‘I’M SCARED OF AUDIENCES,’ the singer Adele told Rolling Stone magazine in 2011.
‘One show in Amsterdam, I was so nervous I escaped out the fire exit. I've thrown up a couple of times. Once in Brussels, I projectile-vomited on someone. I just gotta bear it. But I don't like touring. I have anxiety attacks a lot.’
Adele was speaking to a feeling that every successful person can relate to and that’s the fear of being found out and exposed as a fraud.
‘The thought of someone spending $20 to come and see me and saying “Oh, I prefer the record and she’s completely shattered the illusion” really upsets me. It’s such a big deal that people come give me their time.’
It’s called ‘Imposter Syndrome’ and if you’ve ever suffered from it then it’s probably reassuring to know that you are not alone.
When I started out in radio I had a recurring nightmare of finding myself naked in the studio half-way through a news bulletin. The award-winning broadcaster Iain Dale still battles with the syndrome which he describes in the Cloutology podcast as does the economist Dharshini David.
Neither of them are frauds though, and Adele certainly isn’t. In the year she gave that interview to Rolling Stone, she became the first female to have two singles and two albums in UK Top 5 simultaneously - a feat previously achieved only by The Beatles in 1963. Her 21 album was also the first in UK chart history to reach sales of three million in a calendar year.
She’s different, she’s famous
Why? She has insecurities just like you and I.
Maybe she just got lucky…
Perhaps, but all luck does is open doors, it’s up to you to take it from there. Her sales figures speak for themselves just as your achievements speak for you.
But I’m a perfectionist. There’s no room for error.
Well at least you acknowledge that. The next step is to realise nobody’s perfect.
I work with people who are. Believe me.
No they’re not.
It’s statistically impossible to be perfect. Everyone makes mistakes, it’s just that some people are better at hiding and that’s a mistake in itself.
Are you saying we should point out our failures?
No, I think you should positively celebrate them. You learn from messing up, plus it shows you’re human.
I don’t want to be human, I want to be invincible
People are not more invincible than they are perfect. We don’t admire perfection, it makes us suspicious. We admire people who have messed up, moved on and made something of themselves. Can I ask, do you like the perfectionists you speak of?
I don’t know them well enough to know.
Have you tried to get to know them?
Yes, but I they’re tricky
Exactly. They put up barriers because they’re hiding something. They don’t want to show their vulnerability, but we need to see that to know they are human. You can’t trust someone who’s not being themselves.
Let’s take someone you like, it can be someone real or fictional. What appeals to you about them?
And you know that how?
Well, they’ve been through a lot and come out stronger
But they failed before they succeeded…
I guess so yes.
That’s why you connect with them. Success doesn’t come without failure. That’s why we don’t like perfectionists, because they only succeed and it doesn’t add up.
That means I don’t like me
I’ll leave that to your therapist but all I know is that it’s a mistake not to own your mistakes. If you make perfection your goal then you are setting yourself up for permanent failure because it’s unachievable. You need realistic targets that can give you a sense of satisfaction when you reach them and that help rid you of your self-doubt.
I’m scared of making mistakes though
The answer there is to simply to allow yourself to make them, then realise you’ll survive.
As a news anchor, I am only able to go on air for hours at a time because everything that could go wrong has gone wrong for me at one point or another. Scripts have vanished before my eyes. Guests have failed to show up or dried up when did come. Some got angry, others have walked out on me. I’ve even been in the middle of an interview and forgotten what it was about because there’s so much going on in the background. But each time I have faced one of those walls, I have found a way through and if I’ve done it once, I know I can do it again.
What if I need help?
Then that’s fine too. People like being asked for assistance and, who knows? You might end up learning something from them which build your confidence even more.
We all doubt ourselves sometimes but it’s not a character flaw, it’s what makes us human. You need to prove yourself wrong. Celebrate your successes but also your failures because they come together.