just now about having a sieve for a brain????
I’m part of a writing collective of ten authors called The Write Romantics who were all members of the New Writers’ Scheme (NWS) run by the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) when we met virtually. Seven years later and we’re all either independently published, traditionally published or hybrid with well over 100 books between us. We’re spread around the country so meeting up is a challenge but, a few years ago, half of us managed to coordinate diaries for a weekend away. None of us were familiar with Derby but it seemed like a pretty central point to meet.
Being a huge fan of bears, the image immediately drew me in but the words were what made me buy the picture. BE BRAVE. Because, as authors, there are so many points in our writing journey when bravery is needed:
When we first ask someone – a friend or family member – to read our manuscript (MS) and prepare to receive their honest verdict … which may not be the positive response we’d have hoped for
When we submit our MS to a publisher or agent … which may result in rejection
When it’s publication day … and our book may fail to make an impact on the charts
When a negative review comes in … and we have to keep telling ourselves it’s only one person’s opinion/it’s not personal when it really feels like the world hates our work and it’s very personal
When we speak at an event … and hope someone turns up!
When we finish our next book … and worry it may not be as well received as the one before
And a whole lot more
At the time of our Derby meet-up, I was particularly trying to be brave about writing. I’d been indie for about a year after my original publisher ceased trading and it wasn’t going particularly well. Battling self doubt about my ability to make it as an author thanks to poor sales and weak chart positions, the bear spoke to me. Loudly. Yet gently.
The picture hangs above my desk and I look at it several times a day and draw strength from it. Be brave. Keep being brave. And sometimes that bravery will pay off and great things can happen. They did for me.
I’m one of those people who can watch films I love over and over again. I have a collection of favourites I’ve probably seen 20-30 times – possibly more – and I never get tired of them. I think there’s something wonderful about the familiar when I’m perhaps a little tired and don’t want to concentrate. And there’s something in particular about romcoms when I fancy a pick-me-up, knowing that my chosen film has all the feels and is going to leave me with a warm and fuzzy moment.
A brand new addition to this collection is the Netflix film Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. A film based around the Eurovision Song Contest was always going to be a must-see for me. I’ve adored it since I was a little girl. One of the very first vinyl singles I bought was Milk and Honey’s ‘Hallelujah’ which was the winning entry for Israel back in 1979 (I was seven). I’ve just had a rummage through my old 7” vinyls and have unearthed:
1980 – ‘Love Enough for Two’ by Prima Donna
Super cheesy and reminiscent of a poor version of the amazing Brotherhood of Man (who won in 1976 with ‘Save Your Kisses for Me’. Brilliant). This song has not stood the test of time but I still love it … although perhaps in more of a nostalgic way!
1981 – ‘Making Your Mind Up’ by Bucks Fizz
This song started me as a lifelong Bucks Fizz fan. The first gig I ever went to was Bucks Fizz in Middlesbrough Town Hall when I was about 13 and I’ve seen them three times since. I had a crush on both the boys and desperately wanted one of those double skirts Cheryl and Jay wear for this routine. I was devastated when my friend’s mum over the road made her one and one each for a pair of twins we played with … but not one for me 😦
1983 – ‘Never Giving Up’ by Sweet Dreams
6th place. Luxembourg won that year but the song doesn’t ring a bell at all
I still love this song! Interestingly enough, the last time I went to see Bucks Fizz, the male member of this group joined them as the 2nd male member and they sang this. What a treat! I used to want the outfit the blonde woman wore but in the red colour the brunette had
1984 – ‘Love Games’ by Belle and the Devotions
7th place. Sweden’s ‘Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley’ by The Herreys won that year. Ooh, I remember those golden shoes!
This has such a fabulous 60s vibe and I adore 60s music which I think is why I loved this so much (and, yes, still do!) Not sure about the outfits, though! I remember loving that they all had different hair colours – red, white and yellow. Class
1985 – ‘Love Is’ by Vikki
4th place. Norway won with ‘La Det Swing’ by Bobbysocks which I also remember. “Let it swing you let it rock and roll….”
Another song I still love. I used to sing this constantly and have just realised I can still remember all the lyrics. How crazy is that? I can remember the lyrics to our non-winning Eurovision entry from 35 years ago and I can’t remember my mobile phone number that I’ve had for ten years or where I put my house keys earlier!
1990 – ‘Give a Little Love Back to the World’ by Emma
6th place. Italy won that year but the song doesn’t ring a bell either
Aw, bless her. She looks about ten. From when we believed that a song about peace was very ‘Eurovision’ and would win. Nope.
This is where my vinyl collection ends. It doesn’t mean I didn’t love any others but I started university in October 1990 and had traded a record player for a ghetto-blaster and CD player. Several other entries appear on Now albums after that point but, for me, the 1980s entries were the heyday of Britain’s entries. I’m just gutted I never bought Bardo’s ‘One Step Further’ from 1982 to have a full run-through from the early 80s. They came 7th and I loved their entry so I’m not sure why I didn’t by it.
If you want to see a short clip of all of these – and any other UK entries through the year – you can visit the BBC’s Eurovision page here.
So let’s go back to the film. It tells the fictional story of life-long friends, Lars (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) who, as Fire Saga, have a long-held dream of representing their home country of Iceland in the Eurovision Song Contest. And winning it, of course.
