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imposter syndrome

A few weeks ago, I was asked to give a presentation to Female Founders at an International Women's Day event at a well-known university (for clarity, not the one I do a lot of work with). They even wanted to pay me.

They'd seen my content, they said, and they thought that I could be perfect for the event.

Having spent months last year creating practical, tactical, affordable guides for how any entrepreneur can build the most efficient and effective business possible and have the best chance at living their dreams in a tough market, I was excited to teach aspiring young women how to create a lean business and learn to survive in a world that refuses to re-invest the vast spoils of our hard labour back into us.

Ah, if only.

They wanted me to talk about Imposter Syndrome and share some tips for women on what they can do to overcome it... What THEY can do.

Let me say it clearly for all the people in the back: how we feel, every day, about our capabilities and capacities isn't simply a syndrome that we need to overcome. It isn't something broken inside us that's all our fault for not being good enough. We're not avoiding our weaknesses, or reading the wrong books, and we don't need to go to a £1,000 yoga retreat and get in touch with our inner whatever to fix what's broken inside.

It isn't broken inside. It's broken outside.

Feeling like you're not good enough is a natural consequence of a world that tells you that you're not good enough. Feeling unsure about what steps you should be taking is a natural consequence of a world that encourages you to take steps and then punishes you for doing just that. Feeling like you don't deserve your success is a natural consequence of a world that tells you it's your responsibility to make other people happy, never yourself.

Every day the ground is shifting and the goals are changing and we keep trying and wishing and hoping for a way to exist in a world that seems to both fear and despise us at the same time.

imposter syndrome

First, we needed to be 'sugar and spice and all things nice'. We learned that pink and frills and bows belonged to us and that it was our responsibility to look pretty to make other people happy.

But then, we learned that pink, and frills, and bows were too 'girly' and that we should look down on them and on the girls that wore them. We learned that it was our responsibility to make other people happy by trying not to look too pretty.

Next, we needed to 'set an example for the boys' and model perfect behaviour because it was our responsibility to make other people happy by being perfect.

But then we learned that our good grades and perfect behaviour were making the boys 'feel bad' and we needed to take up less space at the top of the class because it was our responsibility to make other people happy by not being too perfect.

Then we learned that being 'one of the lads' and throwing back pints at a strip club on a work night out was a 'radical act of feminism' and that the news written on page one was, naturally, best delivered alongside tits on page three. It was our responsibility to make other people happy by 'flaunting our curves' and being 'up for the banter'.

But then we learned that getting assaulted when we happened to have been drinking alcohol was our fault and we should cover up and 'leave something to the imagination' because it was our responsibility to make other people happy by protecting men from us and how we trigger their helpless needs.

Then we learned that it was all ok, feminism had fixed everything and we could be anything that we wanted to be and that striving and wanting and achieving were good because it was our responsibility to make other people happy by being 'girl bosses' and burning ourselves into the ground trying to be perfect at it.

Then we learned that we were denying our most natural instincts and that clocks were ticking and babies needed to be made because it was our responsibility to make people happy by having the perfect, organic, instagram-able family.

We kept quiet and took the notes in meetings and said 'sorry, can I just...' before every sentence and smiled when our ideas were passed-off as someone else's. We learned not to take a step without thinking it through 15 times because we could never be sure how it would land. We planned the parties and remembered the birthdays and filled the fridges and decorated the houses and always knew where the scissors were (and not just because the bloody scissors have never moved from where the scissors always are and they can be found just by looking for them in the place where they always are).

We proof-read each others emails and deleted and added exclamation marks and smiley faces until we were frozen in place. We accepted the fact that 'male' jobs, like 'CEO' and 'Doctor', just naturally higher-paid than 'female' jobs, like 'female CEO' and 'female Doctor'.

We watched movie studios and record labels promote their offerings as things we should love and saw them make millions from our sales but, of course, we understood that they could never acknowledge that something that appealed to women could be both a critical and commercial success.

We learned about International Women's Day and where to order the best green and purple cupcakes and how to smile and say 'I think it's sometime in November? Haha.' every time someone asked us when International Men's Day was.

So, no, after decades of us twisting ourselves into knots and starving ourselves into more desirable shapes for expectations that never made sense and never stayed in place, I don't think we all have a syndrome that we can fix if we just spend a bit more money on tickets to events.

What we have is a painfully abusive relationship with society.

p.s. The University ghosted me after I sent my proposal for the talk and it didn't live up to their expectations for what women should be grateful to receive.

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