A Response: We Need To Talk About Imposterism

ImposterismWords by Elizabeth Pollard

In this month’s ELLE Magazine, Victoria Coren talks about how women are “twice as likely as men to ‘downshift’ (aspire to high-status job, then adjust their ambitions to aim lower).” She talks about research that has been carried out in the US by Jessica L. Collett and Jade Avelis about women understanding the work/life balance differently to men. Partly to do with a history of women in the home place, it is found that ‘imposterism’ occurs in most professional women; the feeling that they are not worthy of their position and adjusting their expectation of themselves to meet a lower standard.

Although luckily, I have never felt I have adjusted my ambition, I have suffered from ‘imposterism’ all my life – especially as I’ve got older and taken my career and education into my own hands. When first applying for a foundation diploma at Central Saint Martins, many tutors and peers around me told me my acceptance was so unlikely I shouldn’t even bother. Mostly out of stubbornness, that gave me the fire to go ahead and build a portfolio and land my place at the school I dreamed of for so long. But it didn’t stop the doubt creeping in; I deflected their small-town mindset onto my confidence. On the day of the portfolio drop off, my mum travelled to London with me, sharing the load of my portfolio the whole way and glowing with pride that we had pushed this far. Somehow though, my self doubt overwhelmed me and translated to anger, of which my mum was the target of my abuse.

But getting a place wasn’t enough. For the first year especially, I felt like I wanted to hide at every opportunity in case someone found out that they had made the wrong choice and I was there by accident; I felt it more likely that someone had fucked up the admissions than actually being rewarded for my talent and hardwork.

I am now a year out of university, have some experience that I am very proud of and in a great job but I still feel the need to justify my position at every opportunity. When out with a bunch of friends recently and talking about our achievements, we all came to the conclusion that we might as well be talentless because it’s hard work that’s got us into the position we’re in now. Although I believe you need a healthy dose of work ethic to rise to the top, it upset me that we still weren’t more complimentary of our abilities. Victoria Coren’s column has given me the insight that I am not alone in the way I feel, which naturally take a load off and allows me to stop beating myself up so much.

So from Victoria (through me) I ask: “If we could spread the awareness that everyone feels like an imposter, and a technique for managing it… Well, that is the very basis of sisterhood. And who knows? Within a couple of generations, maybe we really will feel like we know what we’re doing.”


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