You love your job, but you just don’t feel good enough. Long days in front of your laptop, firing off emails, taking calls, getting through your to-do list with that sense of a job well done. But then you get home, or you take a break because of illness, or you just simply need a holiday. And before you know it, an ache has started in your chest. Your mind is racing, sometimes you could swear that you’re having palpitations. Because quite suddenly, you hear a small but powerful voice inside yourself say “you’re not good enough. You’re a fraud.”
I’ve always tried to work hard. Work – of whatever form – was an escape for me. Throughout school, I was a bespectacled, spotty, socially awkward dweeb. Terrible at sport due to my acute fear of a football suddenly landing on my face (turned out this was because I needed glasses from a young age, but hadn’t realised, so just assumed that they appeared out of thin air to smack me on the nose), not pretty or confident enough to hang out with the cool kids, the only thing I was good at was behaving in class, doing my homework, and staying in the library after school.
It was much the same at university, although I did let loose a little and throw myself (sometimes literally) into the dating scene. Imagine my delight when I realised I was surrounded by dweebs, and swottiness was actually encouraged!
Then I started work, in a series of jobs I really didn’t enjoy, but I worked hard nonetheless. Get experience on your CV, make connections, and it’ll all work out in the end, I told myself. Eventually I found something I really loved, and last year I made the move to a whole new city, where I’ve met some of the most creative, interesting and kind people I’ve ever known.
I work hard because I love my job. It doesn’t feel like work when I’m talking to a charity about how they communicate with donors, or with an academic about their latest research. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing (except, perhaps, more knitting and dog-walking). But if anything, that small voice has got louder.
“You’re a fraud.”
“You’re going to be found out.”
“You don’t deserve this job, this pay.”
“Your friends, partner, colleagues will all find you out.”
Why has that confidence gap grown louder as I’ve (on paper at least) become more successful? I’m reaching senior level in my career, I have an awesome flat and an even more awesome partner, I live in a city I love and I’m able to do so much more with my time. So why do I lie awake at night sometimes, panicking for no particular reason?
I don’t have any answers yet. Maybe it’ll become easier as I get older and continue to mature personally and professionally. Perhaps I will always be an anxious person.
I’d love to know if anyone else out there ever feels like this. Is it specific to women in their late twenties/early thirties? Now we’re meant to be grown-up, do we panic if we don’t feel capable? And how can we address this?