Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome. It’s a thing. No, really, it is. Here’s the definition:

Imposter syndrome (also known as imposter phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

It was identified by researchers at Georgia State University in 1978 when they noted that successful women had a tendency towards high levels of self-doubt. Since then, more recent studies in Belgium have shown that it is common across different career types from “white collar” jobs to scientists. Men feel it too (although possibly to a lesser extent) and sometimes it’s joined by it’s unwelcome friends – anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and guilt. As you can probably tell, it’s not really a charming guest.

For me, it’s an overwhelming feeling that I really don’t know what I’m doing. Like everything I’ve achieved has been through luck and is a fluke. Like I’m just pretending I know what I’m talking about and if pushed, I’ll flake out and be discovered for not really having a clue.

It’s a fairly regular anvil of self-doubt that hangs over my head and threatens to come crashing down with little notice. If you look for it, you can see it through the facade. The unwillingness to make a big deal of things that others would be singing and dancing about. The hesitation to sell myself and recognise the work that I’ve done and things I’ve achieved. The avoidance of talking about my work and myself for fear that I’ll let something slip that “shows me up”. The second guessing myself and wanting to “double check” everything when I do talk about my work. The never feeling quite ready to do things and being able to find a million reasons not to try.


The trouble is, I tend to compare myself to everyone else’s highlight reel. Thanks to a mix of social media where we only really see the extremes of life (cause let’s face it, posting “hey I got out of bed today, had a shower and then sat for 10 hours working at my computer” isn’t really InstaWorthy) and knowing some super confident people who seem to do nothing but talk about all they’ve achieved. I have nothing against the latter, it’s just foreign to me and adds to the feeling that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

It wasn’t until I was talking in a recent interview about my meandering career path that I realised I have a lot of experience and different skills. Even writing that now makes me very uncomfortable.

I’ve been running my own business for almost three years now and sometimes I forget that in terms of a small business, it’s still early days. I hold myself to extremely high standards and get frustrated when I’m not exactly where I feel like I should be. It’s very easy for me to pattern spot and give much higher value to the things I’m not happy about and to dismiss the success I’ve had a long the way.


Recently, I’ve been doing well. OK I’m not bringing in the money I’d like (but who is?) and I’ve got a list of ideas for improvement longer than a Mo Farah run, but when I consider the direction my work is taking, a lot of great things are happening. From being asked to deliver a photography class for Skillshare to having my #RealGirlsRealBeauty images up as part of the Visible Women Festival. From starting new collaborations for my wildlife work to finding more time to connect with my wildlife and nature photohttps://www.meiphotography.co.uk/overcoming-imposter-syndrome/ ‎graphy. It’s really all very positive.


So why do I wake up some days and think I’m just playing “make believe” at all of it? Without reading all the research (and thus being able to thoroughly back-up my opinion without horrendous self doubt…), I guess I won’t really know. I just have to keep pushing through it and finding ways to work around it.

It seems that speaking up about it is part of that journey. Putting my hand up and saying that I often don’t feel like I’ve got a clue what I’m doing. Confessing that most days feel like “fake it til you make it” days.  Coming clean about this and finding other tortured souls helps. It’s why I’m writing this blog.

Other ways of tackling it are keeping track of the successes. Reminding myself of the victories I’ve had, how far I’ve come and accepting praise when something great happens instead of getting cagey and awkward about it.

Sometimes, through the midst of all this, there are perfectly timed moments that give me a much needed confidence boost. Like today, when I felt the sensation of that anvil getting ever closer to landing squarely on my head, this blog popped up in my feed. A review of a photoshoot I did last year.


It made my day.

And that cheeky toddler face from one of my favourite photo sessions of 2016 reminded me that sometimes we just need to stick our tongues out at Impostor Syndrome and keep on doing the best we can. x


What’s Wrong with this Picture?

I was at a photo shoot the other week. Except this time I was on the other side of the lens.  I did it for two reasons.  To learn how another photographer directs their subject but more importantly to learn how it feels to be the subject.  It’s an important feeling to get used to and even just one shoot has helped me think more carefully about how to instill confidence in my clients.  A photo shoot can be a daunting thing.

For many though, the really daunting part is seeing the results.  We become hyper-critical and search each image for flaws and problems.  Things we don’t like and wish weren’t on the screen in front of us. Our insecurities displayed in high definition. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken a photo and thought it beautifully captured the person in a fun and natural moment to find that they look at it and see a “double chin”, “bad skin”, “bags under their eyes”, “a crooked smile”, “a dimple that’s too deep”, “frizzy hair”, “fat rolls”, “chubby cheeks”, “a squint”, “a big nose”… it seems there is an endless list of flaws to find in a photo of ourselves. We are trained to look for and beat ourselves up about things we perceive as imperfections.

Image by Premier Photography

Image by Premier Photography

And I found myself doing it.  Analysing all the photos.  Quickly dismissing ones where I didn’t like my smile, my stomach, my hair.  Instantly looking for flaws and images where I could see things that I worry about every day.

As photographers, we’re taught to shoot from certain angles to make people look thinner or taller.  Shown how to make sure people don’t have double chins,  to make men look dominant and “masculine” and women look submissive and “feminine”.   We’re asked to erase “flaws” and smooth skin.  Make people look skinnier in post processing and get rid of wayward hairs.

Ten months in to my photography career and I’m finding that this doesn’t sit right with me. I can’t help but think about our bigger issue with the concept of “beauty” and what we’ll accept as attractive.  The photo above isn’t really me.  It is me with an hour’s worth of hair and make-up and some clever editing.  It looks good.  The photographer has done an excellent job and it’s fun to transform in to a magazine cover girl version of myself.  But it’s not me.  And images on magazines push young people to believing that this is beauty.  Beauty is so much more than a superficial image.  It’s your talents and thoughts, your hopes and dreams. It’s who you are and how you feel about yourself.

If I’m honest, I prefer this shot from a family portrait taken over a decade ago.

Image by Finelines Photography

Image by Finelines Photography

Yes, I’ve got my hair straightened and they’ve applied a sepia filter but that’s not why I love it.  I love this shot because it captures the moment when the photographer was trying to convince us to do “serious faces” and I failed.  As soon as you ask me to keep a straight face I’ll do the opposite.  I have done since I was a small child and I still laugh today. It’s a blessing and a curse. In this photo my mouth is so wide I look like I’m trying to eat my sister.  My eyes are almost closed and my hair is out of place.  But it’s natural.  It tells a story.  It’s me.

We need to change what we see when we look at photos of ourselves.  Change what we think.  Instead of asking “What’s wrong with this picture?” we should try asking “what’s right?”.  Life can be pretty tough when someone is being mean to you all the time.  Especially if that someone is you.