Each month City A.M.’s mental health columnist Alejandra Sarmiento writes about the Square Mile’s often-taboo subjects – and how you can deal with them
Franz Kafka is best known today as one of the most influential writers of the 20th-century. The author of masterpieces such as “The Metamorphosis” and “The Trial,” Kafka was, in fact, a lawyer for an insurance company by profession. He hated his day job. His real passion and only sense of purpose was in writing.
But then, he also loathed his writing, burning nearly 90 per cent of his work during his lifetime.
Even towards the end of his life, Kafka remained plagued by self-doubt and wrote a letter to Max Brod, his best friend and literary executor, instructing him to burn all his manuscripts, diaries and letters upon his death. Brod refused to do this, believing in the brilliance of his friend far more than Kafka himself ever did.
Kafka, of course, is not the only talented writer or artist who wanted his work destroyed. Virgil, Emily Dickinson, Vladimir Nabokov, Claude Monet and Francis Bacon, for example, were all convinced of the worthlessness of their works and either left instructions for these to be destroyed or they eradicated their legacy themselves.
We may not be an acclaimed artist but we can probably relate to this sense of insecurity, especially in our professional lives. We may believe that we are not good enough for the position we hold or that, any minute now, we will be “found out”. We are, in short, in the grips of Imposter Syndrome—a term coined in 1978 by two American psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes to describe the fear of fraud that creeps in when pressure and perfectionism unite to distort our reality.
Imposter Syndrome is not an officially diagnosed mental disorder but it is a very real and debilitating form of professional self-doubt. It is very common, whether you are at the pinnacle of your career or have just entered the workforce.
It can show up as the belief that we must immediately become an expert in our field whilst fearing that we can never achieve this; that our work must be perfect at all times; that we cannot ask others for help; and, that burnout is the ultimate badge of honour for our relentless hard work. Otherwise, we will indeed be “found out”. The truth is that this makes our professional life a living hell.
We need to zoom out and step into radical self-acceptance. We need to understand that striving for perfection is a fear of rejection in disguise and that asking for support and guidance is a sign of strength that allows for growth.
We are so often our own worst enemy. On an emotional level, we need to remind ourselves that feelings are not facts. On a practical level, overcoming our fears will make us much more effective. Ultimately, we are so much more capable than we believe we are.
I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I would regret was not trying.Jeff Bezos