The munchkin and I watched it for the first time together last weekend. I loved the opening scene where a young Lars, mourning the loss of his mother, is captivated by Abba’s 1974 winning performance of ‘Waterloo’. Who wouldn’t be? That song is A-MAY-ZING! It then jumps to present day where they’re performing one of their songs ‘Volcano Man’. I knew in those five minutes or so that I was going to absolutely love this film. And I did.
It’s funny, it’s heartwarming, it has an amazing soundtrack (which I have had on constant repeat ever since) and Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey and The Beast from the Disney live-action remake). Sigrit’s voice is stunning and did I mention Dan Stevens? With a Russian accent? I love that Graham Norton is the UK’s commentator and says very typically Norton-esque comments. The elves – fabulous. The song-along with stars from Eurovision-past – what a treat. The song ‘Jaja Ding Dong’ – genius (and ever so rude but I didn’t realise that at first – hee hee). Oh, and Dan Stevens.
I spotted a BBC news article running through an enormous list of things that are ‘wrong’ in the film e.g. there’s a joke about how the UK never win yet the final is set in Edinburgh meaning the UK would have had to have won the year before, the presenters are not from the host nation, one of the acts had too many dancers and so on. Yeah, yeah, blah, blah, blah. For goodness sake, people, this is a piece of light-hearted fiction based around a real event. It was never going to be a perfect match for how Eurovision works, especially given how slick the actual event is, because the story wouldn’t have been fun and silly and simply divine if it was. And who doesn’t need a bit of light relief with the year 2020 has turned out to be so far?
I have so many favourite parts of the film but the bit that knocks me right in the feels is when Fire Saga perform ‘Husavik (My Hometown)’. Absolutely sensational.
I started today feeling really nervous and anxious with no reason to be. After about an hour, the feeling wore off and I was able to do what I’d planned but I felt that need for comfort and warmth this evening. This was the perfect go-to film and I feel calm and uplifted now.
Even if you don’t like The Eurovision Song Contest, I’d give it a go. Beautiful scenery, humour, fabulous soundtrack, elves and Dan Stevens. What’s not to love? Don’t believe me? Check out this trailer on You Tube here.
When you get the one thing you’ve worked so hard towards and dreamed of for years, how long does it take to actually sink in?
Last Sunday (7th June 2020), I assessed my final assignment, responded to my final student query, submitted my invoice and put on a permanent out of office. That was it. Done. I was no longer an HR tutor; the home-based role I’ve had for just over five years.
I didn’t set any major writing goals for my first week as a full-time author because I had a feeling that, the moment I took my foot off the pedal, the fatigue of a demanding work schedule would catch up with me. For the past five years, I’ve worked more than full-time hours in the day job, have written eight books, have created several works-in-progress (probably the equivalent of another full-length novel-and-a-half) and have obtained a Masters in Creative Writing. For more than half of that time, I was also the Brown Owl for a 24-strong Brownie Pack. Eek! I feel exhausted just thinking about it! With so much going on, sleep was a frequent struggle.
As suspected, it did catch up with me this week and I have felt phenomenally tired every single day. I probably should have just taken two days off and slobbed in front of the TV but I was keen to get some word count under my belt on the WIP. It’s been slow-going, though. Not because I’m struggling with the WIP but because I was struggling to keep my eyes open. I gave up and had a lie on the bed with the dog on Monday afternoon. Three hours later… Oops! Still, I obviously needed it.
Today – Saturday – is the first day I feel slightly less fatigued although I think the lie-in until 10.15 a.m. massively helped. I haven’t slept in like that in years!
The big difference for me this week has been a determination not to work every evening like I normally would and I have to admit that it has been strange. Very strange. I’m so used to watching some TV while eating my tea, then getting up as soon as the programme finishes and returning to work for the evening. In fact, I’m so used to it that, up until Wednesday, my body was actually twitching with that familiar routine and it has been so lovely not to have to get to my feet and retreat to my computer.
I do want to form a routine over the next couple of weeks where my time writing is focused, I finally have the opportunity to work through my enormous TBR pile, and I have some family time too but I think I natural routine will probably evolve once the tiredness subsides.
I’ve had lots of lovely surprises arriving in the post this week too. Flowers, cake and Prosecco, cards, a teddy bear with a special wooden necklace celebrating my new career, a Lucy Pittaway mug and notepad, some Cath Kidston hand creams (with hedgehogs on them) and a gift voucher. I really wasn’t expecting anything. And then hubby disappeared late this morning and returned with an amazing cake in the shape of my next release, Finding Love at Hedgehog Hollow, which looked too good to cut into but, hey, it’s cake and cake does not survive for long when I’m around with a fork in hand! Thank you so much to Mark and Ashleigh, Sharon, Helen, Jo, Liz, Carol, Wendy and Mum and Dad for your amazing generosity xx
I also treated myself to a cross stitch – something I haven’t done in years but used to love doing to relax – and a new sign for my wall. Feeling very spoilt right now!
Despite everything, it still hasn’t sunk in that it’s finally happened. The thing I’ve been dreaming/wishing/hoping/longing for has come true. I keep expecting to have to do the day job. Maybe next week it will start to feel real…
Wishing everyone a relaxing weekend and a great week ahead.