When I was 27 I took on a HR team leader role. I don’t suppose that sounds overly extraordinary to most. By 27 Yuri Gagarin had been to space, Ernest Hemingway had published his first novel and Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse had all experienced stellar music careers before joining the ’27 Club’.
But for me it felt big. I felt unprepared. I often felt like the work experience kid in a room full of proper grown-ups.
But figured that feeling would pass eventually. Surely at some stage I’d grow into myself and find that inner confidence. One day I would feel like an adult. ‘Maybe when I turn 30?’ I mused.
But the feeling kind of never did go away. I’ve travelled overseas alone, bought houses, adopted dogs got married and had a baby, and I still have this weird sense of feeling unprepared, out-of-my-depth and over my head. Like a kid playing make believe.
I still have this weird sense of feeling unprepared, out-of-my-depth and over my head. Like a kid playing make believe.
I remember my mum once telling me no matter how old you are, you always feel about 26. I think I was about 21 at the time and I’m pretty sure I laughed it off with an eye roll. But now, about 15 years on from her telling me that, I get it.
I celebrated a birthday this week and I actually had to do the math based on my birth year to figure out how old I am. Partly that’s because I’ve been in a baby bubble for two years and partly due to the Corona situation skewing all sense of time. But I was kind of shocked when I figured out I’m 37. I’m a grown-up. A fully fledged, card carrying, grocery buying, life insured, superannuated adult.
So why do I still feel like a gawky teenager half the time?
I’ve learned a lot about imposter syndrome over the years and it’s something I connect deeply to. This sense that no matter what I do or accomplish, I am never good enough and that someone is moments away from unmasking me.
At 27 it felt like a youthful lack of confidence; but at 37 the 'youthful' excuse has dissipated somewhat and I’m just left staring at a big blob of insecurity.
At 37 the 'youthful' excuse has dissipated somewhat and I’m just left staring at a big blob of insecurity
It’s been something I’ve been forced to confront in recent months. When I was working within organisations, I always had ‘adults’ in the room to give me confidence. Not that I wasn’t competent, far from it, but I suppose there’s always a primal sense of safety in numbers. But now I’m on out my own and the insecurities of 27-year-old me have rushed right back.
There is a small part of me waiting for a grown up to tell me what to do while it slowly dawns on me that I’m it. I AM the grown-up.
I mentioned my lack of confidence, particularly around starting my own business, to someone last week. They flat out laughed at me and stated that if I could raise a small human successfully for two years, I can run a small business. I mean I can see the parallels;
There is no exact ‘how to’ guide when it comes to raising a baby
There’s a tangle of well-meaning, but often conflicting, advice which leads you to ultimately having to trust your instincts
You are out on your own forced to make connections with new people who you have nothing in common with except the squawking bundles of joy you’re all holding, but super quickly they become the lifesaving network you cling to for support and reassurance.
There’s the ever-present fear of failure, the incessant comparisons to others who seem to have things so much more ‘together’ than you do. Who seem so much more successful with so much less effort.
And it’s weird, I've never once suffered imposter syndrome as a mum. While I've had moments of uncertainty and fear, I've never once felt like a fraud. And the stakes are arguably way higher than in any other situation I’ve found myself in!
I never once suffered imposter syndrome as a mum. While I had moments of uncertainty and fear, I never once felt like a fraud
I wish I had some lightbulb epiphany to conclude this post on, but I don’t.
I’m aware of the imposter spectre that looms over me professionally and I take steps to manage it, but it’s always there. A little shadow casting its darkness. A constant attempt to dull my brightness.
I guess the strength lies in doing stuff anyway. Ignoring the doubt and the unreasonable and unfounded ‘mean girl’ in my head. Being bold and brave and taking opportunities despite feeling out-of-my depth and doing amazing things as a result; opportunities that 27-year-old me couldn’t have dreamed of.
And hey, maybe, just maybe, that grown-up feeling will kick in at 40? If so, I haven’t got so long to wait!