Last week I was on the panel of a debate about the Future of Communications as part of Social Media Week alongside the deputy editor of The New Statesman. I was the sole PR industry representative speaking at Internet World, the UK’s top digital event, last year. I’m part of the PRCA Digital Group steering committee, and I’m currently devising the entire UK social media strategy for a major international brand. Stuff to be proud of. But I still have a totally irrational nagging doubt about how I’m perceived by others and a feeling that sooner or later I’m going to be found out. It makes no sense.
I’ve had this all through my career. I remember being fresh-from-University cocky in my first job, writing promotional copy for an investment management firm. But a couple of years later when I moved to my first marketing agency role, I found it hard to justify the faith put in me and the plaudits I earned for my copywriting ability. Writing’s easy, isn’t it? Anyone can do it, surely.
Ever since then I’ve questioned myself. Whether I am or not, I don’t generally feel valued by the people who employ me, no matter what anyone might say. I’ve learned to PR myself through social media (sort of), but it really doesn’t come easy to me. And even though I have total belief in the work I do and the opinions I have, I worry what people think of me. I especially worry what my industry peers think (those working in similar positions at other agencies and companies). I look at them/you and feel like I don’t stack up to them/you. And I worry that they/you look at me and wonder how I get away with it.
I’m not sure what leads to this desire for recognition and validation. I totally believe in my own ability, and I don’t think it’s false humility, so maybe it’s something to do with former employers. Or maybe I just need a lot of positive reinforcement. (Although, incidentally, I’m bloody awful at taking compliments.) But that’s a guess. What I do know is that this irrational lack of confidence in what people think of me means that I often feel like I’m easily replaceable and so I’ve missed out on things like salary rises, personal benefits and promotions during my career as I’ve not been as vocal as more outspoken colleagues in pushing for them. Which is crazy really, and something I’m trying to change.
But is it just me? Do you ever feel like you’re ‘about to be found out’, or am I the only one?
UPDATE (3rd March): In the comments below I was pointed to a fascinating article in the New York Times about what psychologists call ‘Imposter Syndrome’. As it turns out, the feelings I’ve described in this post are pretty common. Particularly interesting is that “researchers concluded many self-styled impostors are phony phonies: they adopt self-deprecation as a social strategy, consciously or not, and are secretly more confident than they let on.” It also says that ”feeling like a fraud [can] amount to more than the stirrings of an anxious temperament or the desire to project a protective humility. It reflects a respect for the limits of one’s own abilities, and an intuition that only a true impostor would be afraid to ask for help.”