Imposter syndrome: a shared experience
Louisa Daley speaks to event professionals and coaches about imposter syndrome to understand how we can change its narrative and impact.
Imposter syndrome – it seems to be one of the industry’s biggest pain points. The majority of eventprofs (myself included) have experienced it. If they haven’t, they know someone who has.
To understand what imposter syndrome is, as well learn how to manage it in a healthy way, I reached out to a range of coaches and event professionals including Adele Hawkes, communications director, Salesforce; Benedicta Asante, founder of Events 101; Craig Mathie, managing director at Bournemouth 7s; Naomi Hollas, founder of Event Grads; and Sallie Coventry, founder of Coaching+ and integrated coach therapist.
What does it feel like?
Imposter syndrome is so unique to everyone, it’s often difficult to define, or even pinpoint when it’s occurring. However, it’s also very common. Hawkes tells me: “About 70% of individuals experience imposter syndrome at least once in their lifetime.”
Across the board, when asked to explain what imposter syndrome is, the panel of eventprofs all identified similar feelings.
“Imposter syndrome is a nagging inner voice that casts doubts on your abilities and efficacy, and makes you question any success you might have,” says Hawkes. “It’s a feeling that you are a fake, a fraud, that you are out of your depth, or even a feeling that you don’t belong,” she adds. Coventry agrees and labels it as “a feeling of not being good enough, or not being worthy”.
There are also different types of imposter syndrome, as Hollas points out. “I resonate most with The Superhero – one who overworks to make up for how inadequately they feel, and The Perfectionist – one who is never happy with their work, and who sees flaws instead of strengths,” she explains.
“Imposter syndrome comes down to one’s perception of oneself,” adds Asante.
Imposter syndrome can not only appear in your personal life, but also in your professional life, which Mathie draws attention to. “To me, imposter syndrome is not being seen as a credible expert,” he says. After all, there are so many roles we do daily, this can leave some eventprofs feeling like they can’t be experts in all of them. But more often than not we are doing ourselves a disservice.
There is no straightforward path into the events industry, which may cause imposter syndrome to be more common for us. “The events industry is a creative and fluid space, which is amazing from a production and experiential point of view, but sometimes it misses the formal structure of other industries,” says Mathie.
For example, some eventprofs may have event management degrees, and others will not, and this lack of structure may leave individuals questioning and comparing their capabilities to others, who have perhaps been in the industry longer.
As an event graduate, this is something Hollas acknowledges. “Students and graduates are often assumed as being young with little experience, which is not the case,” she says. “Degrees and education in general are not essential to enter the events industry. We need to appreciate the value of both education and experience,” Hollas adds.
For event graduates, entering the industry is difficult as most entry level roles ask for three to five years’ experience. “The root of imposter syndrome is when expectations are set exceedingly high, and the belief of what it means to be competent is unrealistic. This potentially highlights why so many young people and newcomers experience self-doubt,” suggests Hollas.
On top of this, Coventry says imposter syndrome is arguably more prevalent in our industry due to the high-demand and high-stress nature of events. “Eventprofs are always striving to meet unrelenting, high expectations,” she says.
When we do reach these expectations, we don’t always highlight our talents and expertise, according to Mathie. “This is because our industry is innately and completely designed to deliver behind the scenes. When it comes to shouting about our roles in an event, it does not sit comfortably for most people, and we therefore shy away from it a bit,” he adds.
Factors to consider
While the eventprof panel collectively agreed on the feelings of imposter syndrome and note the impact within the industry, it’s important to recognise other factors that may play a part.
Hawkes tells me imposter syndrome was first identified in the 1970s, where it was thought to only affect “high-achieving, professional, academic women”.
However, it’s now understood that imposter syndrome in fact affects everyone. “It affects people from different cultures, nationalities, ethnicities and genders,” says Hawkes. Asante echoes this and believes “economic class and background are starting factors and then gender, age and qualifications pile onto that foundation”.
Focusing on these starting factors, Asante highlights the role of diversity and inclusion. “Speaking to fellow eventprofs, there’s a lack of access in the industry for certain ethnic groups, which makes them feel as though they cannot attain it,” she says. Whether this is through representation on panels, podcasts or other speaking opportunities, “the events industry has a huge amount of work to do on increasing the diversity of the workforce to accurately represent us,” Mathie adds.
Together, these factors ultimately add more layers and complicate the experience of imposter syndrome.
The pandemic has also played its role. “Imposter syndrome has impacted the confidence of industry newcomers. There’s been a lack of work experience opportunities available, restricting their chances to learn and network. Therefore, they’re left feeling ‘behind’ in their career,” says Hollas.
Furthermore, “working from home has also resulted in us losing those informal conversations, where you might share a worry with a colleague. It’s also given us a lot, if perhaps too much, time to be with our own thoughts,” adds Coventry.
Advice and strategies
So, how do we move forwards and overcome imposter syndrome? How do we curb its rise in the future?
“The most important thing we can do to tackle imposter syndrome is to talk about it. The more people realise it is a thing, the more they will be able to put measures in place to counteract it,” advises Mathie.
For the next generation of eventprofs, Mathie thinks “peer mentoring and educating can be a really valuable way to make them feel more comfortable with sharing their expertise”. Asante seconds this and believes “people who are achieving more than you can keep you inspired, as well as give you sound advice to continue progressing. This will prevent imposter syndrome stopping you
taking that next big leap.” Coventry agrees with Mathie and believes there is a power in externalising our worries, which helps to ultimately shrink them. “By talking about imposter syndrome, we appreciate how common it is, and how even the most externally confident people still battle with it,” she says.
You can talk about imposter syndrome with friends and family, or even with a professional coach or therapist. Coventry says the latter can also “be helpful in making sense of it and turning down the volume of these difficult thoughts and feelings”.
Both Coventry and Hawkes say practising self-compassion can also be beneficial. “Self-compassion involves being kind and non-judgemental to yourself,” says Hawkes. “We need to recognise that we are human, not super-human and it’s okay to make mistakes or not be perfect,” Coventry adds.
For managing imposter syndrome feelings on the ground at events, Mathie suggests “tuning into your authentic self”. Don’t worry about appearing professional or polished, you will be seen as an expert if your audience can feel “your passion and drive,” he explains.
Considering this, “everyone is different, so different strategies will work for different people,” says Hawkes. So, pick whichever strategy speaks the most to you.
Hawkes reminds us: “Imposter syndrome has no correlation with your capabilities. It’s just a story you are telling yourself, and you can change the narrative with a little help.”
Similarly, Hollas adds: “You are worthy of where you are, and your experiences that lead you there. Don’t let anyone, especially your imposter syndrome, tell you otherwise.”