Unemployed Imposter Syndrome

A few things have left me feeling incompetent this week. In terms of intelligence, capability, experience or knowledge – feeling like you’re not good enough is not a comfortable state to be in.

I’ve always thought that naivety and curiosity could outweigh any intellectual shortcomings, however as I face the run-up to another birthday the comfort of this is starting to wear thin. 

I’ve spent a few days this week working on an article pitch for a publication that I fear is out of my league, which is a great way to go if you want to doubt your abilities. While trying to think of an amazing article idea that would be impossible to turn down, a certain feeling came back to me from many years ago. 

When I was in school and aged around 12-15 years old, Sundays were reserved for homework (and cleaning up guinea pig poo, which was the more enjoyable part of the day). I remember being stuck in the dining room with pens, pencils, highlighters and textbooks strewn across the vast table top. The volume of stationery, however, never did correlate to how easy the work was.

I’d sit there with my maths homework, which I’d always leave until last, and sit for hours staring longingly at a secondhand Steinbach piano and listing to the muffled sounds of Sunday dinner being lovingly prepared through the wall. 

No matter how long I sat there, I could rarely understand what was being asked of me – triangles, circles, algebra, all that really useful stuff we use in day-to-day adult life –  and I’d get so frustrated and angry at myself that I’d cry.

But it wasn’t just a few self-pitying tears to fill my eyes. I’d turn into a screaming, bright red, inconsolable monster who wanted to tear up everything in sight. I knew that nothing frustrated me more than feeling inferior, feeling like there was something I couldn’t understand.

This week has taken me straight back to that feeling, except this time my dad isn't here to run in and disarm the situation with a calculator. And even if he was, I don't have much use for a calculator except to throw at my laptop, because of course, it's my laptop's fault I'm stupid. I haven’t quite resorted to tears this time, but it’s the same feeling of frustration at my own limitations. 

It feels like such a childish trait to have, yet I find it happening rather frequently in my twenties. There’s a lot of coverage at the moment of women not being confident enough, not feeling able to speak up, or not feeling able to go after their ambitions. But my wave of self-doubt has nothing to do with being a woman. It isn’t about self-esteem, problems with my body image, or lack of confidence. It’s nothing society has done to imply I’m not good enough because of my gender.

What I've felt could be compared to imposter syndrome, which is the feeling that you're a fraud and not good enough to be in the job you’re in. I'm afraid I'm not good enough in comparison to others my age, and my own idea of how I'd like to be and the job I'd like to have.

Today is the first day of My Birthday Month, however, so in an effort to rid these unhelpful feelings in the spirit of growing old gracefully, here is a list of things that make me feel better about myself, for you to refer to if you find yourself in a similar situation. 

Things That Will Make You Feel Better About Yourself

  • Watch Made in Chelsea. If you can bear to watch the likes of X Factor or I'm a Celebrity, even better - just something to make you feel worse about the rest of the human race and therefore better about yourself. 
  • If applicable, look back through work you did a few years ago, and hopefully you'll see that you can't possibly be as crap now as you were then.
  • Spend five minutes reading the news to see what stupid things people have done today. Or better yet, skip straight to this.
  • Sit in a public space outside a fast food restaurant, preferably facing its door, and eat a salad while maintaining eye contact with everyone who walks out of the door.
  • If there's anyone you look up to, find out at what age they became successful in what they do. Every night I fall asleep repeating 'Haruki Murakami didn't start writing until he was 29 ' in my head. 


  1. Jess, a well-written blog post as usual. When writing about personal issues, it is difficult to strike a balance between honesty and problem-solving without sounding miserable. I really enjoyed reading your 'to do' list. Likewise, I lack confidence and was discussing this with my Grandma (whom I'm very close to). She's 71, likely nearing the end of her clean-living life of virtue and she told me that her one regret is not being confident enough, something that still holds her back. You may be reaching another birthday, but you have plenty of time to let every success you do have build you up. :)

  2. I know Impostor Syndrome all too well. Every single job I've ever had I was not qualified for, but somehow everyone thought I was one of the best there. If you don't know it, fake it, right? And as for those tips making me feel better, that's a double edged sword. Sure, Haruki Murakami didn't start writing until he was 29, but he also didn't start writing in a world where Oxford was asking itself, "Hmmm, should we add twerk or selfie to the dictionary this year?"

