As it is award season, I wanted to write a piece about celebrating your wins and being proud of yourself – but every time I sat down to do so I ended up deleting what I had written and staring at a blank page. Imposter syndrome can strike at any point, and it’s effects can be crippling. Something I have observed in myself, as well as in friends, colleagues and authors is that it can be so challenging to celebrate your wins: we often feel like whatever we achieve it’s not quite enough, and that we must work even harder and achieve even more before we give ourselves a pat on the back. It can be an exhausting, and vicious, cycle: never quite finding the moment where we think we deserve to feel we have done a good job. But from the huge career-defining stuff right down to finally wording that extremely tricky email, we all have something we can celebrate. And learning to do so will make for a happier and more productive working life.
Imposter syndrome permeates the workplace. It’s a feeling that many people can identify with: why do I feel like a fraud despite being qualified for this job? Was that skill or a complete fluke? Despite having education, experience and training, so many have never been able to break free of doubting their worthiness and step into a higher level of success. There is also the fact that imposter syndrome acutely affects certain groups, coupled with the (very British) attitude that it’s somehow uncouth to own your wins.
The ways that imposter syndrome presents itself is often in direct conflict with reasonable expectations of ourselves, for example feeling as though your work must be 100% perfect, 100% of the time or shying away from applying to jobs unless you meet every single requirement on the spec. Right at the start of my career, I would often find myself not speaking up in meetings or staying late to complete my work – symptoms of how my imposter syndrome manifested itself, which were not helped along by seeing no Black or brown people in senior positions and managing the workload of two people. Looking back, there are definitely times where not speaking up in a meeting meant I missed an opportunity to have my voice heard and contribute positively to a discussion. I have seen this misconstrued way too often, and interpreted as lack of passion or enthusiasm, or even taken as a sign of someone not being a team player.
I stepped into a more senior role in the last year, which means that my voice is now not only heard, but acknowledged and responded to in meetings. However, it’s notoriously hard to make that leap from assistant to agent and I still question what I’m about to say, and whether or not I will be taken seriously. Being riddled with doubt and questioning whether I belong in the rooms I gained access to has become so ingrained in the way I work that I regularly forget to tell myself I am doing a good job. So, here I am saying it: I am doing a good job. And we should all remember to tell ourselves that, especially at a time when seeing wonderful achievements celebrated and awards being won can trigger feelings of inadequacy.
I have seen many ingenious ways to combat imposter syndrome – from saving nice emails sent to you to a folder to look at on doubtful days to making sure you give yourself at least one unencumbered compliment a day – and though each approach is different, the thing they have in common is: celebrating your wins. I am not a fan of opening up publicly and the thought of people reading this makes me want to climb into a hole. Writing this was such a challenge, but I persevered because working to overcome my imposter syndrome has helped me realise how joyful being proud of myself is – and that instead of always striving for the next thing, it’s good to stop and just enjoy the moment for a while.
Silé Edwards is an agent at Mushens Entertainment, and a winner of the 2021 LBF Trailblazer Awards. You can find her on Twitter at @sileloquies.