This week was the Centenary of the Medical Women’s Federation. Although I couldn’t get to events down in London Izzy Utting, an Edinburgh medical student, had organised an event entitled ‘How to have your cake and eat it….’ With actual cake!
I was asked to speak partly due to my role in the MWF (secretary Scottish Standing Committee) but also as someone who has apparently achieved some degree of success as a female doctor.
This I had to smile at that. ‘Me? You sure about that?’
Preparing for my presentation I couldn’t feel any less inspirational or motivational. I did seriously debate putting a slide up with:
‘You’ll figure it out’ (drops mic and walks off stage)
Ahead of me were two amazing women Dr Sarah Stock (@evbasedbaby) and Dr Rebecca Heller or Bex (@rebeccalily) talking about their career. While there were stories of inspirational high achieving women they were both refreshingly honest about some of their life choices and career failures.
Although our talks were prepared independent of each other there was a recurrent theme – Imposter Syndrome. That nagging irritating voice in your head that tells you are a fraud. The one that causes everyday to be spent in state of anxiety worrying you’ll be exposed as a charlatan. I must say I hadn’t actually come across this term until relatively recently but I had experienced all the symptoms.
You see Imposter Syndrome is like a parasite – feeding off your insecurities and self doubt. It messes with your head so that you are unable to recognise other women going through the same thing. And let me tell you they are. It’s just it makes you believe that the first rule of Imposter Syndrome is: You don’t talk about Imposter Syndrome.
Bex shared the statistic from an internal report for Hwelett-Packard that men apply for a job when they are 60% ready compared to women who wait until they are 100% ready (Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In). I think this probably tells us all we need to know about its destructive power. I’m also pretty sure this is why only 24% of Medical Directors are women too (Kings Fund).
So I decided to face mine head on. A parasite only survives if you feed it. Or in the words of Maya Angelou:
So I stood up and talked about how I had failed. Quite hard to do as a control loving, micro managing perfectionist. That said I made it sound as spectacular as possible – old habits…..
I also talked about what I was lead to believe were terrible career choices. For example starting a family as a Registrar – something only a handful of people did at the time. I was also told not to go part time because ‘you’ll never get a Consultant post’. And for goodness sake what was I thinking about going part time again as a Consultant. Apparently you’re meant to increase your work load at this point. Life it seems can wait until you retire.
This is simply not good enough.
So what did I tell these young women:
‘You do what’s right for you at the time’
- You will make mistakes – it’s ok you will learn stuff from this
- You have the right to change your mind
- Trust your instincts – especially when taking advice. That person may only have their own interests at heart, not yours.
So can have your cake and eat it? Yes. Absolutely. And I encourage you to try every single one….