The feeling of being an imposter is something that many people from all backgrounds and experiences have to deal with. You find yourself doubting your abilities and questioning when successful, that you don’t really deserve that success and the praise that comes with it. Many find it hard to accept what they achieve and rarely take time out to tell themselves they did a good job and celebrate.
I have decades of experience in IT and cyber security and have several qualifications, but I still feel like the new person at times. This industry is changing all the time, and there is always something new to get to grips with. It is with public speaking that This month I’m performing my show on the dangers of IoT (Internet of Things) in the home at the Stand Comedy Club in Edinburgh – My Neighbour Hacked My Toothbrush – and although I have performed it before, the thought of doing so as I write this is scary. To be fair to myself, it’s not as scary as having to do my first keynote speech in June. That will be done in front of my peers and that is when imposter syndrome really kicks in. Talking to the public, who have come along to hear someone who works in cyber security is one thing. Talking to a room full of people who work in the industry is another.
Of course nerves can be a good thing. It gives you an edge and focuses your mind on the task in hand. Nerves coupled with imposter syndrome is another level. The easy option is not to do it. However, part of me enjoys the experience and it’s great when it’s over, and in doing so I’m facing up to my fear of public speaking and giving it a go. I would have been disappointed if I hadn’t tried and I suppose that’s the only advice I can give here. Give it a go. Most people attending want to see someone do well and are generally supportive. Many people in the audience would like to do it, but haven’t yet made the leap to actually go on stage and talk. I suspect most of us have imposter syndrome to some extent about something and with me it is public speaking. Nevertheless, I am tackling it head-on and making effort to be as good as I can be at it.
Writing is another area where imposter syndrome is rife. It appears most writers experience this. It’s ironic that writers tend to be shy, yet in today’s world, they are expected to market themselves and talk about their books and that includes public speaking which ramps up the level of imposter syndrome they are experiencing. I chose to do public speaking because I was writing and hoped to have a book published. If I’m lucky enough to attend an event where I get to talk about my writing, I already have experience of talking to big crowds. (Just over 300 at an in-person event is the biggest I’ve done. Online I’ve had just over 200 on a remote webinar. When doing them remote, there are still nerves, but I have all my notes positioned around me out of sight, so confidence wise it’s easier to handle). So, rather than worry about speaking if I became published, I decided to tackle it head on and gain some experience of public speaking so I would be ready if the opportunity to appear at a writing event comes my way.
Most writers feel they can write better, and compare their work to others, who also feel they can write better. I’ve come to accept that this is normal. I’ve got through the publishing experience and have had my share of positive and negative reviews and moved on to other writing projects. Of course there are days when self-doubt takes over, but I plough on regardless. Writing is what is important. If someone likes it, that’s a bonus and a most welcome one, but you cannot go chasing those moments. No matter how successful a writer becomes, they still have to sit alone in front of a blank page and come up with something they are going to have to feel good about. That’s the challenge all writers face and when it comes down to it, it’s the one that really matters. Self-doubt cannot be allowed to halt your writing or get in the way of anything else for that matter. Far better to give something a go and regardless how it turns out, you will have learnt something and can feel good about that.
Writing books is tough, or at least in my case finishing them up for publication is tough. I feel I’m good at coming up with ideas and writing them out. Finishing a novel to a publishable state is something I’m learning, but I find that hard going. I much prefer writing drafts. At present I cannot open The Kill Chain. The paperback is on my desk, but the thought of looking at a page and thinking I could have written a sentence better is too much. Hopefully one day I can look back and say it was as good as I could do for that particular novel. I am proud I did it though. It was a difficult write during the first lockdown and was rewritten several times to get it right, so despite my reluctance to open the novel again, I’m glad I put the effort in.
Setting expectations around success can help if you experience imposter syndrome. What does success look like for you? How do you define success? Don’t define it based on what other people may think, as that rarely works well. My goal for my novel was to make 50 star ratings on Amazon. I never thought I’d get close, but at the time of writing I’m sitting at 48. I consider it a success now, and I will celebrate when I get to fifty. Now that may not fit in with other people’s view of success, but in the writing world, I can’t control that. I can however, define my own success and build on it from there.