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Wellbeing

Published November 8th 2021

How To Overcome Imposter Syndrome Anxiety As A Content Marketer

Content marketing and imposter syndrome go hand in hand 🤝

Why? The role of “Content marketer” is one that’s often hard to define. 

Which means that you have to be VERY sure of yourself. 

And, well, I don’t know about you but personally I haven’t always been sure of myself. 

Cue: imposter syndrome. 

But imposter syndrome anxiety doesn’t have to affect your career as a content marketer. 

What does imposter syndrome anxiety look like for content marketers?

I "fell" into content marketing after starting my career in journalism. 

I love writing, and I love figuring out what makes people tick.

So I ended up on the analytical side of things. 

But several roles later, I’m still not quite sure how to define my job. 

And that’s before I tell you that I’m also a freelance content marketer. 

My role changes daily and my imposter syndrome anxiety likes to follow suit. 

But I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. 

Stats show that imposter syndrome affects 70% of us at one time or another

And given that over a third of marketing professionals feel anxious in work, it seems safe to assume there might be a few other content marketers feeling a bit of imposter syndrome. 

I’m not really sure I’m the right person to be writing this, but I realized that’s why I’m exactly the right person to be writing this! 

The idea of not being sure about what you’re doing, or feeling anxious about your work will probably sound common to many content marketers. 

In an industry as new as content marketing, there aren’t established decades-long patterns of work to fall back on.

You’ve got to be creative and innovative... 

All. The. Time. 

It’s also a sphere that relies on charm, charisma, and communication. 

There are endless content marketing experts to compare yourself to ⭐

Which is great for inspiration, but can be difficult if you’re feeling uncertain about your abilities.

For content marketers, imposter syndrome can come in the form of:

  • Doubting your writing and editing, or any other creation skills
  • Doubting the results and statistics you’re getting back from your work
  • Feeling unsure presenting to management
  • Not being able to schedule your time well
  • Worrying about negative comments and feedback online
  • Feeling inadequate compared to colleagues and friends

But what can trigger imposter syndrome at work?

When your role isn’t clearly defined

My first job that actually included the phrase “content marketer” in its title didn’t feel right at the beginning. 

It was a newly created role at the company I worked at, and I had to shape my own job description.

I felt like I was making it up as I went along. 

I was working with teams all across the company, which is a part of the job most content marketers enjoy. 

But many of them literally didn’t know what I did, so I had to justify myself and my role over and over again. 

It got draining, and imposter syndrome began to set in.Is this unique to content marketers?

Well, it’s not.

But in a role that’s not clearly defined you often end up wearing so many hats, you run out of room on the hatstand! 

When you’re trying to be everything to everyone

Over the years, I worked with the data team, the development team, the editorial team, the production team – all of the teams! 

Each one wanted something different from a “content person”. 

Some just wanted a writer, others needed a social media expert, or a strategist, and some just wanted someone to bounce ideas off. 

This meant meeting people’s expectations – and therefore my own – was difficult.

When your value is hard to prove

As content marketers, it’s quite easy to tell when we’ve done something well. 

Excellent content gets great reactions, and that praise is what we thrive off.

But amazing comments on something you’ve published won’t always translate to smashing your key performance indicators.

Getting buy-in from higher ups for content marketing is also especially tricky, given that it’s notoriously difficult to attribute value and ROI to content marketing efforts.

As a result, the senior team often doesn't understand the importance of content marketing at a fundamental level.

You can find yourself regularly having to make a business case for your work.

In that first role, I thought that I needed to show my worth day in, day out. To everyone.

Although this is a bigger problem that definitely isn’t down to any individual, it can mean you start to question yourself.

And if you’re not careful, it can turn into a vicious cycle.

Beating the imposter syndrome anxiety cycle

Imposter syndrome could be seen as environmentally friendly, because it works in a cycle. ♻️

Once you begin to doubt yourself, work becomes more and more difficult.

As you become anxious about tasks and projects, you fail to attribute your success to your own ability – thereby maintaining the idea of being an imposter.

In a study, Pauline Clance, one of the academic who coined the phrase “imposer syndrome” in the 1970s mapped out what she calls the imposter cycle.

