My Imposter Syndrome Is Ruining My Mental Health, And I Wonder If I Will Ever Feel Good Enough
BY JENNIFER HAKIM
I will always remember the first time I ever thought I wasn’t good enough. The moment that marked the first crack in my confidence. I was around 10, and I was ashamed of my school report. My parents were used to me getting reasonably good grades (compared to an older sister who was invariably top of her class), but then one day, I didn’t. It wasn’t that big of a deal, but I knew I disappointed them, and felt somehow that my worth was determined by my school performance.
After being an average student for a couple more years, my grades fell dramatically when I was a teen, and that’s when the message - from both the school and my parents - got clearer: maybe I was simply not good enough to consider a career in literature or the arts. Long story short, I retook that year, worked harder, had the best grades of my life, and made my parents proud. But it felt fragile and undeserved, and I was still feeling like a worthless, good-for-nothing student. The lazy kid who fell behind. And whenever I’ve had any kind of success since, I’ve always wondered whether I just got lucky, or if I was just good at ‘blagging it’.
Many years have passed, and despite multiple degrees, professional wins, great feedback, and regularly checking my own objectives, it still doesn’t take much to trigger the imposter in me.
I’m hesitant to write these words, because the rational part of me knows my worth, and I don’t want my weakness to be used against me, but I also know that around 85% of UK professionals suffer from imposter syndrome (according to a HR News study in 2021), so if there’s a chance this might help someone, I’ll take it. I also know worth is not tied to education or professional success, that we are all worthy of the greatest things this life has to offer, but there’s a little voice in my head I have been battling with for my whole adult life, and it’s time to leave it behind.
I have been self-employed more often than I’ve had a boss, but I understand the struggle of so many employees who feel lost in the workplace, without feedback or rewards. I often feel lost in my own head, with no clear idea of what is an achievement and what isn’t. If I were to climb Mount Everest, I know I would be proud of myself for one solid minute, then find a hundred reasons not to be. I kill my own vibe, so to speak. This is made pretty clear whenever I get a compliment, always wondering if I deserve it.
Nothing is ever good enough. None of the ladder climbing, world exploring, and positive contributions will ever be good enough. When I read articles about imposter syndrome, I relate to the people who feel like they don’t belong, that they will be exposed anytime, that they’re a fraud. I know we all have our journeys and our reasons.
I have explored this extensively in therapy, and whenever I revisit the topic, I always go back to the same child who felt like a failure and never got praise. My story isn’t so special when you look at the stats, and I know there’s a prevalence in women of colour. In my case, I have discovered that I pulled some unfortunate cards amongst really good ones, and I just have to make the most of it. I had a father who, as an immigrant from a very strict background, put education as a top priority in the household. As his child, I had to deliver, and when I didn’t (and I often didn’t), I knew I let him down. I let down the big dreams he had when he left his country, the ideal lineage he would have in the future, and the step up this would mean for our family. Or at least that’s how it felt, but I will sadly never get a chance to hear his side of the story because he died during my first year of university.
Making the most of it means I have to accept I will never get the validation I so crucially need, or at least I will never get it from the person I need it the most from. And this only gives me one other option: to get it from myself. When I get anxious or overwhelmed, I forget about my accomplishments. I feel like that good-for-nothing kid again and I feel compelled to be hard on myself. This is the part that needs work, because self-love is not a linear journey. There are on and off days, just like for everything else, but the off days can feel like I just took twenty steps back.
If you’re reading this and experiencing imposter syndrome, I hope what I’m going to say will help: the only person calling you an imposter is you. The only person waiting to see you fail is you. There isn’t a whole world to convince of your worth, just one person. I know that if I imagine a better version of my life, one that involves my father in my thirties, it features a more confident version of me. Because this one had the chance to impress the one person that mattered the most. The toughest critic, if you will. And I have now increased the critique tenfold, and it needs to stop.
With multiple lockdowns and a general feeling that my life revolved around work, I have lost my way and stopped celebrating my wins. As little as they are, they mean something to me. I used to practice the art of self-love daily, with little rituals to celebrate me, and not just the work side of me. I have recently started to practice those again, to celebrate myself as an individual, and be fair to the kid who just needs someone to pat their shoulder and tell them they’re doing fine.
Some of us need validation from bosses, some of us from our parents, some of us from the rest of the world. Or so we think. I’m now officially done trying to impress others, the only person I want to impress is me.