My Battle with Imposter Syndrome

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Greg’s note: This is a guest post by Henry Searle, our co-head of Next Jump’s UK office.  His post speaks to the power and impact of creating an environment of authenticity.


I’ve been working at Next Jump for 3 and a half years. 9 months ago, at the age of 26, I was humbled to have been voted by my peers on onto our 21 person leadership team (MV21). However what should have been excitement, was overridden by fear.

I didn’t feel ready. In fact, I wasn’t even sure why I had been voted on in the first place and deep down I was worried everyone else would also realize I wasn’t ready. I’ve later come to learn this is known as “Imposter Syndrome” and I am not alone with these feelings. Insecurity (in my case, of not being accepted) holds many leaders back from fulfilling their potential.

So shortly after being voted into leadership, I’m in my first strategy meeting. I sit nervously watching everyone else ask questions and comment. I have questions jotted down, but I’m too worried about what others will think of my questions to ask them. I don’t speak up for the whole 2 hour meeting and leave thinking “I’ll ask questions next time”. I did this for the first 5 consecutive leadership meetings.

At Next Jump, we have ten minutes left at the end of meetings to give each other feedback on a mobile app. Below are some of comments left by my peers. ‘Does not meet expectations: Did you speak up at all?’ – hiding my point of view was clear for everyone to see.

henry comments

I read this and wanted to change. But unfortunately it’s not that easy. Willpower alone wasn’t enough to make me speak up. In the next two meetings the feeling is even worse, now I feel like everyone is watching and waiting. I continue receiving the same feedback in the app, from my peers, my coach. Receiving such consistent feedback wasn’t easy, I got fed up and frustrated with myself. Why am I so worried about voicing a point of view?

I went home that night and really started reflecting deeper. Suddenly I started seeing how this has affected me in other areas of my life. For instance, when I’m with friends I never brought up topics or my own express opinions, I just built off what others were saying.

I then started to realize that it’s not just a problem at work. It’s affecting me everywhere. I started to reflect more, particularly on the relationship I have with my parents.

Growing up, I was accepted in every way by my parents, except in one area. I came out to my parents as gay when I was 16. We lived in a small rural town and my parents had a very tradition upbringing. They didn’t understand what it meant, they didn’t have anyone to speak to about it, and they didn’t accept it.

I vividly remember sitting in the car with my Dad after I came out. For the first ten minutes, I tried to tell my side; to help him understand what it meant, that it wasn’t a bad thing. I realized very quickly that he wasn’t going to accept it, I knew he wasn’t listening to me so I stopped speaking. I just sat and listened. We were parked up outside of the house for another hour where I sat in silence while he told me why being gay was a ‘bad decision’.

Over the next few years, this became the norm for me, every conversation went the same way: I would sit in silence while my Dad told me that being gay was ‘the wrong decision’. This led to a very unhealthy relationship between us, we effectively stopped talking for a few years because that was easier. I don’t blame my dad, he came from a time when being gay meant you had a difficult life in a lot of different ways and he didn’t want that for me.

But the lesson I took from this experience growing up was that if I speak up and say what I’m thinking, I will not be accepted. I took this lesson in all aspects of my adult life, at work, with friends, and with my family.

Fast forward to work, I knew I had to start changing this internal narrative. I started to look online for people who had gone through similar experiences, and I found a TED Talk by Andrew Solomon called ‘Love no matter what’. He starts the talk by reading a quote from TIME magazine in 1966, the article says that homosexuality is a disease not worth curing. He compares that article to now, where gay marriage is legal and asks a simple question: how did we get from there to here? Watching the video I answer out loud: because so many people spoke up for they believed to be true and right.

Suddenly I’m in tears, I realize how many people sacrificed and spoke up for what they believed so I can live the life I do now. For me to be in work meeting not speaking up, is such a huge disservice to all those who sacrificed before me. This has become the driving force for me to change my narrative and speak up in all aspects of my life.

I know that I’m fortunate to work in an environment like Next Jump where feedback is baked into our culture, and I’m surrounded by people who help support my growth. That means people who will give the uncomfortable truths, not comfortable lies.

Here’s some practical advice, which might help when receiving feedback:

  1. Recognize that there’s always grains of truth when hearing difficult feedback.
  2. Understanding the root cause; In my case – it was the realization that the reason I wasn’t speaking up is because I was looking for acceptance from others
  3. Reflecting on the origin; what were the situations in your upbringing which helped forge the wrong narratives?
  4. Finding the drive to change that narrative

I’ve just gotten started but some of the things I’ve done which have helped so far:

  1. Investing in 1 person I trust and can say anything to about home or work. It feels uncomfortable but getting the ‘I’m not good enough’ and insecurities out helps met get out of my own head.
  2. Practice being the first to speak up (in meetings, with friends). This is difficult and feels very vulnerable, putting your own opinion out rather than building on others. But the more I’ve done it, the more natural and less scary it seems.
  3. Telling others about my story. This was hard at first, but each time I share my story it becomes easier to voice, and reinforces why I want change.

To be clear, this hasn’t been an easy journey. But I have found that through practicing consistently, I’m starting to see the rewards in all areas of my life. Outside of work, I’ve built deeper, more meaningful friendships and a much stronger relationship with my parents. I’ve learnt that the battle with imposter syndrome is a difficult, but when you’re committed to change, the battle is worth it.

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