Why we shouldn’t shrug off our successes
“The best moments in reading are when you come across something—a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things—which you had thought special and particular to you […]And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”
~ Alan Bennett, The History Boys
This is an exciting guest post from Katy Birchall, Deputy Editors at Country Life magazine and the author of The IT girl series (Egmont).
In August this year, Vogue published an interview with Harry Potter actress and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, Emma Watson, in which she admitted that on receiving recognition for her acting she feels uncomfortable and tends to turn in on herself: ‘I feel like an imposter’.
ARE YOU SERIOUS, EMMA WATSON? Did a wizard use magic to OBLIVIATE the crap out of your mind and make you forget all those huge grossing MOVIES you’ve made and all those kick-ass SPEECHES you’ve delivered?
Her words struck me though. They’ve played on my mind since I read them two months ago.
My career may not be anywhere near the scale of Miss Watson’s but I feel very lucky: at 27 years old I’m the Deputy Features Editor of a national magazine and I am an author with a three-book fiction deal. And I’m waiting any second for someone to do a double take as they walk past my desk and say, ‘wait a second…you shouldn’t be here’.
Hey, Emma…the whole ‘imposter’ thing? Me too.
It’s how I’ve always felt, ever since I started interning at a broadsheet, completely in awe of the big journalist names sitting a few computers away; I felt that way when I somehow managed to blag my way into getting a job at a magazine and then, because my role was editorial but largely admin-based, refused to call myself a ‘journalist’ for months.
I felt it when I got a promotion I had wanted for years and I feel it when I come into work every morning and sit down at my desk; and, most notably, I feel it every time someone congratulates me on writing a book alongside a full-time job and I instinctively reply, ‘thanks but it’s not like I’m writing Wolf Hall or anything.’ I’m terrified someone will realise I’m utterly useless, not as smart as they think, not as in control as they believe. Does that notion ring any bells with you?
I ask because when I mentioned Emma Watson’s comments—and the brilliant consequential article by formerCosmopolitan Editor and author Linda Kelsey on the ‘imposter syndrome’—to my friends and colleagues, they all nodded in agreement and sighed, ‘same’. Not one replied with a snort and said, ‘are you kidding? I deserve to be exactly where I am today.’
It made me think that my friends and colleagues, each marvellously successful in their individual ways, are total dodoheads. And it also made me feel terribly, terribly sad.
Why do we feel this guilt when we achieve and a draining and overwhelming fear of being ‘found out’? And, more importantly, how the hell do we make it stop?
Asking these questions has to at least be a step in the right direction. It is important to remember that there’s a difference between being grateful for where you are and feeling like you don’t deserve to be there.
My books are YA comedies, but low self-esteem and the constant fear of not being what you should be are strong themes. Clumsy, worrying, loveable Anna becomes an It Girl overnight and spends the rest of the time feeling like a fraud, feeling out of place and trying not to humiliate herself ALL the time. You don’t have to be an It Girl to know what that feels like. (They say write what you know…)
In David Nicholls’ One Day, Dexter writes to Emma: ‘if I could give you just one gift for the rest of your life it would be this. Confidence.’ You know what I think? When you achieve something, whatever it is, don’t wait for someone to give you the gift of confidence in it. Go ahead and own it.
The way I see it, if you’ve come this far thinking you’re actually bloody useless, just think what you could achieve when you realise you’re simply bloody brilliant.
Follow Katy on Twitter @KatyBirchall and be sure to check out her amazing IT GIRL series.
“In love with Emma Gannon’s Ctrl Alt Delete. So funny & smart, and reminding me of some of my own cringe teen Internet exploits!”– Anna James, former literary editor of ELLE
"Funny, honest, and nostalgic!"– The Debrief
“Emma Gannon is a bright spark of light in the world. I seriously dig everything she makes”– Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Big Magic