Today I'm celebrating tiny victories. Because the alternative to celebrating is to continue feeling like an imposter. Sound familiar, 20-somethings?
Being an imposter is an exhausting profession. It's amazing how you can achieve so much but still feel completely overwhelmed and not good enough. Work wise, the last few months for me have felt a little chaotic and ridden with anxiety and fear. That ol' debilitating word. Fear of failing, fear of getting it wrong and upsetting someone, fear of being discovered as a fraud at my profession. All this despite having some pretty worthy victories along the way.
It seems to be a reoccurring theme among my peers at the moment, this feeling of fear and of being an imposter. I imagine that it has to do with an intersection of conditions. Being in my late-20s and starting to have enough experience to not really be 'entry-level' anymore but not having enough experience accumulated to really feel like I really know what I'm doing. Meanwhile, in parallel I'm pushing myself to do things that I don't know I can achieve, like write journal papers, develop networks, make big decisions, innovate. The pressure of succeeding - pressure put on me by myself I must say - is sometimes crushing. I feel like I 'should' be doing all these things to stay ahead, and that is in part driven by vast amounts of information I constantly am consuming, comparing myself to. Oh the internet. All these factors intersect with some environments I'm in where I feel rather undervalued. It's quite a contradictory feeling and it's another thing I'm hearing a lot from peers at this age - the challenge of (generally) being a woman and finding value, especially in the workplace.
Regardless of gender inequality, that feeling of being undervalued is complicated because it's so paradoxical to imposter-syndrome. On one hand, I feel undervalued but on the other hand I question my value, like I'm scared of admitting it or really leaning into it. Yikes. Anyone else experience that? These feelings also are very generational because I'm of the era of kids who were brought up to believe that 'the world is your oyster' and 'you can do anything you set your mind to'. As I've had it explained to me: It feels like we are conditioned not to fail, to seek to do the best, be the best and only be ok with nothing but. On top of all this, there is the hyper-awareness that I'm so lucky and privileged to have been supported and encouraged to do well all my life, and to have had the opportunities I have. So there's a certain layer of guilt and anxiety attached to this imposter-syndrome and anxiety around failure.
It's enough to do your head in and well, it's doing mine in. At what point do we give ourselves permission to celebrate and recognise achievements, tiny or large? It makes me feel all kinds of weird to even just be writing about this, as if I somehow am being too self-serving by acknowledging this situation. But I'm going to try. Because I'm not sure that my self-pity serves anyone. Because this feeling certainly isn't allowing me to step into my power. Because I owe it to the people who have supported me to own my work and celebrate it. Because I'm sitting in the sun in a tiny house built by my best friend, having just been to a book launch for a book I'm in, and about to be joined my life partner who can only fly mid-week because she took the brave leap to become self employed. And these things are all worth celebrating.
So here is the first tiny victory. Annelies Zwaan, furniture maker, baker extraordinaire, and new home owner. Tiny house owner, to be precise. I'm staying in this tiny house right now and it's hard to not spend my time in awe of Annelies' craft. She's just been featured on Big Living in a Tiny House about how she's built her home from reclaimed and recycled material. Such a magnificent achievement, and one that I know Annelies' has sometimes struggled to own. Because when it's the middle of winter, you've got polystyrene in your eye, and you're making a million decisions about where to put the plumbing and the lights and why this cupboard won't close and that sink won't drain, and people keep calling you amazing when you just feel like the only thing you can do is continue to put one foot in front of another, it's hard to accept that praise. I imagine Annelies would, very humbly, say (as she does in the above video) that on conclusion of building, this project is an example of what anyone can do if they put their mind to it. Yes, but also kind of no. I feel like this statement in many ways does a disservice to Annelies. Not just anyone would have the tenancity and will and skill to take on such a project and see it through. This house is a celebration of a remarkable human, it really is.
And the next tiny victory belongs to the emoji character below. Hello Chloe Fill. Graphic designer, brand developer, and emerging cartoonist on demand. This little character looks pretty chuffed and so she should be. Belonging to the first post on her facebook page, it introduces Chloe's new business 116 Studio to the world. Chloe's had to deal with many anxieties working in advertising, an industry rife with -isms and and -phobias and generally one where it's cool to undervalue and over work staff. And it's easy in this environment to want to fight rocks with rocks, or however the saying is going. But Chloe has done something brave and decided that she'd just rather not fight that way at all. Her tiny victory is resigning from a stable income, without another stable income to go to. That's a scary move. She did so because the appeal of unstable work, at the end of the day, beats unstable emotions. Not that freelancing and starting your own business comes without it's emotional consequences. But taking back some control is worth celebrating. Chloe's bravery in this regard, inspires me every day. She's put herself in a pretty vulnerable situation and is hustling hard to get her business going, smile on her freckled, emoji face day in day out. Her enthusiasm and attitude is contagious.
And so to my tiny victory. This week I saw my name listed as an author on a hard copy book, the one in the photo at the top of this post. A book that discusses exactly what I'd like my future professional work to be about. A book called Reimagining Journalism that has input from the journalists and media academics that I look up to, that have taught me, that I have learned so much from. What a privilege to be listed as an author next to Peter Arnett, Paula Penfold, Simon Wilson, Jim Tully, Peter Thompson, Mihirangi Forbes. Mind kinda blown. But I've been so anxious about this book launch. Feeling completely like an imposter amongst an amazing line up. Feeling worried that the people I interviewed won't agree with what I've written, that my piece isn't detailed enough, not smart enough, will look basic next to the other intelligent, accomplished authors. Argh.
Today, I realised I can't sit here in this fear anymore. Well I can try not to, I have to try not to because I really don't think it's helping me move forward. I'm bouyed by the creative and smart and brave people around me, Annelies and Chloe being just two. I want to celebrate their achievements, and in doing so I'm pretty sure that means also acknowledging my own. I've been accepted on scholarship into a PhD programme next year that will give me three years to explore what is essentially the themes in Reimagining Journalism. There's no time to feel like an imposter. Acts of bravery. Two of my favourites are leading by example and I can either join them in owning the ups and downs of being a neurotic 20-something, or letting fear get the better of me. I write this not to evoke anyone for sympathy, but because writing and being transparent is an act of bravery - it's in the ethos of my work and is in itself a tiny victory to share on my terms. So: Starting celebrating now. Chloe, hurry up and get here already - Annelies and I have the craft beer waiting!
*Please note: This is a general discussion I've wanted to have for some time and generated originally from thoughts on a facebook group post with peers. It is not reflective of any one particular situation or work space I'm in. Full disclosure: I'm very grateful, in fact absolutely stoked to have ongoing contract work with colleagues (no matter how far away) that I adore.