From the time we're children to the time we slip from this mortal coil, we're asked what we want to do and what we actually do. As hard as we try to fight it, we're defined and judged by our profession. But what are the psychological implications of our aspirations?
When I was a child, people always asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. This is enormous pressure to put on a child who barely knows how to dress herself.
From then on in, you're told to choose your subjects, go on work experience and get qualifications based on what you want to be.
As a young adult in higher education, you get starry-eyed over people in certain professions; lawyers, doctors, scientists, writers... You have a dream, a vision, of who you are based on the job you pursue.
Like it or not, our profession complements and defines who we are.
When you think of plumbers, you don't imagine they read Byron and spend weekends at yoga retreats. When someone says coder, you don't think Lothario. When someone says CEO, you don't think guy who sits in pants playing Xbox Live.
We put so much pressure on becoming our ideal selves, that when we get there, we can't help but think you've over-stretched yourself or started to believe your own bullshit.
I've come across many copywriters who fancy themselves as the next Don Draper, but in reality their talent didn't match up to their ambition.
Even though I recognised that, it doesn't stop me from thinking that perhaps I'm in the wrong place. And for all my bravado, I'll be found out as a fraud.
There's always someone out there who can outpace you in terms of talent. There's always someone out there who can forge connections and promote their brand better than you.
The threat is ever present. But I've focussed on people who are on the right career path in terms of personal ambition. But people everywhere get into jobs they know nothing about or into levels they're not ready for.
All of us place so much importance on our jobs because fundementally, we need it to pay the bills. If we lose our jobs, we need to start the painful and stressful process of finding another job.
A lot of us spend meetings and days coasting, hoping no one notice that we don't actually know what we're doing.
Sometimes being an impostor isn't a syndrome, but a reality. But mostly, it is completely irrational.
It's ok to sit in meetings and not understand what's going on. It doesn't make you a fraud.
It's ok to get negative feedback, it helps you improve, but it still doesn't make you a fraud.
It's ok to feel out of control of your workload, chances are the people around you are also glaring at their to-do list in horror.
Don't compare yourself to Five-Star Martin, the 20-year-old who's already at director level.
Don't compare yourself to WTF Wayne, the guy everyone side-eyes.
You are not a fraud. You are you.
You work in your own way and pace.
Think of not knowing as a learning curve and a challenge.
Talk to your colleagues and manager. I mean really talk. In a candid way. You'll get reassurance from shared feelings and opinions.
And when people are doing a good job, no matter how small, tell them.
I got a couple of good bits of advice from an ex-manager:
- Work 80/20 and don't let perfect get in the way of good
- It's better to beg forgiveness than ask permission
It's human not to be able to deal with the feeling of failure or rejection. And it's this fear that's stopping us from being brave, from challenging ideas, breaking norms and just enjoying the job we work so hard to get.