Imposter syndrome hounds some of the most successful women in the world, with Michelle Obama and Emma Willis being just some of those who have admitted to not feeling enough. But for Ebony Rainford-Brent, this type of anxiety reached a level that even her subconscious became affected.
Imposter syndrome. It’s that niggling doubt at the back of our minds that makes us feel that, although we’ve worked hard, earned our success and definitely haven’t been tricking our employers Joey Tribbiani style that we can horse ride backwards and speak French (at least, we hope you haven’t), that somehow we shouldn’t really be where we are.
And more than that, this particular strain of anxiety makes us worry that other people think that, too. That any minute someone might say, “yeah, nice try” and tell us we’ve been found out and they want someone much better than us to do the job instead.
It’s stressful, exhausting and confidence-eroding. And do you know what? None of it’s true. We know it’s not true because there’s no way you’ve been waltzing into work, donning comedy glasses and toupee like a Guess Who character, pretending to be someone else. So, wherever you are in your ambitions, you’ve got there because of you.
We also know it’s not true because of how many people it affects, and that actually, a lot of these people are super successful. Speaking in a panel for Natwest’s new campaign #OwnYourImposter, which aims to support female entrepreneurs to push past imposter syndrome, Ebony Rainford-Brent admitted to Stylist that her imposter syndrome has at times been so overwhelming that she’s suffered with reoccurring nightmares.
As a World Cup winning-cricketer, who was also the first black women to play for the England cricket team and since retiring from sport, has become a respected broadcaster and the first Director of Women’s Cricket at Surrey County Cricket Club, you would think that she would be the last person to worry that her achievements aren’t valid.
But as Rainford-Brent says, this isn’t the case at all: “When I finished playing sport I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do, and then I got the opportunity to do some radio for BBC starting on the women’s matches. I thought I know the women’s games, this is fine. But quite quickly they heard me and said we want you to come onto the men’s games, England are playing Australia and I was like ‘oh my god’.
“Suddenly I started getting these nightmares that when I was on air someone was going to come and drag me off every time I was on the mic and say you’re not good enough.
“I’ve been doing broadcasting for seven years and these nightmares plagued me for three of those years. So when I was supposed to be broadcasting to how ever many people, I couldn’t get my words out because I was constantly thinking ‘is someone going to come and drag me off at any moment?’.
“I think that’s what imposter syndrome is, whether you’re in a boardroom or doing a pitch, you think somebody is going to tell you you’ve got to go. You think you’re going to get found out. It’s not great to be plagued for that long, but that’s imposter syndrome, it’s the chip away.”
And she’s not the only one. Speaking alongside Rainford-Brent on the panel, was app entrepreneur Michelle Kennedy and Stacey Dooley, who both agreed that imposter syndrome can get so severe that they feel physical effects.
Kennedy, who started Peanut for like-minded mums and is already successful in both the UK and US, says: “It’s that thing where you’re half expecting someone to tap you on the shoulder and say you’re going to be caught out now, this is not for you, move along. There’s something right at the back of your head and then there might be just one comment in a meeting or a pitch and it opens the door and allows that voice to come in.
“It’s then that I start to get sweaty, prickly heat and it’s really held me back from going to some meetings. That’s why you need a community of other women around you that will say, ‘what’s the worst thing that will happen?’
“Eventually you start to believe, what is that worst thing that will happen.”
Whereas for Dooley, who has made a career from speaking confidently and comfortably in front of people, her anxiousness comes out in a rash.
“I always get that rashy neck. I’ve got something really important to say and then I start getting a rashy neck,” she explains.
Physical reactions to anxiety or mental health issues aren’t uncommon. In fact, the NHS website sites that when anxiety or nervous thoughts start pouring in, some of the most common side effects are excessive sweating, dizziness, headaches or feeling sick, to mention a few.
For imposter syndrome specifically, though, more and more women are sharing their tips on how they deal with it, with supporting other women, pushing through the fear and keeping a compliments file as some of our favourite pieces of advice, of which you can read more here.
Images: Getty / Natwest
NatWest is committed to helping female entrepreneurs overcome their Imposter Syndrome and has launched a CrowdFunding Platform, entitled Back Her Business, to encourage women to start their own business.