The relationship between ambition and self-doubt…

I was at a party recently talking to one of my friends about a work trip. She had delivered an important, high pressure presentation, sharing her expertise and generally being a fountain of wisdom and know-how. I can imagine the whole build-up to the event itself was very nerve-wracking, and after the trip I was listening to her intently (albeit gorging on crisps and dip) when she said “I just couldn’t believe I was giving this presentation to all these people. They were listening to me, telling them about my work.”

As I sat there, listening to said friend, all I could think about was how talented she is, and how it was very right that she was the person giving that presentation because well, she rocks, and she knows what she is talking about. From my point of view, she was just the woman to do it and of course, she made a great success of it all because that’s just how she rolls.

Another friend of mine has recently become a teacher. I’ve known her since we were six-years-old and running around the playground and bickering about which of our imaginary unicorns was the best. On an evening walk she told me how surreal it seemed that she would soon be teaching full time, even though she was really excited about it all. I can’t imagine a better girl for the job, she’s creative, intelligent and a fantastic role model. But when she spoke I nodded in agreement, remembering how I felt when I got my first book deal. It was a mixture of total happiness and shock that my work was going to be read by more people than a handful of close friends and my mother. Infact, it’s still a bit of a surprise (well a total surprise) when I am contacted by a reader. It makes me SO happy.

Then I remembered a theory I read in the paper ages ago about something called Imposter Syndrome. Ok, it does sound a little dramatic, (don’t worry, it doesn’t involve a fever or any kind of strange rash…) but the basic idea behind it is fascinating.

If you haven’t heard of it yet, Imposter Syndrome is a theory or phenomenon that is very common in ambitious people, both men and women, who basically think they are a fraud within their position, or that their appointment to that role/position is some kind of mix-up or mistake. If you want to find out more about it, give it a Google, there are reams of stuff online about it. It seems, talking to many amazing people over the years, that this feeling is pretty common. It doesn’t just apply to celebrities and scientists, it can happen to anyone, no matter what they do.

I was 23 when I got my first book deal and I was still daunted by basic things like cooking anything other than pasta, paying bills and generally being a proper adult, and to be honest I felt that it was all some kind of elaborate joke. I remember going to meet my agent for the first time and being so nervous that I could barely see straight and nearly walked into the men’s toilets. How could this have happened to me? It was so amazing, so wonderful, that it wouldn’t quite compute. I morphed back into the gawky kid I used to be, unable to string proper sentences together and knocking things over all the time.

Strange thoughts kept buzzing through my mind. What if I accidentally re-wrote something I watched or read years ago without even realising? What if my first book was a fluke and upon attempting the second, I would simply sit in front of the laptop watching 4OD and wondering how to type basic words? What if I only had one book in me? It was very interesting how my brain responded to this amazing thing that had happened to me and I remember it so well. Even though I was estatically happy about it all, there was this nagging self-doubt somewhere in the background.

Even now those feelings come back sometimes, but I try and talk myself out of them. I go for a run, or make a coffee, or read one of my favourite books and it all goes away.

I think that a small amount of self doubt is (most of the time) not a bad thing, although I can imagine that for some it unfortunately becomes a serious anxiety issue. Not being excessively confident keeps me on my toes. It keeps me grateful for everything that has happened and it keeps me focused on the future. It is the nagging doubt in me that prompts me to always try to improve and get better at what I do. Writing is a life-long journey, and just like you grow as a person, make mistakes and enjoy successes, this also happens in your writing too.

Sometimes it’s good to know that other people feel the same. It’s comforting in a way to know that the people you admire and respect experience the same kind of feelings as you, and it’s positive that people are always assessing their position and how they feel about it.

For the readers of this blog who are thinking ‘Yes! I totally get that!’ – you must be confident in yourself. You are doing what you do not by luck, or fluke, or through some kind of catastrophic mix-up. You are doing what you do because you deserve it. It’s all because you studied hard, or learnt how to do something yourself through hours and hours of practice and hard work, because you are talented, because you persevered, and because you are good at it. And most importantly, don’t expect to start a new job/promotion/project/fitness challenge/novel and be perfect at it.

There is room to grow and learn and that’s totally ok…