Impostor Syndrome is a bastard. Impostor Syndrome is so much of a bastard that it even makes you think your spelling is off. Messing up your head from the start – not to mention your SEO keyphrase density! (Its Impostor, not imposter – who knew?)

I haven’t written one of these for ages – not since 2020 in the depths of Covid. I don’t know why really. Too busy? Not enough to say? Too many blogs and so much content out there that I wonder whether anyone will read it or be interested in what I have to say. I am helping to produce content for people and so much of it is done through AI (or at least started that way), that you wonder what is the point in writing something with feeling.

That shouldn’t bother me really. I actually enjoy writing. Published author don’t you know – shameless plug for the book – just click here. (there’s my external link – take that Yoast SEO!!). Another book in the works which will be better, more wide reaching and relevant – not just for rabid Liverpool fans.

Maybe I don’t write because I suffer from Impostor Syndrome. That I think people will see me for some kind of fraud or I have nothing worthwhile to say. For those (confident bastards) who don’t seem to experience it, Wikipedia’s full definition is here with the summary paragraph below

Impostor syndrome, also known as impostor phenomenon or impostorism, is a psychological occurrence. Those who have Impostor syndrome may doubt their skills, talents, or accomplishments. They may have a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as frauds. Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon do not believe they deserve their success or luck. They may think that they are deceiving others because they feel as if they are not as intelligent as they outwardly portray themselves to be. Impostor syndrome can stem from and result in strained personal relationships and can hinder people from achieving their full potential in their fields of interest.

I’m sure many of you have experienced Impostor Syndrome. It can be debilitating. For those wracked with self-doubt or with impacted confidence, it can cast a shadow over everything you say or do. What if they don’t believe me? What if they do believe me and I cant do it? What if I’m just making it up? What if I cant do it? What if I get found out?

It’s a horrible feeling to have. The rational me is saying it’s not the case, I’m not an impostor – you have evidence that you can do these things, people who believe that you can do it, people have paid you well to do these things, they have validated the things you have done. But all the time there is a little voice in your head talking fear – ‘I’m the little Impostor Syndrome bastard, and I’m just going to sit quietly muttering and questioning your every move’

Fear is the word. Fear is what jumps out from the Wiki blurb above. Fear of failure. Fear of being found out. Fear of doing a poor job. All fear. All my ‘what if’s…’ above are about fear. At no point am I thinking ‘What if I do the best piece of work ever’.

As I write this, I can feel the stress building as I get closer to pressing ‘Publish’ and fear people will think I’m talking shit – if I actually press it! The Imposter Syndrome is getting to me – should I even be writing about it, second guessing myself.

I don’t know if I have always had this. Its definitely getting worse. I don’t know whether its an age thing, feeling like I’m not moving as fast as the world around me. There have been a couple of things that have changed in the last five years that I think have certainly helped (or not as the case may be)

The first is leaving my ‘proper job’. I have worked for so many different businesses over the years, and all of them well known and well defined consumer brands. Brands that people know. Greenalls, Somerfield, KwikSave, Going Places, Airtours, Fitness First, Orion Cruises, Wedgwood, Waterford, Royal Doulton. I realised this recently when I put all of these in a slide and realised how recognisable they were to the audience. (Until I did a talk to some students recently and realised that none of them really exist anymore – not my fault, honestly!).

These are recognisable brands and when you work for these businesses you are cloaked by them, protected by them. These brands are known, respected, even loved and you are part of that brand and its values. I don’t know whether that is the same for B2B brands, those that are as big but maybe not as well known. But when you work for one of these consumer brands and tell people, it is comforting not to face the follow up question of ‘…and what do they do’.

I could talk about these wonderful brands and their amazing products all day. I could sell them, be an ambassador for them, live them – in whatever role I happened to be in. There were faults, nothing is ever perfect, but you saw past that because you were a part of the whole and your collective job was to be an ambassador for the brand and each other.

But as soon as you take that protective jacket off, you feel exposed, almost naked. This is where Impostor Syndrome strikes. You become the product, you are the brand. And every doubt or crack is suddenly magnified. Doubts and cracks that it is difficult to get past. You begin to wonder whether you can actually do it, was it really you doing these things or was it the collective. The doubts begin to grow, it starts with a niggle at the back of your mind, but quickly expands. Are you getting into something too deep. It can expand to a point where you question everything you previously knew or thought you knew and you become scared to say anything. Fear.

The second thing is a change is personal circumstances, in this case a euphemism for separation and divorce. As I’m sure many of you know, there is nothing like a divorce to question yourself and everything you have been and done for the last 20 years. I’ll leave that there I think!

In both cases, I think the sense of impostorism comes from a lack of external validation and support. That is certainly the case with me. No boss telling me I’m doing a good job, that was more important than salary at times. No team to bounce ideas off and get encouragement from. At home, no partner to offer that love and support in tough times – although I now realise that was always in short supply (Meow – leave it Chris!).

