How Imposter Syndrome Ruined My Twenties

I lived life, as a young girl, with spirit, curiosity and confidence. My childhood was certainly not idyllic and was often fraught with upheaval, change and family drama. Yet I embraced life and all of its adventure with enthusiasm and hope for better days. I was sure that better days were to come. And I couldn’t wait to be an adult.

I lived life, as a young girl, with spirit, curiosity and confidence.

I thought adults were the best. Adults had things sorted. Adults made decisions, they knew stuff, they were the ones making things happen and doing all the cool things. I was desperate to be an adult and all the freedom, excitement and adventure that adult life would bring.

With this I was a rather ambitious child. I dreamed of being on stage. I loved to create and perform. I wanted to change the world and make a difference. You know, all the grand ideas and dreamings of your average enthusiastic child.

I thought to myself, one day I’ll be a famous film star sharing stories that mean something and using my money and fame to make a difference to those less fortunate. It was all part of ‘the plan’. Mostly borne out of the fact that I didn’t understand how there were so many rich people in the world and yet even more people living in poverty and starving. It drove me insane to think about it. And being somewhat idealistic I had decided I would be the one to change that.

Fast forward to my late teens and things began to go downhill. Insecurity and feelings of worthlessness crept in. A number of reasons for this that I probably could write another essay about, but needless to say that being around some somewhat unfavourable types in my teens did not help my sense of self.

By my twenties I was in university, studying a degree which I loved and helped to expand my mind and understanding of people from all over the world. I was taught skills in critique and empathy. I learned how to read between the lines, to seek out context, to delve deeper than assumptions. I was given the tools to investigate and question. I found a totally new way of thinking about the world that I will be forever grateful for.

But things weren’t going so well for me in my own head.

My feelings of worthlessness continued. Nothing was good enough. My luck with relationships, both romantically and friendship wise, was not the best. And no matter how hard I tried nor the level of effort I put into other people, I continued to feel lonely and unworthy.

By the the time I left university I was totally lost. That little girl with the ambition and fervour for the world was now confused and unsure. Instead of jumping ahead and seeking out opportunities I second-guessed myself.

I didn’t feel ready.

I didn’t feel good enough.

I didn’t feel like I knew enough.

I didn’t feel I was experienced enough.

Everyone around me appeared to have their shit together. People were doing well. They were getting the careers they wanted, fulfilling relationships, solid friendships.

I, on the other hand, was stuck like a rabbit in the headlights. Totally stuck. Unable to move.

My twenties consisted of constant change and a meandering journey of trying new things and trying to figure it out. Just when I felt like I was heading in a good direction something would hold me back from taking the giant risk, the big leap, the opportunities to do something even better. I just kept saying to myself, you’re not good enough yet.

Just when I felt like I was heading in a good direction something would hold me back from taking the giant risk, the big leap, the opportunities to do something even better. I just kept saying to myself, you’re not good enough yet.

I felt like an imposter.

I can’t apply for that job, I’m not good enough yet.

I can’t reach out to that person because they won’t think I’m their kind of person.

I am not cool enough to be contacting that company.

I am not successful yet to be asking for help.

It’s a spiral. Imposter syndrome is a giant spiral of self-doubt, worthlessness and total paralysis. It’s the misguided assumption that everyone else is better. And it took me until my thirties to realise it was total bullshit.

I’m not worthless.

Jeez, that feels weird to say.

Again.

I am not worthless.

I have so much to offer. I know that now.

Imposter syndrome cripples so many people. I know that I am not the only one. It holds people back from being their true, authentic self. It stops them from making meaningful connections. And most importantly, it prevents them from making that valued contribution they born to do.

So here we are.

I’ve learned some lessons over the past few years and the most important is this:

Nobody actually has all their shit together. Nobody really knows what they’re doing. Nobody is better nor worse than you.

Following from that I’ve learned:

Everyone has a different path and different journey to make. We are all at different stages on that path and not a single one is comparable. No matter how lost you are there is always something you have to offer. You are VALUABLE.

Whilst I feel lucky to be on a journey now where I recognise that I can make a difference, that I am worth something, I am still sad that I lost my entire twenties to imposter syndrome. When I look back at all the missed opportunities I am gutted that I let something like that totally floor me.

If you are reading this and you think you might be suffering with imposter syndrome please know that you can change your mindset. Please tell yourself that you are important, valuable and there are people out there that need your contribution to the world. Not everyone has their shit together, and you can totally do whatever it is you are passionate about.

Overcoming imposter syndrome is a journey, the self-doubt and moments of worthlessness can creep in. But if you take a moment to yourself and remember what it is that makes you rad, you can often work through it.

