Imposter syndrome’s a term I hear often. That feeling when you don’t think you’re good enough to be in your position or that your achievements and high regard of others is not deserved. It can stop people progressing in a career or activity because they don’t think they’re good enough. A feeling of being a fraud that’s rarely, if ever, warranted.
It’s a feeling that often niggles me. A constant lack of confidence in my own abilities and feeling that I should just let someone else get on with it because everyone else is better at this than me.
It’s perhaps become more heightened since I became a Mum. It’s common for women to lose their confidence once they become a parent. Taking time out from a career, suddenly being thrust into a new world of raising a tiny human, returning to work and having to switch from baby talk to work talk overnight. In my case more recently changing career and starting from scratch again.
In a recent survey of business leaders it turns out this feeling is more prevalent in women than men (Imposter syndrome heightened in women). Don’t get me wrong it’s certainly not an exclusively female feeling, I know plenty of men who experience it. But women seem to be more prone. Perhaps it’s biology or maybe it’s instilled by the way society raises girls and women. I don’t know the answer to that but what I do know is that it exists throughout society.
Many people experience it at work, in their hobbies, in their social and home lives. This was reinforced to me after I’d published my Am I Adventurous? Don’t be daft……….blog the other week and received a message from one of the properly “adventurous” friends I mentioned. They said they’d really suffered from imposter syndrome when they were preparing for their big challenge. Something they said they’d experienced pretty much every time they had tackled anything difficult in their lives.
This was coming from someone who’s done and achieved so much in their life. It wasn’t a shock per se but a bit of a wake-up call that we all experience it, even those who we deem to be up there as the big girls and boys of adventure.
But out of that conversation came a huge revelation.
I’ve found somewhere I don’t have imposter syndrome.
Cold water, winter swimming.
I don’t feel out of place, I don’t feel like a fraud, I don’t feel like I don’t belong, I don’t feel intimidated or like I’m lesser than my peers.
Is it because I’m now on my third proper winter of swimming outside?
Have I just achieved a level of experience where I feel like one of the big girls and boys?
I don’t think so.
Even when The Short One and I decided to swim all winter I never felt like I was an imposter. I never felt lesser or intimidated by those very few others I knew that already enjoyed cold water. I just got on with it, it was a new experience for me to find my own way through. I had no desire or feeling that I needed to compete with anyone else.
I enjoyed the learning experience and I’ve realised it was all about me, just me. Not about how anyone else dealt with the cold but about how my body dealt with it. What my body could cope with and how my body slowly adapted over time to submerge in 4C water with little wincing or swearing.
It didn’t and still doesn’t matter how long I stay in compared to others. Sometimes I’m the last one out, sometimes I’m the first. It doesn’t bother me because it’s individual to my own experience. What’s important to me is whether I enjoy it.
Some people might be reading this and going “but you are extreme, you are at the top of the game”. I agree, I feel like a fairly experienced winter swimmer now but there are greater extremes I could go to. I could try and swim further, longer. There are ice miles on offer. I could ditch my toasty neoprene mittens and socks and woolly hat. But I don’t want to nor do I feel like I have to just because others do.
I’m happy at the level I’m at and feel no pressure to do more or compete with anyone else. It’s a wonderfully freeing experience.
I think there’s something more than it being just about me though too. It has a lot to do with my fellow winter swimmers. Both those I swim with locally and those I see on social media.
The open water swimming community is incredibly welcoming. I liken it to the kayaking community I once belonged to. Open, friendly, encouraging. That seems to intensify in the winter community. There are warm smiles and gentle encouragement at every corner. No judgement. What little competition there is registers more as gentle encouragement or jovial banter, always underwritten by a strong sense of support and water safety.
I wanted to share this because it was a genuinely surprising revelation. At a time when I still feel like I’m trying to find my feet and work out what I’m doing with my life, to have that secure space where I don’t feel like an imposter is incredibly powerful. It gives me the strength to deal with the rest of my life.
I know winter swimming, indeed open water swimming in general isn’t for everyone and I never purport it as the nadir of exercise/activity/outdoor pursuits. Different strokes for different folks and all that. But what I do hope is that everyone can find that space where they don’t feel like an imposter. Whether that be running, meditating, knitting, playing the spoons. It’s important for our brains to have the freedom and enjoyment so we can all be a functional part of society.