When there is no one externally telling you can do these things and do them well, then you have to do it for yourself and that becomes difficult. You can take a deep breath and walk into rooms and people think you are the most confident person in the world, but it can be a veneer. I guess sometimes the people you meet are a better judge of your skills and experience, unaware of the doubt and fear that can drag you down.

I spoke to an old friend recently and he was incredulous that I was thinking like this and had these doubts, but on further inspection, it turned out he felt the same and has Impostor Syndrome too – and he’s really good at what he does – trust me. It can happen to us all.

Right, thats enough – all getting a bit heavy. There was a reason I was writing this and as ever, it has gone off track. But maybe valuable nonetheless.

Back on track Chris – ecommerce. I was talking to someone the other day about an ecommerce project and I somehow managed to cast enough doubt on my experience that I probably put them off. Long gone are the days (in my protective jacket) where I would just say ‘I can do that’.

I came away and thought about what I had said and revisited some fo the ecommerce projects I have worked on in my working life. There are lots, good and bad.

My time with ecommerce goes back to 1996 (yes, nearly 30 years). My first job. We created the Wine Cellar website. A online offer of the best selection of wine in the UK. In reality, this was an head office run online portal being serviced from the back room of a local wine specialist off licence. It was basic to say the least. But it was great. Most of it run through a courier service, but once we got an order from Singapore requesting a bottle of wine for his mum who lived about three miles from the office. I jumped in the car and we had that bottle in his mums hand in less than 40 minutes. Talk about customer service. The Wine Cellar website won awards in its day.

It allowed me to understand the basics of an ecommerce set up. And essentially that hasn’t changed in the last 30 years, its just that the technology has advanced out of sight allowing you to do so much more in promotion, fulfilment and follow up. At the base its about understanding who your customer is and what they and ensuring their journey is the best possible. And that hasn’t changed for hundreds of years.

Roll forward a few years and I was in Australia with Fitness First. It was a commercial marketing job, but on the first day they asked me to run the website and ecommerce strategy – something that had never been mentioned in any of the interviews. They had a new site that operationally connected all the gyms but needed to turn into a commercial vehicle to drive memberships and revenue. I was given free rein to develop how I saw fit – magic. . Discovered SEO and PPC, introduced a profiling process into the sales process to increase conversion. Hugely successful.

Then the next one, which was an unmitigated fuck up, led by me! But from a fuck up comes learning. Learning how to contract, learning how to brief, learning how to properly manage contractors and agencies. Learning how to identify charlatans who don’t suffer from imposter syndrome but are actually imposters – there are lots of them around!

Those learnings helped when I was involved with the Wedgwood/Waterford website and new ecommerce set up. A huge project, four brands, five territories – effectively 20 websites. I was part of the steering committee for that one, working with outstanding project managers and a team that were wholly committed to the project. Talented people who went on to do amazing things with that website and their own careers.

And then most recently with a client as a ‘part time director’. Being told on my first day that we were 11 months into a 12 week project (yes, you read that right) and discovering that the client and agency had fallen out completely in the process. We sacked the agency and started from scratch. Went through a pitch process, identified a vendor, briefed, constructed and launched a website for a £60m turnover business in about 14 weeks. I was so proud of the people in the team who managed that day -to-day and made it happen.

There are other examples but this is bordering on TLDR (too long didn’t read!). I understand my expertise and my role in these projects. I have no clue about how these things work – those that know me well, understand that am almost IT illiterate and I thank them for their patience. But I bring other things. Analysis, innovation, ideas, customer understanding, strategy. I know I am not going to lead ecommerce projects for large online retailers. But for a mid sized business who is needs an online growth strategy, I know I am a good option.

‘As a generalist marketer, I am not an ecommerce specialist’. It’s the Impostor Syndrome saying that, and unfortunately that was the summary of the conversation I had the other day. That was were it stopped. End of story. What I should have said was ‘As a generalist marketer, I am not an ecommerce specialist, I am so much more’.

Its easy to say believe in yourself, easy to say don’t let the fear get on top of you. Far more difficult to put it into action. I’m not going to tell you how to get over Impostor Syndrome because I don’t know, this was more about sharing my thoughts and maybe helping people to realise that they aren’t the only people who feel that way. If you want ways to beat it, then there so many lists on Google – easy to read, difficult to action.

The thing I have learnt this week is that it’s OK to say you are good at something. Far from being show-offy or arrogant, it actually gives people confidence in you and can make them feel at ease. People are looking for things to believe in and if you believe in yourself, then they will too. They don’t enjoy having to share your Impostor Syndrome angst.

And on that schmaltzy note, I’m done. Hope it was helpful. Please feel free to leave comments or feedback on your experience.

Cheers Chris x

PS – the new James album, ‘Yummy’ has been in my ears while writing this – recommended.

Chris Perkins is an Outsourced Marketing Director, working with clients usually on a part-time basis, to provide marketing leadership, strategy and direction. If you require further help to manage your brand development, marketing strategy and execution, please email chris@oneobjective.co.uk

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