It is a sunny July afternoon in 2004, and I’m sitting at a pre-race briefing for an ironman-distance triathlon I’m racing the following day. I’ve spent months training for this, but I’m having nagging doubts about my ability, I’m asking myself if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, I’m looking at the other competitors at the briefing, and I am thinking you look a lot fitter than I do.
It is a June evening in 2007, I’m in Belgium two days before the European Long-Distance Triathlon Championships as part of the GB age-group team and I am sitting in the restaurant of the hotel. On the next table are some of the GB elite team. I start to have similar doubts again around being good enough, my ability, and being good enough to be in the team, even though the race results from the previous 18 months are screaming YES, MORE THAN GOOD ENOUGH. I want to go back to my hotel room, pack my bag and head back to the airport.
It is a March morning in 2019, and I’m sitting in a meeting with the new team I’ve joined in work. I recognise quite a few faces, talented people within the team. I’d worked hard to get the opportunity to join this team and had really impressed at the interview. I feel out of my depth, and I am asking myself whether I should have gained more experience before joining and whether I will struggle with the standards and output required within the team.
It is an October evening in 2020, and I’m speaking to a friend about running and the Great South Run. They ask how many marathons I’ve run, then how many long-distance triathlons I’ve completed. I try and shake the answers off by saying it wasn’t really a big deal, they tell me it is, and they don’t know many people, who’ve done that, and it is an amazing achievement. Again, I dismiss this making out it was no big deal.
It is a January evening in 2021, and I’m watching a documentary and the person being interviewed said they had always felt that they had imposter syndrome. What they are saying rings a bell with me in many ways.
What is imposter syndrome?
According to the definitions I’ve explored, it is an internal dialogue that you are not as good as others see or perceive you to be. It can see success or accomplishment as something that was achieved through pure chance or luck, rather than talent or ability. It is linked with self-doubt and being inadequate.
Yeah, I can relate to most of those definitions I’ve found and relate to them in some way or other, to the way I’ve felt in many situations over the years.
I went and did a few online tests and the scores were pretty high (75-85% in favour of having imposter syndrome).
When doing some of the tests, some of the questions really resonated with me. I find it hard to take compliments and usually try and deflect it, the same with praise when I’ve done something worthy, again deflect it. Things I’ve achieved, the same thing, deflection and not seeing it as a big deal.
I’d like to think I’m a fairly driven individual – even with high levels of self-doubt. When I set myself goals or targets I achieve them. I don’t undertake these goals or targets with a complacent attitude and make sure I have done everything, so I am able to give it my best shot. I’m also aware of my limitations as well.
I sometimes reflect on what I could have done better and focus on this rather than on what I have achieved. I rarely stop to reflect on what I have achieved and tend to move onto the next goal, the next opportunity to push myself, the opportunity to prove to myself I have that that constant drive. I’m not one to brag about my achievements. I set myself goals or targets to see how far I can push myself and at times it becomes an internal battle to quell the self-doubt.
On Monday I start another 14 months of study alongside my ‘day job’ – again those thoughts of ability and capability are there. Deep down though I know that I will eclipse this goal because I’ve done it countless times in the past, when the doubts have been there.
Richard Guy, 47 years of age, born and grew up in London and have lived in Portsmouth since 2017.