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14 Comments

  1. 7 June 2016 / 10:06 am

    I completely relate to this. My twenties were all about holding back and convincing myself I wasn’t good enough. Even now I’m waiting to be ‘found out’ half the time. Everyone told me once you turned thirty you’d suddenly accept yourself. It didn’t happen for me until thirty-four but i’m glad it finally has. Life is too short to worry about what everyone else thinks/is doing. Let’s all just get on with being rad in our own special way 🙂

  2. 7 June 2016 / 10:22 am

    I identify with this so, so much at the moment. I’m being made redundant and looking to change my career path but feel as though I’m not “qualified” to even try for the kind of roles that I would like. The same thing applies to my blogging – I never feel like I can pitch for things because it’s not good enough. Such a hard thing to overcome though! x

  3. 7 June 2016 / 5:56 pm

    I’m so sorry you’ve been through this Elizabeth. I’m glad that you’ve come out the other side & can see your worth now, even if it did take a long time. I lost a lot of my self worth as a result of an abusive relationship & ended up with PTSD. It was horrible & took a long time to gradually get back my self-confidence. I don’t think I’ll ever had the same confidence I had as a child & teenager, but I’m in a much better place than I was & I’m glad you are too. Xx

    Tania | When Tania Talks

  4. 7 June 2016 / 7:49 pm

    Maybe you don’t think so, but this post is so full of good vibes. I can feel them. I liked read it. I wish you all the best.

  5. 10 June 2016 / 11:32 am

    I love this Elizabeth! I think the more we talk about these things, the more people realise that it’s not just you suffering through these things alone. I went through the same thing for years.

    I honestly believe that the only thing that sets people apart is that some people do and other people dream about it. Lord knows I’m not the best writer, photographer or designer but I’m made it my career by just starting it and working hard. The rest comes with practise!

  6. Kelly Joseph
    10 June 2016 / 5:09 pm

    Hey Elizabeth!

    This post is amazing and I can relate to it so, so much! I think I lost my entire teens to Imposter Syndrome and often feel I’ve missed out on so much ‘life’!

    I remember watching The Help once, I’m not sure if you’ve seen it…and after hearing the quote, ‘You is Kind, You is Smart, You is Important’ actually changed my life!

    We are all worth so much. In fact we are priceless. We’ve been out here as a special little fragment of the world and it’s time to be grateful for this chance and shine!

    Thanks for sharing! Glad you made it out like I did! Xxx

  7. 12 June 2016 / 6:52 pm

    I regularly/often feel like I am not worthy and about to be “found out” that people will leave me, I’ll lose my volunteering work, my job, no one will read my blog, my personal trainer will ditch me, my psychiatrist will decide I am too boring, my psychologist will get frustrated with me, that I will lose everything. That I deserve to lose everything. Slowly I am working on changing this mindset but it is hard. Thanks so much for sharing your story, I’ve always thought you were too cool for me!

  8. 6 August 2016 / 10:06 pm

    I can’t believe how much this resonates, I couldn’t imagine someone as smart and brilliant as you feeling this way but it just goes to show that anxiety doesn’t discriminate!

    Maria xxx

  9. 25 September 2016 / 11:01 am

    Oh my, this is me! I’m sorry you felt this way too but nice from my point of view to hear i’m not the only one. I’m in my very very late twenties and have gone from job to job, never believing in myself to go to the next level of it or simply exhausting myself from being in that business, quitting and then later regretting it. There are a few different jobs i’d love to try but I don’t believe I am the right type of person . . I wouldn’t fit in, I don’t have the skills, i’m too old to be starting a career in that section etc. I’m sure you recognise those thoughts!
    Do you have any posts on you’re getting over this mindset?

  10. 10 October 2016 / 2:49 pm

    This is such a good post and came at just the right time for me. It can’t have been easy to share this so I just wanted to say a huge thank you for putting it out there – I hope it’s helped many others too!

    Jodie x

  11. Pauline Martin
    2 November 2016 / 10:59 am

    I first landed on your blog looking for articles about converting a van 😉 (we are Coki le combi on Instagram) Then I read this… I never put words on it. It resonates a lot. I am 25 and always feel like I am not “fitting in”. Also I light be struggling with some kind of hidden depression, I am very tired but doctors can’t find any problem with me. Would you recommend any book on this matter? I’d love to find the path of “regular self esteem”, confidence…
    Thank you.
    A French reader

  12. 5 January 2017 / 9:42 am

    Adored this post Elizabeth, so personal and true. It’s amazing how spot on imposter syndrome is to the way I feel sometimes yet I’d never made the connection before! x

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