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I was nineteen when I had the idea to create SICK, a magazine where all the contributors would be chronically ill and disabled people. At the time (I was in my second year of university), I imagined this would be years away. I saw myself doing an internship or two before graduating, and finding a remote or part-time job after that, gaining a few years of experience before working on the magazine. I soon realised that there weren’t many remote or part-time writing jobs, and that there were even fewer once I moved outside of London. My first year out of university was spent working part-time at a pub and trying to freelance, feeling dejected and unmotivated. Eventually, I decided that the time to create the magazine I had been dreaming about for two and half years was now.
I read books, how-to’s, emailed other magazine-makers, studied every page of every magazine I own, created moodboards, sketched logos and layouts, made a budget, and freaked out a few times. Once I started speaking to other people about it — first an illustrator, then a website designer, then a graphic designer — I felt an idea I had in my bedroom blossoming into a real thing, and it was scary. I was inviting other people into this space of mine, and I felt an increasingly heavy pressure not to fail. A project that felt so personal and very much mine was going out into the world, for other people to form opinions about, and the weight of that on my shoulders made me nervous.
I quickly began to question what I was doing, and if I should even be allowed to do it. I was telling people what I wanted, when I wanted it done by, and questioned if I had any right to be telling them anything at all. My days would be consumed with work, but in the evening, I would wonder if I was making a fool of myself. Was everyone laughing at me, thinking I had no right to start a business on my own, and that my idea was terrible anyway? I had heard of Imposter Syndrome before, but for the first time, I began to understand how consuming it could be.
Imposter Syndrome is described as a combination of persistent doubts and anxiety, and an inability to recognise your success. It was first identified in 1978 and was believed to only affect women, although research has now shown it can affect men too, but on a smaller scale. A recent study has shown that 66 percent of women have suffered from Imposter Syndrome, compared to 56 percent of men in the UK. Other research has shown that 60 percent of women who have considered starting a business didn’t, due to a lack of confidence. It’s no surprise that only one-fifth of UK businesses are run by women – for years, we’ve been told that it’s not our place to be. Could I really fit in into a world that can feel so elite while working in a pub to support my career?
Living in a society where men are more likely to be business owners, bosses, and managers, it can be daunting to try to pursue a similar role as a woman. Most people I reached out to for advice – a business advisor, bank manager, editors – were men who seemed confident in not only their job, but also in giving advice and support that reflected their experience. None of these men told me I might doubt myself daily, question my ability to do just about anything, and require constant reassurance from friends and family – perhaps because this wasn’t their experience.
Jenna Birch talks about her own experience of Imposter Syndrome in ManRepeller, and how women are more hesitant to embrace success the same way many men do. “Success may feel deeply uncomfortable, especially for women,” she explains. “Conflicting messages – to pursue success, but not too much of it – can lead us to undervalue our own voice and power. Women may be more prone to feeling like frauds as we climb ladders or achieve markers of success.” While I felt encouraged by other women, especially those who have created successful publications, I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I was in over my head. I didn’t want this feeling to stop me from enjoying the work I was doing and appreciating the process of creation.
Having lived with a chronic illness for over ten years, it’s clear that this has also contributed to these feelings of question and doubt, because I literally don’t know what I’m capable of until I do it — and some days, weeks, or even years, I’m more capable than others. When I started working on SICK, I was working 16 hours a week at a pub that was a three-minute walk from my house, working no longer than six hours at a time. My week revolved around these hours, making sure I didn’t go for too long of a walk before a shift or heading to bed early when I had a noon start time.
Throwing a new project into the mix made me scared that this would affect my ability to work the same hours – am I being an idiot, expecting too much of myself? Am I going to ruin the routine I have been really proud of maintaining by pushing myself too hard? Living with chronic illness is constantly trying to maintain a healthy balance that doesn’t worsen my condition, but that I’m still able to get joy out of, which can be tricky, emotionally draining, and often impossible.
However, I also knew from previous experience that I could surprise myself and successfully do things I wanted to do. Not only that, but I could do them well, be proud, and celebrate myself. I didn’t want a misogynistic voice of question in my head to stop me from pursuing a project that I believe in — one that aims to provide freelance opportunities to marginalised groups. I couldn’t stop the voice from appearing in my head daily, but I was able to mostly disregard it. I still question myself – how can I call myself an editor with very little experience of actually editing? – and then I carry on adding comments and suggestions in google docs, to prove that voice wrong.
For me, the best way to deal with Imposter Syndrome is to acknowledge it instead of trying to ignore it, and label the fears and questions as irrational. I know that these thoughts won’t simply go away, so I let them have their little bit of space in my mind before I carry on pursuing what I’m passionate about. Sometimes the responsibility falls on myself for a cheesy pep-talk, and other times, I reach out to someone from my support group of friends and family who always encourage me, while understanding my worries. Megan Dalla-Camina, an author focusing on women, leadership, and wellbeing, recommends voicing your fears to a mentor or peer group in order to normalise your feelings, as well as writing down a list of achievements, skills and successes “to demonstrate that [you] really do have concrete value to share with the world.”
My biggest fear while making SICK was that I was too young to do a good job. I felt like I should have more experience interning and working at magazines, learning about printing and distribution, money and planning, and becoming a better writer. But when opportunities are extremely limited due to my unpredictable illness and employers not offering flexible or inclusive work environments, I found myself excluded from the workforce, alongside many other chronically ill and disabled people. If I’m in a position where I can attempt to change this, in however small a way, I think it would be a shame not to.
Yomi Adegoke wrote about women and Imposter Syndrome in The Guardian, explaining: “It is crucial to remember that women are not born feeling less-than. But if you are continually treated as though you are, you eventually internalise it. Imposter syndrome is the logical outcome of a world that was never designed for women to be successful.” This feeling of ‘less-than’ is so ingrained in women’s lives and society, it makes me even more determined to show that I’m able to create something on my own and do an excellent job of it. Sure, many entrepreneurs don’t have years of experience, but I’m also passionate about creating a space for the voices of chronically ill and disabled people. I’m capable of doing the best I can, so that’s what I’m going to do – with my little friend Imposter Syndrome lingering behind the scenes.
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