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Me, Myself and I(mposter): Navigating Imposter Syndrome as a Young Female Creative


Absolute's colourist Juliette Wileman on self-doubt, female representation and thinking like a non-imposter

Me, Myself and I(mposter): Navigating Imposter Syndrome as a Young Female Creative

Imposter syndrome, as loosely described by Merriam Webster, is ‘a psychological condition characterised by self-doubt, accompanied by the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of one's ongoing success’.

Originally identified in 1978, imposter feelings are present among both genders, although research has found it’s a more prominent phenomena among women. Of all seniorities. So, if you can relate, don’t worry - you're in good company. Even Michelle Obama opened up about her own struggles whilst talking at a school in North London in 2018. Moreover, a study in 2020 conducted by KPMG found that 75% of female executives have experienced imposter syndrome at some point during their career. In 2021, as we all crept out from the aftermath of lockdown 3.0, searches for ‘imposter syndrome’ soared by 150%. An epidemic indeed.

To make it even more daunting, Dr Valerie Young, co-founder of the Imposter Syndrome Institute, has identified five types of imposter. Yes, five. She has written in depth about each, defining them as; the perfectionist, the expert, the soloist, the natural genius, and the superhuman. You can find out which one you might be here.

I’m sure by now you’re wondering what any of this has to do with me. Truth is, the very thought of giving my opinion on something like this makes me feel like a fraud. It’s a feeling that goes way back. Even as a teenager, I’d find an excuse for my successes, like I had somehow cheated. I felt undeserving, when in reality I had actually worked really hard. 

In my career, those tendencies of self-doubt manifest in other ways. At my first client-attended session, I couldn’t get my head around the fact that these people actually entrusted me to grade their work. Were they sure that was a good idea? What if I did a terrible job and ruined their entire creative vision?! When I was nominated for a Young Arrow last year, the entire nominee list was full of people I aspire to be like. So, I reasoned my inclusion must have been a mistake. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? My accomplishments are on paper, I work hard, and I’m pleased to have clients that return time and time again. So why is there always that whispering voice of self-doubt and of self-sabotage inside my head?

Perhaps a lack of representation has had a part to play. It’s no secret that there is a distinct disparity between females and males in creative roles - although as an industry, we are becoming more diverse, which is fantastic. I’m beyond lucky to have learnt (and to still learn) first-hand from Absolute’s head of colour, Matt Turner, and there are countless women in grading I admire. But I'm still aware of the underrepresentation in my craft – thus, it’s harder for me to benchmark and understand my own success. Women have only been a part of the workforce for one-hundred years or so - so I wonder whether there is a remnant feeling of just being ‘lucky to be here’ amongst many other talented women... but that’s a whole different article!

The good news is: I think I've found a cheat. An acceptable cheat, that is. It’s not about how not to be an imposter. It’s about thinking like a non-imposter. Bear with me, as this sounds a bit mad – it's all in the separation. Think Gollum. There’s ‘colourist Jules’: my alter-ego, who loves grading. She is confident and sociable and outgoing. Crucially, she doesn’t get imposter syndrome. Then there’s ‘Normal Jules’, who will deal with sporadic thoughts of self-doubt later on. Maybe swerve referring to yourself in the third person though...

By the same thread, sometimes I find it useful to just write down any of those intrusive and unhelpful thoughts, leave them in a drawer and come back to them later to see if they actually had any real substance. 99% of the time, they don’t! Even the act of writing it down makes me stop and think about it – is this really something I want to spend my time worrying about?

It’s also about acceptance. Dr Young would label me a perfectionist, so I’ve had to accept that you can’t actually be perfect at something straight away... as much as I would love to be. Those high standards I’ve set for myself might not be as fruitful as they appear; not asking for help to avoid embarrassing could inadvertently slow my team down. 

If I’ve hit a wall with a grade, why would I not go and ask Matt how best to tackle it? If I'm not sure about how best to tackle a workflow, why would I not chat to the guys in MCR to find a solution? Communication is hugely important. It helps to break down the ‘issues’ into something far more manageable. Sometimes, my greatest worries seem so insignificant when I say them out loud. Honestly, give it a go. If the stats are anything to go by, it’s likely the person you're talking to might relate. 

So, let’s start talking about it. Let's start putting logic first, and not letting self-doubt colour our view.

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Absolute, Wed, 08 Mar 2023 09:25:00 GMT