    1. That is a very good point! I give up. And it's good to know there's a fellow imposter around!

  3. I don't think it's part of being a woman. I think it's part of being this generation; previous ones fell into things and let life lead them and us...we are told we can do anything if we work hard enough but the choice is overwhelming & the opportunities fewer the more purses get snapped shut. So there's no way to "try before you buy' and if your choice isn't good enough more time and effort goes into changing the choice-that's been my problem anyway. A whole world of possibility and due to lack of decision I've been mediocre in all of them except the one that I truly want.
    I love your to-do list and I love your attitude: make yourself feel better. Your dad should be proud of the tools he's given you.
    We are too driven by happiness and what we have to lose that we might end up missing it. Forget your fear, do your best and run with it. When all is said and done, your opinion of you is the one you remember when you're old and up at 5 am making tea...make sure you're proud of you.
    Dawn x

    1. Thank you for your comment and kind words Dawn :) x

  4. I really really loved this so much and could relate to each and every word. Whilst you seem to doubt your own abilities and worry that you are not as competent as others (which i find myself doing ALL the time), remember how brave it is to aim above what you think you can do. If you never push yourself you will never improve - at anything, work or otherwise. It takes a strong person to do that, even if you may think it is nothing. And one day, your writing will be seen by someone who was once in your shoes (everyone has to start somewhere) and they will see what a beautiful way you have with words and recognise the potential buried inside your pretty little head.

    I promise xxxxxx

  5. I just found your blog after you commented on my Word of the Week post and I'm so glad I had a gander - your writing is brilliant.
    It's not often that blogs with few pictures hold my attention (i feel like a child, I need photos and colourful things to stay focused) but this post was the first thing I saw when I came onto your page and I read it right to the end - a sign that you are in fact very good at what you do.
    So, I hope that makes you feel better - you are always better than you think. I know exactly how you feel, and it's refreshing to see someone write a blog post about it. The way I think about it is, the extent to which you care about something, are passionate about it, or put effort in even if it ends in tears and frustration, proves that you are not as bad as you think. Because even if you don't produce something 100% perfect, it's certainly better than something you might have written if you didn't even care about it!
    Naomi xo

    1. Aw thank you Naomi, your comment has made me very happy! Visceral, even ;) haha I'm so the same with pictures, I panicked with this post because I couldn't find a relevant photo to upload with it! And thank you for the advice, it's very true! I guess if you care enough to worry you're not good enough at something, you're probably already better than you think :)

  6. I related to this post so much. I am constantly feeling that I'm incompetent at various things that I encounter, particularly as I get older and am supposed to suddenly become a 'capable adult'; but, annoyingly, when I really think about it I usually find that this incompetence is simply borne out of my own insecurities and not because anyone else goes out of their way to make me feel inferior.
    I think that we are always our own worst enemy and if we asked anyone else, they'd be far too busy worrying about themselves and their own incompetence to have even started considering ours. I guess it's a comfort in a way!
    Basically, even if you feel a bit incompetent at work at the moment, you may as well try your hardest to pretend you're not feeling that way; because, likelihood is, no one else has even noticed!

    Anyway, I'm so glad you wrote to me on twitter and I found your blog because I really really like it. I've been wanting to find someone who just writes PROPERLY for ages and I feel like I've finally found it.

    Looking forward to reading more!

    P.s. Totally sticking that Things That Will Make You Feel Better About Yourself list on my wall and doing the salad at McDonalds thing ASAP. Hilarious.

    1. Aw thank you Daisy. I think this is the most comprehensive comment I've ever had on my blog!

      I often try and remember what you said about others not even noticing - everyone else is too busy being concerned about themselves and what others might think of them, just as we are! x