As I sat on the stage, my heart was thumping so loudly; I was certain the whole auditorium could hear it beat through my microphone.
A prickly heat rose through my body, my face was flushed and my eyes stung. I felt like if I took a breath, I was going to throw up right there in front of hundreds of my industry peers.
Let me digress for a second: I’m fully aware that so far this sounds like a middle-aged woman’s version of Eminem’s Lose Yourself but truth be told, I did feel very ‘8 Mile’ at the time. Okay, snap back to reality, I mean, back to my story!
Why was I, of all people, chosen to speak at this conference? “For god’s sake, don’t lift your arms, the sweat marks under there look like you’ve absorbed a swimming pool” Shit, I’ve been asked a question. “Why me? WHAT THE HELL DO I SAY NOW??!!”
This moment was meant to be the highlight of my radio career. I was supposed to sit in front of these people and speak about what I knew.
In a hazy blur (kind of like the camera work on The Blair Witch Project), I fumbled my way through the conference. People applauded, some even thanked me afterwards. Liars. That was a train wreck. I was a total imposter!
The next evening at the industry awards night, the same fools who asked me to speak on stage decided I would also win the highest accolade I could achieve for my job, ‘Best Show Producer’.
It was a huge honour but there wasn’t a single part of my soul that could enjoy any of it. I woke up the next morning with a feeling of dread and a terrible ache in my heart. I couldn’t stop thinking someone was going to knock on my door and tell me there’d been a terrible mistake. That I’d have to hand the trophy back. That I didn’t deserve it.
Hi, I’m Laura and for the past 12-ish years, I’ve been producing radio. Award winning number 1 radio.
Yep, but before I got here, I worked my butt off. From barbecuing sausages at promo events to stuffing prizes into padded envelopes; I got dirty, I woke up early, I stayed back late and I often did it for free.
I’ve now spent over a decade working with some of the most successful and respected media personalities in Australia and won ‘even’ more awards. I’ve also mentored young producers who have gone on to have their own brilliant careers.
Yet no matter how far up the ladder I climbed, that familiar waft of barbecued sausages from my first day would follow me. I was constantly waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder, rip me down off that ladder and say out loud the words that were continually taunting me in my head “You don’t belong here”.
What I had was a giant, crippling dose of Imposter Syndrome.
To save you googling it, here’s the Wiki definition of ‘Imposter Syndrome’.
Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’.
Doubts their accomplishments. Check.
Fears being exposed as a fraud. Check. Check. Check.
Did I just win Imposter Syndrome Bingo?
Did you just call out “Bingo” too?
Imposter Syndrome is more common than I ever imagined, and it is particularly prevalent among women. Why? Well, probably for many, many reasons.
Here are some of the reasons I’ve identified based on my own experience:
A tendency to shrink around men. I really want to preface this by stating I love the industry I belong to, and the opportunities it’s presented me with. Like so many industries though, it is heavily dominated by men. Strong men with big personalities. Men who shine and command attention when they walk into a room. Have you ever shrunk yourself in the presence of a strong, shiny man? I sure have, countless times. These men, by the way, have every right to shine but it does not mean we have to shrink. Shrinking yourself only fuels Imposter Syndrome.
Common messages we hear, we think, we even say about other women.
“They must have slept their way to the top.”
“They’re wearing their ‘close the deal’ skirt today.”
“Grow some balls.”
“You have to be more of a bitch to get ahead.”
You get the idea. Quite often it’s said in jest. But these shitty words are telling us that it’s unusual for women to succeed through hard work, intelligence and a career plan. This too fuels Imposter Syndrome.
Comparisons with other people. For me, that ‘other person’ was my own husband. (Yes, we are the clichéd product of a chance meeting by the office photocopier).
For a number of years, my husband and I were professional rivals, producing the #1 and #2 radio shows in Sydney; from within the same building.
It was a pretty sweet arrangement for the most part. Until my show beat his to the #1 spot.
He was gracious in defeat (at least to my face), but it was the innocent comments from other people that triggered old mate ‘Imposter Syndrome’ to flair up again.
“How’s HE doing?”
“Is HE okay?”
“I bet you’ll be cooking him his favourite dinner tonight!”
I couldn’t allow myself to enjoy that success. All I felt was that HE missed out on something that he deserved, therefore I didn’t deserve it at all.
Maternity Leave. When I returned to work nine months after having my little angel/spawn of Satan, my Imposter Syndrome was at an all-time high.
It didn’t matter that I had a supportive employer and a team who eagerly welcomed me back with open arms. This stupid stigma around getting knocked up and taking time out to birth a child remained, at least in my head. I felt like an Etch a Sketch. My career had been shaken clean and I had to prove myself all over again. And how on Earth was I going to fool them a second time?! Changing my identity from career woman to mother, to career woman/mother was a complete head-fuck.
Imposter Syndrome is an exhausting beast. It held me back from taking on new challenges. It stopped me from growing. But, the good news… Imposter Syndrome is totally unnecessary and surprisingly simple to let go of.
Here’s how I’m doing it:
I started doing massive cannonballs into swimming pools. I’m being extremely literal here. I used to be the ‘cautious, ease myself up to my waist then stand on my toes and gasp as the cold water hit my ribs’ kind of swimmer. Until I realised I was letting irrational fear and a bit of discomfort get in the way of my swimming time. So, instead, I took a run up and bombed the shit out of that pool. You can see the symbolism here, right?
When I stopped timidly easing myself into the water, I stopped timidly easing myself into life. I realised I was never afraid that I was not good enough. I was afraid of my own freaking success. I was scared to make a splash. I was scared to shine!
I CHOOSE how I feel. This will freak you out but, an extremely wise woman told me that the physical feeling of anxiety (refer to the first lines of my Eminem-style prose) is the same physical feeling as excitement! Whenever I’m in a situation where I get that response in my body, I change the label to excitement. And it works for me every time.
I celebrate my wins. Big or small wins, it doesn’t matter. I reward myself with a beer, a fancy dinner, or a new pair of shoes. And I make sure I enjoy every delicious moment of it. Not because it might not happen again, but because I earned it.
I repeat weird little mantras to myself. Like this one (you’ve probably seen your grammar pedant friends post a similar line on FB) ‘With Imposter Syndrome, you know you’re shit. Without it, you know your shit’.
This is not a modern day, happily ever after fairy tale by the way. In fact, there’s probably no ending to this at all. I still have many moments where that dreaded feeling kicks in. But it doesn’t control me anymore. I’ve decided that who I am is more than good enough AND if I need a reminder, I find myself a swimming pool.
Bombs away. xx
Laura is an award-winning radio producer who has worked with some of Australia’s most loved media personalities. She met her husband at the work photocopier and together they’re raising a mini-copy of themselves, little Juliette. Laura once got busted asking a colleague if she was ‘prettier than Giuliana Rancic’ by none other than Giuliana Rancic. 🤣
Laura also enjoys making drunk purchases on Ebay, because it feels like Christmas every time the delivery guy knocks on the door with a surprise package.