You’ve probably heard of ‘imposter syndrome’ – the experience of feeling a ‘fraud’ or being ‘phoney’ despite evident success. I talk to many people who remain convinced that their first class degrees were awarded because the examiner marked scores wrongly, or a promotion at work was due to reasons that had nothing to do with their merit or success. We think that women suffer this more than men, especially high achieving ones. It can be an exhausting way to live life, not least because of the constant fear of ‘being found out’.
I worked with an objectively successful woman who suffered such pernicious feelings of self-doubt. She was fantastically creative in explaining away each one of her achievements as due others’ help or ingenuity or luck. Even the birth of her children was a success on the part of the midwives attending her, and the NHS, and her parenting was relentlessly secondary to her partner’s efforts. But then she took up running. After a couple of years running alone without any marker as to her pace or style, she was persuaded by a friend to take part in a half-marathon. She completed it in a very good time, far quicker than she’d estimated.
No-one else crossed the finishing line that day. This time, my client couldn’t turn to anyone else to take the credit for her ‘personal best’, and the high of her success managed to percolate inside. For the first time in her living memory, she didn’t shy away from acknowledging and then savouring a feeling of achievement. And this became a building block for more and more of the same.