Have you ever seen a job listing that you were really excited about, but ended up not applying for because you figured you weren’t qualified? How many auditions, interviews, and conversations have you skipped out on because you felt like you didn’t belong in those spaces or didn’t have enough experience? Chances are, it’s a lot. Chances are it’s even more if you’re a woman. Research from NatWest indicates that 60% of female entrepreneur hopefuls didn’t start their business due to imposter syndrome. The same research also showed that 28% of women in the workplace remained silent in meetings. A separate study from Hewlett Packard resulted in the stat that you’re probably most familiar with: men will go for a job even if they only meet 60% of the listed requirements. Women wait until they meet 100% of them. This gender difference unfortunately means that statistically, executives and leaders are more likely to be male. Women aren’t being promoted due to the fact that bosses also tend to hire people that they spend time with or relate to more. So between the gender inequality, imposter syndrome, and discrimination, there are a lot of hurdles for women (not just in the workplace, but in life in general).
What would happen if women decided to “just go for it”? It may not solve rampant sexism and discrimination in general, but it would at least get women to the gates of these male-dominated spaces. This isn’t an overnight transformation as individual women, but it is one of those things that one just needs to jump in for in order to practice it. Feel unqualified? Apply anyway. What’s the worst that could happen? I’m speaking from experience here.
Like most women, I suffer from imposter syndrome. It’s a hard thing to fight off when our society doesn’t really validate female empowerment. I had always wanted to be a writer growing up. I wanted to be a poet, a travel writer, a nature essayist, a magazine writer—you name it. But looking back, even back then I definitely struggled with feeling like I wasn’t enough.
When I was in middle school I wrote a poem, and I thought it was really good. That’s something that people don’t understand about imposter syndrome. It’s not a lack of confidence—it’s feeling like while you know your worth but you don’t think others will, or you think others have more of a place in these spaces than you do. So when a state competition was advertised, my first instinct was to not submit it. I didn’t feel like I’d be chosen, so why even try? A few days before the deadline though, my best friend, with the help of our English teacher, talked me into submitting it. I ended up being one of the state winners, and was able to attend a big ceremony and conference. I wore jewelry and my mom’s lime sweater that I always admired. I’ll never forget that feeling I had of having found my calling. “This is it” kept beating through my heart. Did all of that take away the imposter syndrome though? Absolutely not.
Fast forward to when I was 20. I had graduated high school, and recently came home from volunteering abroad. I was working as a barista and figuring out what to do with my life. I still really wanted to write. That call that I heard never faded over the years, but again, I still felt inadequate. So I kept working, dreaming of figuring everything out. One day that year, I saw a job posting for a remote magazine writer position. Initially, I felt excited reading about it. The magazine was based in London, and they needed travel content. I deleted the email with the posting, figuring it was fun to dream about, but it would be a complete joke to apply with no experience or degree. A few days later though, an idea hit me really hard that has remained cemented on my mind ever since: You don’t just wake up one day as the person you want to be, with the life you want.
I ended up sifting that job listing out of the deleted folder, and I applied. I figured, the worst that they can do is not hire me. I was already not hired with them before applying, so how bad would it really be to still not be hired? What would really change other than feeling like I had actually tried to work towards that life I pictured ahead? Since I didn’t have links to published writing samples, I wrote some up on my own. I made sure they were high quality, showed my writing style, and made me stand out. I reworked my resume to highlight how much I had traveled and my passion (it was unconventional, but still told my story, which is the whole job of a resume anyway), and I researched a lot to know what else I would need in order to apply for something like this. I learned what other non-professional experiences I could include on the resume, and I skimmed through their magazine so I’d have talking points in my cover letter. The more I researched, the less qualified I felt, but I chose to follow through and send in an application anyway.
They hired me.
I felt stunned and proud and suspicious all at once. Why would they hire me? Looking back, I know it’s because my application was different, I had traveled extensively already, and I was enthusiastic. Getting hired didn’t make the imposter syndrome go away, but it did give me a little proof that sometimes I could be enough. It also ended up giving me relevant experience that I could reference to when applying for other gigs and cool jobs that I got excited about. Not long after, a travel writing platform ended up taking me on with them. I still felt like I didn’t belong. My coworkers all had degrees or more experience or were men or knew the bosses for longer. But it felt good to be in the same space as those people. I loved my job, and I felt so lucky to be in a professional space (online: it was a remote job) that I had only dreamed of a few months before.
I’ll never forget my first job in the field. I was writing a piece about this five-star hotel in the D.C. area, and I was going to meet and interview the staff. I was so nervous picking out my outfit. I was worried they would think I was a fraud. I shakily put on my white collared shirt and strapped on my expensive watch that I never usually wore. I kept a list in my head of my strengths, so that when I felt inadequate, I could remind myself that I belonged there just as much as those I was working with. The entire time, I kept waiting for someone to kick me out for being an outsider or something, but no one ever did.
That job went so well, that it ended up being a springboard for a hundred new gigs and opportunities. It allowed me to be published on more platforms, take on promotions, freelance for even more exciting companies, and even take on travel writing opportunities in Europe. I’m now a published poet, published essayist, seasoned travel writer, professional staff writer, and yes—successful professional woman. I have now gone back to school (my dream school, since I was able to include professional writing experience on my application), and am still working in my field.
Is my imposter syndrome gone? Definitely not. I don’t think it will ever be completely gone, but what’s more important is that I’m chasing these opportunities anyways. I still get nervous butterflies in my stomach before applying for a gig or a new job. I still have many moments where I think I’ll be “found out” and told to go back to where I came from. Again though, that’s so normal—in women especially.
Everything changed for me when I went for things anyways. If I see something that I want to try for, whether or not I’m 100% qualified for it, I go for it. I realize now that if I were an employer, I’d rather hire someone with 60% of the boxes checked off who has a lot of passion, than someone with 100% of the qualifications and none of the passion. So, I update my resume often, I apply for anything that looks interesting, and I remind myself that I am a vibrant writer with a lot of experience. I belong in these spaces just as much as anyone else. We are all just trying to figure things out sometimes, and that’s okay. What’s not conducive to achieving our dreams is letting that be a barrier or a disqualifying factor in themselves. Just because you’re unsure of your place, that doesn’t mean that you don’t belong there. Keep going. Keep working hard. Keep becoming that person or that writer or that filmmaker that you want to end up being someday, because becoming is a process. No one wakes up like that. You have to move closer to that life that you want, and just start living it. That life won’t come by not applying for that job you want or not trying for that opportunity that looks cool to you. Try everything that speaks to your soul, and when asking yourself if you should go for something amazing, even if it’s a long shot, ask yourself this: “Why the hell not?”
Also by Emily: Why I Left Mormonism & Why It’s A Cult
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Photo: Emily Degn