  1. You start a task or project you are anxious about.
  2. That anxiety can lead to over-preparation, or avoidance and procrastination.
  3. You start to burn yourself out, so when the task is over there’s no satisfaction
  4. Your anxiety is validated: you feel you lucked out and ‘got away with it’.

Cue increased anxiety and low mood, re-starting the whole cycle just in time for your next task.

It can affect anybody, and isn’t limited to work.

Studies show that new parents often feel imposter syndrome.

This was definitely affecting me in my first content marketing role.

I signed up for too many projects, found it hard to focus, and was relieved whenever anything finished without getting me in trouble.

But actually, I was getting better at my job as I went along.

Once I relaxed a bit and listened to what the teams I was working with needed, I could figure out the best ways to help them.

I got to swoop in and save the day with creative ideas, and interesting insights.

Working with great teams who praised me really helped too.

Praise is definitely a medicine for imposter syndrome and, although I didn’t recognise that I was suffering from imposter syndrome anxiety, I eventually began to feel more confident.

I was doing so well, I decided to go freelance.

I wanted to carve out more time for what I really loved, creating content and finally felt like I truly could justify it.

But that just meant a whole new cycle of imposter syndrome started.

Is imposter syndrome anxiety the same as not liking your job?

Imposter syndrome isn’t just limited to the 9-5.

Freelancing, for me anyway, offers a flood of imposter syndrome triggers.

And it’s held me back in my content marketing career.

For freelancers, imposter syndrome anxiety can look like:

  • Thinking you’re the wrong person for the task
  • Not securing adequate payment for your work
  • Having no boundaries around your time
  • Doubting the pieces of work you’re handing in
  • Putting up with rude or abusive clients
  • Not asking for feedback
  • Over-committing to projects

All of these things affect me daily as a freelancer.

Being an outsider to a company is a very easy way to feel like a fraud.

As a year of working remotely has taught us, it’s super easy to misunderstand tasks and briefs from a distance.

I’m also really sensitive to tone in emails. If I had a penny for every time I’ve misunderstood what a client was telling me, thinking they were saying I was useless, I’d (ironically) be able to stop working.

Having to be my own sales team doesn’t help either.

Evaluating everything you do in monetary terms reeeeally makes you doubt yourself.

When I first went freelance, I couldn’t believe that I was getting paid to do what felt like such straightforward tasks.

I felt like I was tricking companies out of money. Could work be this simple?

It was only when I stepped back and figured out how much I was doing in total that I felt like a "real" worker.

And of course, that I was being hired for my expertise and skill at the tasks in hand. And was worth the money I was asking for.

Pro Tip

Figure out how much you're doing

Keep a copy of your ticked-off to do list, and refer back to it, to remind yourself of everything you've achieved!

But compared to the mess of organizational baggage and office politics that my previous day jobs entailed, freelancing at first felt like it was “too easy”.

Which is just imposter syndrome speaking.

And of course there’s the work itself. Content marketing, if you hadn’t noticed, is a very broad church.

That means you need to be laser-focused as a freelance content marketer. In those early days, I wasn’t.

I realized I was taking any work that was offered to me, rather than focusing and trying to develop my skills for both my own and my clients’ benefits.

Leaving the office behind meant I stopped worrying about proving myself to big bosses. But I’d also left behind the structure that had helped me develop.

This was when I began to actually understand my imposter syndrome anxiety, and it dawned on me how much it had affected me in my full-time roles.

I also realized that imposter syndrome is part of a larger workplace problem.

"You need to be laser-focused as a freelance content marketer."

What causes imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome can create harmful workplace patterns that can hold groups of people back at work.

Today imposter syndrome is perhaps most known as a phenomenon in women.

There is an interesting argument that this is because the contemporary workplace is built around the expectations of able-bodied cis white men.

It’s only recently that equality has started to come into the workplace, after all.

Many people argue that when white men experience imposter syndrome it’s generally easier for them to overcome it, because the workplace is set up for them to succeed.

But if you’re not an able-bodied cis white male, it might be more difficult to get past your imposter syndrome.

Which means women and minorities can be really held back by imposter syndrome anxiety.

In my experience, worrying about my "girly" qualities is a big part of my imposter syndrome.

I’ve doubted myself by thinking I’m too quiet, too annoying, or too sensitive. And it’s probably held me back over the years.

