Outsider to Underdog: How to kickass in a world that makes you feel second best

On an average day, who do you talk to the most?

I am certain that should I do a poll, the same few people reflecting the same few relationships would spring to mind for more or less all who are reading this.

Perhaps it’s your best friend who MUST be kept in the loop with all the goings on in your day. Your partner maybe, who has to deal with you venting your frustrations at life every 2.3 seconds. Your mum who you need advice from, because for the third time this week you’re attempting to cook the perfect poached egg but can’t quite remember whether she said it was a good idea to use vinegar in the water or not. Or even your boss, because of course you never have enough free time from work to even contemplate socialising beyond the confines of your very comfy, pillow ridden bed.

What would you say if I told you mine was the voice inside my head?

No, not in a possessed-by-a-demon-ready-to-take-over-the-world kind of way, in more of a Carrie Bradshaw-esque narration of my life.

My inner monologue. My conscience. The little voice that can be both my biggest supporter and my harshest critic. She just so happens to control my confidence dial and has the ability to fluctuate my self-worth drastically between ‘don’t even bother, you’re a not worth it’ to ‘flick your hair again, you absolute queen’, on a daily basis. Isn’t it strange that the tiniest fragment of one’s imagination can dictate exactly what it is you are capable of on that particular day? She is the one that decides on my behalf whether to remain within the rigid, borders-of-endless-height that defines my comfort zone – of which you could fit on one side of a 5 pence piece – or whether for one day, and one day only, I’m going to attempt the great escape to the scary unknowns beyond the perimeters.

I could count on one hand the amount of times I’ve ventured out of said perimeters, but each time stands tall and proud in my memory as a mini battle that I fought hard to win. What also stands alongside the memory, like a very dark and very grey cloud, is the feeling I had in each instant of ‘WHY THE HELL AM I HERE?’ Surely I didn’t really belong in any of those situations, especially since every person I was surrounded by was successful, stable and seriously confident in both their style and demeanour?

One instance was my very first attempt at networking – it was in a tiny room that forced everybody together, so if you didn’t immediately initiate some keen conversation and extravagant self-promotion you’d stick out like a sore thumb. I was the sore thumb. Luckily as quickly as I’d hurried into the empty, lone chair in the corner, somebody had already beckoned me to come and join their conversation and of course, asked me to tell them about myself and why I was there.

To this very day, my skin begins to completely crawl away from my body if ever I have to talk about or sell myself. This is when the voice in my head really takes the reigns, reminding me not to let anybody notice that I’m a complete fraud, and in no way deserve to be in that room convincing people of my expertise. Maybe if I talk slowly so they can’t hear the slight nervous quiver to my voice or drop a few superlatives here and there to really hammer the point that I am in fact as successful and as capable as they are. And certainly, whatever you do, DON’T TRIP UP ON YOUR WORDS… then they’ll really know you don’t deserve to be here because I am damn certain that no one in this room has ever made a mistake in their life!!! What didn’t help my cause was the fact that every other woman in that room was older than me – which of course I instantly believed directly correlated with how experienced and established they were both in situations like this and life in general.

It isn’t necessarily a feeling of nerves – nerves I can overcome. Of course anxiety is a contributor, but the real catalyst is my feeling of not being good enough. Not deserving to be there. This is more often than not, exactly how I feel entering new, professional situations. I honestly believe that I could be hailed an expert in my field, have honours from the queen and a million people believing my words as gospel, and I’d still feel fraudulent. As though I somehow don’t really deserve any advantage and have only obtained said advantages through sheer luck. As though I could be doing much better than I am.

Yes, some degree of reasoning can be put on my age and naivety, and maybe there’s faith that as I develop as a person these feelings will evaporate and instead I will ooze self-assurance (I wish), just like the other women in that room. But if that’s the case, my questions is… why do you have to spend so many of your younger years feeling like an outsider? And how on earth do you create a mindset that can break free of this feeling?

