I'm starting from the beginning, back when, 5 years ago I decided to start my own business - these are my why's and wherefore's. Hopefully, by getting a glimpse into my story, you'll pick up a few ideas and discard any bad ones. I'll be posting these little gems of historical significance over the next few weeks, and with some occasional deviations along the way into other copywriting topics. No book recs today, but links to some recommended reading at the end.
Today, we're looking at shaky starts, imposter syndrome and building confidence....
So after a somewhat shaky start, I started looking for more clients while slowly trying to build up confidence. Lots of cold emailing, lots of cheery phone calls to people I’d never met, which took a lot of courage, especially from someone so shy. It's easy to assume that copywriters are a confident bunch of people, and of course it pays to be confident, but something tells me that a lot of copywriters, if not all of them, are as shy as I am.
That’s why you write in a room by yourself with nothing but music and possibly a cat or two for company, right?
In the early days I tried to reach out locally, but living in an area that doesn’t really facilitate the kind of work I was looking for, I soon realised that the high paying clients, weren’t going to be on my doorstep. So the internet become my full-time employer. Again, it takes courage because, even while I was writing those cold emails and talking the talk on the phone, inside I was cringing. I still do sometimes. But there are times when you have to do what’s needed, and as long as there’s no sweaty handshakes and awkward eye contact I’m reasonably happy.
I really do believe that I suffered from imposter syndrome, and I still do to a certain extent. When I say imposter syndrome, I don’t mean wearing a false moustache in Tesco’s standing next to the mediterranean oils just to add some excitement to the tedium of life, or dressing up as a French gendarme one day and a circus clown the next while giving the finger to a traffic warden.
No sireee, I’m talking about that awful phenomenon where you’re constantly doubting yourself, second guessing everything you do, and it’s not just for those who really do believe they don’t measure up for whatever reason, it’s something that high achievers, the A grade students, or the super successful people get too. It’s about that awful feeling inside that you’ll never make the grade, that you’re pretending to be something you’re not, that really, something’s about to blow and everyone will see you for the great big stinking fake you really are.
Is imposter syndrome a girl thing?
Ever heard of Dr Pauline Clance? Well both Dr Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes came up with the CLANCE IMPOSTOR PHENOMENON SCALE (CIPS) SCORING in the '70s after experiencing feelings like this for many years during grad school, so they both came up with a questionnaire aimed at women. They believed that women were more predisposed to imposter syndrome than men because of ‘societal expectations,’ so they came up with a scale to help identify it.
“I saw these people who had gone to the best schools, often private schools, had highly educated parents and excellent standardized test scores, grades, and letters of recommendation,” Clance later recalled. “But here they were, saying things like, ‘I’m afraid I’m going to flunk this exam.’ ‘Somehow the admissions committee made an error.’ … ‘I’m an Oberlin mistake.’
Thing is once you think you have it, what can you do about it? And are women, such as myself and you even (yes you, sitting there in your stripey pjs), perhaps more inclined to get it? In my opinion I think that men often feel like imposters too, but perhaps unlike women they don’t verbalise their fears in the same way. Dr Clancy certainly agreed with that argument: “I think women are more likely to say some of their doubts and fears, and there’s more cultural pressure on men not to do so,”
But what do you do about it? I must admit felt I was wearing the Emperor’s new clothes for the longest time, yet as I’ve become more experienced I’ve felt it less. The conclusion I've drawn is that the more experienced you become, the more wisdom you gain from mistakes, and the more you learn along the way the less you feel like an imposter, and more like a seasoned pro, it won’t necessarily disappear, but you won’t feel it anywhere near as much as you do now.
Proven experience and results for your efforts are all evidence of your capability and talent, it doesn’t matter what the person next to you is doing, as long as you’re happy with what you’ve achieved, and comparing yourself to others is not helpful.
In her Slate article on Imposter Syndrome back in April 2016, L.V. Anderson argued that -
“.........everyone who’s successful owes some of their success to luck. Most people have a hard time accepting compliments. And there’s an even chance that most of the people around you really are more intelligent than you are—and a better than even chance that they know more than you do about certain topics.” but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be more successful than you, especially if a lot of the time it’s down to luck - and an awful lot of hard work.
she does go on to say that….”moderate impostorism might just be a sign that you’re a normal, mildly insecure, conscientious person.”
Most of us are normal, mildly insecure and conscientious, and the more you persevere, the better you’ll get and the better you’ll get, the more successful you’ll become in the end. Just remind yourself that every single person next to you is probably feeling exactly the same way - it’s all smoke and mirrors. You’re looking for substance over style, concrete skills and an innate ability to understand your client’s needs, that is what will see you through…..and maybe a little luck.
Building confidence sends the imposter away
I often feel I’m lacking in confidence, and if you know me well, you’ll probably be nodding your head enthusiastically in agreement. It has often held me back, and that’s almost harder to shake off than imposter syndrome, although no doubt it’s part and parcel of the same thing. Is it a sign of perfectionism, that nothing I do is ever good enough till it’s perfect? I’m not sure, and I’m rather afraid that it sounds a tad pretentious.
I once read a blog on the 5 reasons why you might be lacking in confidence. And they were - 1. Constantly giving reasons for your actions, 2. Immediately responding to criticism, and 3. Compensation, which is constantly trying to compensate for your suspected inadequacies, 4 Body language - arm folding and crossing your legs and finally 5 Perfectionism - (aha!!) I ticked yes for all of them. Do you? Are you nodding your head vigorously after reading this?
How can you rectify it, because apparently a lack of confidence isn’t going to help your business on the road to success. All it will do is add stress and misery to your efforts. Confidence isn’t inherited however, so there’s still hope, and there’s something we can do about…..
An immediate solution is to eliminate your dependency on the opinion of others. But that’s useless..right? Because your job is all about the opinions of others, the opinions of whether an agency thinks you’re good enough to hire, the opinions of a client on the work you’ve handed in as your final draft, of course opinions matter, so eliminating them and adopting a devil-may-care attitude won’t work.
Perhaps it’s better to eliminate your dependency on the judgement of others? But does that work any better? Well, no because clients, potential agencies you might work with will judge your work, and use it measure your skills as a writer.
It all seems like an uphill struggle doesn’t it? Like pushing shit uphill, perhaps it would be better to get a job in a supermarket and forget this whole damn thing.
But wait a minute, just because we lack confidence doesn’t mean we should be written off. We still have so much to give, as much as the next person - so we have to build that confidence muscle.
So this is what I do, I work hard to eliminate my dependency on confusing the judgement and opinions on my work with my own self-worth, because these are two entirely different things. No one is judging or offering an opinion on how good I am as a human being, no one is offering an opinion on my personality or my personal qualities - just my work. And never the twain shall meet. Rejection isn’t personal, it never is, although it’s easy to get them both confused.
Learn to accept your mistakes and have more confidence in your strengths, skills and abilities, and only then will you start to be less critical of yourself, because we all start out feeling that way, and no matter how wonderful other copywriters or self-employed people in general might appear, take away the filters and the bravado and the trumpet blowing, and they’re just like you and I.
You can do this. Because I did.