The fact that women and minorities are taught to doubt their competence and leadership styles feeds the imposter cycle.

For women and minorities, imposter syndrome might contribute to:

  • Worrying about office politics
  • Not standing up to male bosses
  • Not speaking out when there are problems
  • Worrying about maternity leave
  • Thinking people think you’re rubbish because you’re a girl
  • Worrying about coming across badly

But it might go further. This article argues that the original imposter syndrome study – which focused on women – sparked a stereotype that self-doubt is inevitable.

This means that imposter syndrome can be blamed when women and minorities are held back at work, masking inequality in the workplace.

That's why it's important to recognize imposter syndrome as part of the wider issue of inequality – ie. it's not just a "You" problem.

Any company looking to support employees with imposter syndrome must also look to address issues of inequality in the workplace.

The tips throughout this article can help you in the meantime – but remember it's not all on you!

"It's important to recognize imposter syndrome as part of the wider issue of inequality – ie. it's not just a "You" problem."

Seek support wherever you can – from your manager, support network, colleagues – even HR.

This is more crucial than ever in roles that are susceptible to self-doubt like content marketing.

The good thing about imposter syndrome being a studied phenomenon is that it is fairly recognizable.

Thankfully imposter syndrome isn’t a permanent condition to live with in the way that many people have to manage ongoing mental health conditions.

While it is linked to – and enhanced by – depression and anxiety, there are ways to manage imposter syndrome to stop those coming on.

Taking the time to name it is the first step to conquering it.

So how do we do that?

I start to notice the symptoms creep in when I’m at all unclear about what I’m doing at work.

Not having clear briefs and principles to fall back on is especially difficult in content marketing, which can be vague at the best of times.

If I don’t know where to start, how can I get anything done?

Like clockwork, I start to question myself for not asking enough questions, and worrying that I’ll look stupid for needing more information.

When I notice I’m feeling like this, there’s a few fixes I like to turn to.

Tips for overcoming imposter syndrome anxiety

1. Talk to people! 

Get out of your head! Often imposter syndrome-esque thoughts are subconscious.

But if you’re reading this, hopefully you’ve figured out there might be some untruth to what you’re thinking.

Saying it out loud to another person is a great way to start to reframe the narrative.

And hopefully you’ll get some kind words in return.

2. Try and try again

This isn’t what most people want to hear.

But if you keep trucking away – and more importantly keep markers of your progress – you’re going to get somewhere.

You’ll be able to look back, with evidence, to counter those thoughts that are telling you you’re a fraud and a failure.

Often the anticipation of doing something is worse than it is.

Plan a reward for doing a scary presentation, or just a nice cup of tea at the end of creating some piece of content you feel like you can’t do.

3. Create a "museum of praise"

Remember that people are nice.

Save emails that praise your work, messages you’ve got over instant chat, and any other reminders that you’re great at your job and definitely CAN do it.

If you’re struggling to find them then don’t be scared to ask for some feedback.

It really won’t be as bad as you think.

If you need to start small, ask friends and family.

Keep these somewhere you can find them when you’re spiralling

4. Practice defining yourself

A lot of imposter syndrome comes from not knowing how to define ourselves in our roles.

Write down a realistic summary of what you do and why you’re important.

Then read it again, and keep adding to it.

And repeat.

And again.

Eventually you’ll have a solid description, that you believe, to fall back on when you start thinking that you’re a fake.

Maybe use the time to update your resume while you’re there 😉

5. Use it!

Imposter syndrome can be useful.

I know, I know. But an upside of imposter syndrome is that it usually affects people with quizzical and analytical minds, who are scanning for different perspectives.

This is brilliant for marketers, making you more curious and hungry for answers to complicated and human problems.

It’s also great for freelancers, meaning you can sniff out added value or offer your services a company didn’t know they needed.

When the world gives you lemons, eh?

So that’s imposter syndrome anxiety. A common problem, and a super tricky issue for many people with ever-changing jobs, like marketers.

In summary, it’s not something you can conquer overnight. Beating imposter syndrome is about getting into great habits at work (or wherever it’s affecting you).

If you need somewhere to start, here’s something to save to your museum of praise: well done for taking the time to read these tips and start doing something about your imposter syndrome anxiety!

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