June 2021: Imposter Syndrome
By Alicia Pollard
Imposter syndrome can be 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. Did you know that according to the International Journal of Behavioural Science, 70% of people will experience Imposter Syndrome (or IS as I am going to shorten it to) in their lives?
I have experienced imposter syndrome on more than one occasion and have noticed it in some of my friends and family too. I wanted to get a better understanding of what it was and where it comes from.
IS is not a mental disorder. It’s known as a phenomenon and I do have to agree that it is phenomenal that so many people of realised and celebrated achievement suffer from IS. It’s not just people like me at the beginning of their careers questioning how much they know and whether they deserve the opportunities or positions they have. Highly regarded scientists, academics and influential people have recorded their experiences of IS throughout their lifetimes; Maya Angelou and Albert Einstein to name a couple.
Something that stuck out to me during my reading was the amount of women who experience IS and especially women of colour. “Women, women of colour, especially black women, as well as the LGBTQ community are most at risk,” says Brian Daniel Norton, a psychotherapist and executive coach in New York. “When you experience systemic oppression or are directly or indirectly told your whole life that you are less-than or underserving of success and you begin to achieve things in a way that goes against a long-standing narrative in the mind, imposter syndrome will occur.” I can relate strongly to this. The majority of my experiences of sexism were instances where my competency was questioned because of my gender.
Do you know what else I find reassuring but also absolutely bananas? Actors often suffer with IS. Now the acting industry is massively oversaturated so its understandable that when facing a room full actors its safe to assume that some may question their own ability. But there are award winning actors that feel the effects of IS, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep are just two examples.
Reading about award winning actors feeling the effects of IS was reassuring in some ways, but it also made me question my own experiences. I remember starting uni with all the confidence of someone who has been told by everyone in their home town that ‘you’re a star', ‘the best’, ‘you were born for this’ and other such encouraging phrases. What hadn’t occurred to me when I started university, was that the majority of people in my year would have also been told those same things. It’s a peculiar thing being surrounded by so many people who genuinely believe they're the best at what they do.
Confidence is a good thing and it’s so important for success as well as mental health. Having confidence is also important when presenting yourself. As an actor, if you lack confidence in an audition, it’s highly likely you won’t get the job. When you’re in an interview, sometimes a lack of confidence can be translated into a lack of potential. Although I graduated with a first class honours degree, I genuinely believed for the longest time that I hadn’t earned it, didn’t deserve it and that it wasn’t an accurate reflection of my ability.
I am not surprised that so many experience imposter syndrome and I’m no expert, but the thing that has helped me is to find facts. For instance: I graduated with first class honours degree in acting which had been signed off by more than just one person in the academic hierarchy. I coach voiceover; I was taught to coach voiceover by one of the best voiceovers and voiceover coaches in the country. If she says i’m good at it, why wouldn’t I believe her?
If you ever experience the feeling of imposter syndrome, be like Dora and go exploring! Try and find some facts that back up your skill, although it won’t get rid of the insecurities completely, it does help.