When imposter syndrome struck

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Walking out of work on my maternity leave, I full-blown sobbed, you know, when you are doing the double-breath thing? It was that level.

Suddenly, after months of counting down to the point where I could finally ‘rest’ (in itself a joke during any point of pregnancy) trying to figure out how my life looked, without the validation of work, became too much. 

After having my daughter, the ‘oh my Christ, I am now responsible for a human’ did not match with the idyllic version I had pictured in my head. That version was me walking my baby soaking up sunshine, pushing her in an old-fashioned pram.

Instead, the reality was more like walking with shoulders up as high as my ears in the slashing down rain, cursing why rain cover elastics are THAT SMALL to wrestle, while a baby cried with fury about getting wet. 

Being a mother, for me, was isolating. No family, my friends all at work, and a small human who did not respond to my ‘right, let’s make it happen’ approach on any kind of routine* (*Marking this spot for reference in a bit.) 

Returning to work was terrifying

In the, sometimes literal, sh*t-storm of trying to work out who the hell I was, alongside being shattered from the life-changing experience of parenthood, when I returned back to work, this time as self-employed, I was absolutely freaking out about not having ‘enough’ skills or qualifications. 

Who was I to claim I ‘knew’ what to do?, and posting on social media made me want to puke up. 

What changed?

Throughout my career, I was known for my ‘make it happen’ approach. 

Not sure if the trigger was the isolation, the disorientation of motherhood, the loneliness of no close family, or growing up hearing ‘graft meant success’ and not actually being able to deliver on that for the first time in my life. All I felt now, was a fraud.

Picture now some serious frenzied overworking to prove myself, and this eventually led to panic attacks from the immense pressure I was putting on myself. 

It’s not really a surprise that my own circumstances played out like this. 

Before I became a mother, work was not just about a salary for me. It was a social life, a way to build friendships and find community. Working hard was my default mode. It brought an immense sense of contribution and value to my life. It was my security blanket in a way. Without that familiar professional identity to ground me, I felt unmoored and unsure.

Trying to be ‘all things’

I was stretched so thin trying to be all things to all people – the perfect mother, the tireless worker, the put-together professional. The relentless striving was taking an immense mental and physical toll. But I could not see anyone else talking about it. 

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During my google-fest for ‘qualifications and training’, and trying to gain info on the fly, I would look for somewhere I could talk about it, but all I could find was either career or parenting focused – not the two together.

Fast forward a few years, and after losing a job that, looking back, I was never truly the right fit for, I decided to finally TALK ABOUT IT.

I could never, ever have expected the massive impact of leaning into speaking openly.

Please let me be clear. At the time it was terrifying.* It was not a gentle walk into the sunset, it was tough. Really tough. I am not sure I would have even done it, had my hand not been forced.

Feeling the fear

Ever hear this one? The idea of ‘feel the fear and do it anyway.’ As though a magic wand of powering through self-doubt is a one-size-fits-all solution. 

Tell that to the adult who as a child, was drilled with the belief that they MUST work hard to be successful and worthy. For those adults, the very idea of recognizing personal achievements could feel like a total unknown, thanks to deeply ingrained notions that you can never do or be enough.

Changing ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ to flexibility on approach,  compassion and gratitude for those who reach up and reach out – recognition of that bravery.

There could be where the magic happens.

This blog isn’t meant to be a quick fix or simple advice. This is an ‘I see you.’ 

If the feelings I have described resonate for you, you are not alone.

 In fact, and I speak from experience, there may be others, closer than you think, the ones you may never expect, who feel the same as you. 

Honestly, you are AMAZING. As a living, breathing human being. 

If you find that you are comparing yourself to others and its not helpful – remember, you were NEVER meant to be ‘the same as everyone.’ Those standards are like apples and oranges. 

Before researching a new course of action or googling for yet another self-help solution, take a pause. 

Look back

Before focusing on right now, or what is coming, look BACK. Write down everything you have achieved and persisted through in the past 12 months alone. SEE the brave decisions you made, the tremendous courage and resilience you showed, the times, NOT JUST IN WORK, when you were stepping into the power of ‘not being sure’ and you did it anyway. 

You learnt on the go. THESE are the FACTS of your incredible strength.

Speaking from experience, being fully human, may end up being the greatest gift you ever share (if you decide to) both for yourself and for others struggling with the same feelings of being an ‘imposter.’ 

*Becoming a mother was the first time my tried and tested method of graft didn’t work. It was also the greatest example, of how in one area of my life, I would never again have the bloody definite answer, but I would learn to trust my heart, and what felt ‘kind of’ right. It’s not always comfortable, but it brings progress. That has become more of a focus. 

If you ever need a reminder that you are enough, give me a shout. I will cheer you on all the way. 

You are not an imposter, you are an amazing HUMAN, and bloody brilliant one at that!

About the author

A marketer with 20 years’ experience, Claire Ferreira founded Mums in Marketing, the only global organisation dedicated to mums working in marketing, in 2020. 

Winner of the Global Award at The Start-up Awards National Series, Mums in Marketing has become a global community of thousands, with a paid membership offering in-person and remote networking, training, masterclasses, guides and coaching clinics across the marketing, parenting and work life spectrum. Claire consults and mentors on building online and offline communities, and is an NLP-trained coach.

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