Deep down, I know I am capable, I know I have achieved and can achieve some more but I invest so much of my time willing myself to feel different and better about myself. To stop feeling like an outsider and start feeling like an underdog.

The idea of feeling out of your depth in a professional capacity, is better known as Imposter Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome is a feeling whereby an individual feels like a fraud in professional situations, and rather than believing their own achievements and merit have got them to where they are, they tend to think it was sheer luck and coincidence – this convinces them that they don’t actually deserve opportunities in the same way that other people do.

For me, it’s a sheer panic that the people around me are going to suddenly realise that I actually have no idea what I’m doing. Women tend to be more susceptible to Imposter Syndrome than men which could largely be down to gendered stereotypes reinforcing the ideal that women should employ modesty in their everyday life and be coy about their achievements, and men should be confident in their approach. There’s an inherent guilt attached to Imposter Syndrome which sees the sufferer play down there achievements since they don’t necessarily believe that they are deserving of them – which is a classic female characteristic used to enable them to come across as a down-to-earth girl-next-door, favourable qualities for women to possess which enhance their ability to form relationships (or so we are told).

Imposter Syndrome has plagued what could’ve been some of my best opportunities because it has prevented me from putting myself out there for fear of people confirming what my inner voice tells me to be true. That I don’t deserve my successes. Regardless of my academic record, my accolades or my support network willing me to seize the day, I really struggle sometimes to find the confidence to do that. I would best describe myself as an Extroverted Introvert – I’m so good at painting on the façade of self-assurance in situations where I need to portray myself as professional and knowledgeable, that my introverted soul then heavily assesses myself in the aftermath to judge exactly whether I fooled the crowd or not.

I play down my successes, I can’t take compliments and in general, I find it incredibly difficult to talk about myself and bask in any of my glory. I’ve previously missed out on events because I haven’t felt confident enough to throw myself in at the deep end and hold my own. I realise now though I need to change that.

It’s difficult that even when you succeed in some aspects of your life, you can still have an innate pressure pushing you down, even in your brightest moments, reminding you that some element of your inner being still thinks you need to prove yourself. But who exactly am I proving myself to? It’s certainly not the people standing behind me, willing me to succeed every day. It’s me. I am the one that needs convincing that in fact I am allowed to believe in myself and celebrate my daily wins without being punished for it.

Imposter Syndrome is prevalent across industries with people of all backgrounds struggling to find the confidence to truly believe in their own abilities. People are made to feel like outsiders because they can’t fathom the fact that they themselves are worth backing. That they themselves are worth celebrating. That they should have confidence in all they do, because they do it pretty damn well. Seeing yourself as an imposter in professional settings only negatively impacts both self-worth and first impressions. But how do we change this and turn our outsider status on its head?

We all need to take a moment to realise that we have special qualities that the people sat next to us don’t, and they have strengths that we’re yet to tap into too. And that’s okay. Difference is what makes the world go round. Diversity, in all forms including skill sets, is important for an economically strong society. We should be proud of comparing our differences, it means that everybody you meet can teach you new things and if life is about anything, it’s learning. So learn to appreciate what makes you stand out like a sore thumb, and use it to impress!

Mindset is all about perspective. And your perspective can heavily impact your self-worth. So, it is beyond time to transition your self-appointed ‘OUTSIDER’ status when you feel that you don’t belong. Instead, think of yourself as the ‘UNDERDOG’, the dark horse, the one to watch. The person that’s learning, and growing, and changing. The person who doesn’t need to worry about their success coming to fruition because they are too busy going out into the world and cultivating it. The person who stops comparing their achievements to everybody else’s. The person that slays like no one is watching.

After all, the only person you should ever compete with, is the person you were yesterday.

I hereby declare that from now on, I will do everything in my power to quash the little voice in my head when she tells me I am not good enough, I will instead remind myself every day that I am worthy, I am confident and I am on my way to the top. The best is most definitely yet to come…

Over and out.