Always feeling like you don't belong? Me too.
Starting something new is always daunting. You might be excited at the beginning of a new chapter, but there is often that little voice at the back of your head worrying you. It may be that you're concerned you won’t make friends in a new setting or you feel like you don’t belong in a new job; like you are an impostor. There was a stage in my life when every time I started something new I felt like I was going to fail. I felt like I had tricked interviewers into hiring me and that they were going to find out that I was a fraud. Most recently I felt like an impostor in the initial weeks of my Creative Writing MA. I have never done creative writing seriously before and all of my past experience has been in a completely different field. I felt like I was the only person on my course who didn’t belong there and that I was going to fail.
Impostor syndrome is a relatively well-known phenomenon; when you compare what you feel about yourself inwardly to what you see outwardly of others. It is an experience that is most prevalent in women, and particularly amongst women of colour. Past research has shown that around 70% of people will experience impostor syndrome at some point in their career, and over 3 in 5 women in the UK suffer from it.
These figures were a comfort to me, realising I was not the only one to have felt this way. Every time I experienced this feeling of being a fraud it brought with it anxiety: a deadly combination. Previously, when faced with these emotions, I have stepped back from opportunities, neglected hobbies, and avoided friends. I became a recluse in both my room and my mind, which would ultimately made situations harder to recover from.
"I will not wait and hope that it goes away but will instead force it out of my life."
But now I intend to take a different approach and face impostor syndrome head on. I will not wait and hope that it goes away but will instead force it out of my life. The first thing I will do is to remind myself that I am here for a reason. I know what I’m doing and I am good at it.
No one will expect you to know everything; they will instead expect you to learn new things, harness and hone your skills, and grow. One of the main effects of impostor syndrome is forgetting all of your past accomplishments and brushing them off, instead of using them to remind yourself that you work hard for what you want and that it is worth it.
When feeling like a fraud you often compare yourself to others, and conclude that they are better than you. This just isn’t necessarily true. Everyone is different, and your differences may well be your strengths. I had to remind myself of this recently during my first week of lectures when I learnt that everyone I was in class with was either a poet, novelist, or short story fiction writer. I am none of these things. I am a non-fiction writer who likes to write articles for the public to educate themselves, and/or hopefully empathise with others, with the hopes of me becoming a successful writer one day. My style of writing is completely different to my course-mates.
"Though I have a different style of writing to [my course-mates], I can also provide a different approach and perspective; these are my strengths."
It was this difference that gave me the feeling that I did not belong on my course; that I made a mistake and should leave. However, when I applied for the course, I did not write any poetry, I did not write a chapter from a book I am working on, and I did not write a short story. I instead wrote a few articles of things I had experienced or had researched because it interested me. And… I… still… got… in! I earned my place here and I deserve to be here just as much as the others. Though I have a different style of writing to them, I can also provide a different approach and perspective; these are my strengths.
Whenever you are going through something, whether it be impostor syndrome or otherwise, just remember you are not alone. You have a support system all around you; not just the services the university offers. I’m talking about friends, family, flatmates, an online community; anyone and everyone who is around you. Don’t hide what you’re experienc-ing from them, the chances are that they are have gone through something similar. Talk to them.
The same goes for the friends who may seem fine at the moment. Take the time to check in on the people you surround yourself with, go out for a coffee and have a chat to see how they’re truly feeling; don’t always wait for them to come to you. Your support system are your pillars and when one falls the whole building may collapse too. Believe in your-self and your support system to keep everyone standing tall and proud through every-thing life throws at us.