A hand extends across the table: “Hi there, I’m Richard – Chairman of the tourism board and tonight’s host”. He shakes my hand firmly; the sort of handshake that suggests this is a man used to doing very important deals. “And what do you do?”
My night had begun ten minutes earlier, as I sat down at the table and glanced at the expensively embossed name cards surrounding me. They were filled with the titles of chairmans, CEOS and directors; the expert overseers of airlines, hotels and travel agencies. I looked down at my own card – ‘Laura Jopson: travel blogger’ – and self-consciously scratched the back of my neck. The room suddenly felt a few degrees warmer.
With Richard, seasoned businessman and deal-making aficionado, still smiling expectantly at me, I froze – unable to appropriately describe something that I’d spent three years passionately pursuing. In the face of these careerists, their expensive suits and pressing agendas, the word ‘blogger’ suddenly seemed to lose all legitimacy. After a moment of silence, Richard, thankfully, was distracted by a colleague, leaving me and my hot flush to recover. I was relieved. I knew that had I responded to Richard, it would have certainly been along the rambling lines of: ‘Oh, me? I’m just a blogger. No big deal – not as important as you. I don’t even know why you invited me. In fact, I better be off. Bye, thanks, see you later’.
I’d then be gone – off into the night, never to be seen again.
You see, Imposter Syndrome and I are very best friends. Something of a lifelong companion of mine; she’s that reassuringly pessimistic voice reminding me that whatever my achievements, everyone will think I’m an under qualified, raging idiot. It seems that despite Sheryl Sandberg’s very best assurances, I’m not totally convinced that I deserve a place at the table, instead, preferring to perch awkwardly on an uncomfortable stool by the exit. As my “blogging career” has become busier – more “successful” – I’ve noticed that Imposter Syndrome has upped her game and sharpened her knives. She’s in her element. Each time I meet a new Deal-Doing Richard, I can count on the fact that she’ll be there – centre stage with a megaphone – telling me that he will find the fact I’m a blogger hilarious/embarrassing/silly/childish/or unimpressive. Thanks to her, I feel the overwhelming urge to present to people like Richard a potted history of my entire academic history. To tell them that I passed my driving theory test first time, or to make a half-informed reference to the political situation in Syria.
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Anything to make up for the fact I am, well – just a blogger.
This realisation makes me feel uncomfortable. By day, I plug away at our blog and hope for bigger and better things for it. I contribute daily to the supportive and kind online community that surrounds me, and look forward to sharing with people my photographs, words and thoughts. Yet by night – surrounded by the Richards of this world – I’m a traitor. I make excuses for any achievements and undervalue my work; undermining everything that I’ve spent my day working towards. It seems that my lifelong addiction to Imposterism has gotten the better of me.
I’m now the blogging world’s answer to Judus.
Last Thursday, as I sat at a beautifully decorated table in Kensington, surrounded by fascinating, talented and driven individuals, my defector-like status nagged at me. If this was North Korea, I’d have been hauled out of this stunning event, and probably sentenced to fifty years hard labour, somewhere in North Pyongan. Trying to push the paranoia to one side, I instead focused on listening to the stories that surrounded me; stories of individuals who had overcome depression, anxiety, financial worries, confidence issues and body-image problems. I learned that my fellow guests were budding chefs, writing cookery books; they were authors, signing deals with publishers; they were activists, campaigning for everything from animal rights to womens’ welfare issues; and they were mentors, inspiring people to pursue their own creative dreams. The event, of course, was the Blogosphere Blog Awards 2017. As Alice Audley – founder and Editor-in-Chief of Blogosphere – took to the stage to announce each award winner, I was bowled over by the quality, attention to detail and thought that had gone into each shortlisted blog. Each and every one was bursting with ideas, thoughts, opinions, advice and personal experiences. They were whole worlds reduced to small corners of the internet. And it was our small corner that (somehow) scooped a prize too – winning Travel Blog of the Year.
My defector like status, it seemed, had gone undetected.
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Later that evening, as I left the event – award in hand – I thought back to my blogger-fuelled existential crises. I know I’m not the only blogger who has endured the doubtful tones of Imposter Syndrome. Nor am I the only one who has developed the involuntary “I’m just a blogger” tick. But why? Why – when faced with Very Important Richards – do we feel less than enough?
A few weeks ago, a colleague turned to me and declared: ‘you know blogging is a fad, don’t you? Not a career?’ If my bonfire had been burning brightly before, it was now reduced to a smouldering heap. This tone is one I’ve come across many times: one that implies blogging isn’t a ‘real’ career. It apparently requires no skill, no talent, and is instead fuelled by narcissists and a global addiction to social media. Bloggers are get-rich-quick opportunists and contrary to ‘real’ people doing ‘real’ jobs, they haven’t the patience to build ‘legitimate careers’.
Hearing this so often is perhaps enough to dent anyone’s confidence.
But is it true? Initially, my first reaction would be to justify why bloggers are important, relevant and valued. I might speak at length about the fact that far from being wheeling and dealing Dell Boys, we are in fact harnessing what is in front of us: a social media landscape we are familiar and adept at navigating; sharing our passions and growing our businesses. Indeed, “Influencer Marketing” – 2016’s very own glittering gold rush – remains at an all time high. Forbes estimated that in 2017, 84% of marketers plan on executing at least one influencer marketing campaign, and the amount spent on these activities will double from 2016, averaging at $50,000 – $100,000 per programme. More than ever, our social platforms are offering us tantalising opportunities. The fact that bloggers – or Gen Y more generally – are harnessing this new economy, and building businesses upon its golden hills, does not mean that we are talentless opportunists. Instead, an entire generation are re-skilling, adapting and embracing disruptive technologies, to in turn disrupt the status quo. In an economy proven to be the perfect storm for us young millenials – riddled with debt, housing problems and job uncertainty – perhaps bloggers have found a way to navigate their way through this post Baby Boom Era; without the end-of-salary pension or affordable housing.
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Furthermore, I might defend the skills that bloggers have and the effectiveness of the content we create. After three years of blogging, I can vouch that whilst I am absolutely not saving lives, building a blog – one that captures an audience – is difficult. Likewise, creating good content takes time. In 24 months, I have: attended writing workshops; completed photography courses; completed online courses regarding SEO; spent weeks learning the art of HTML coding; and versed myself on advertising standards. Moreover, from a ‘business’ perspective, far from being inane or frivolous, the content of bloggers is proven to be markedly effective. 94% of marketers deemed influencer marketing to be highly effectual; straddling both traditional glossy adverts and personal recommendations. As the Financial Times recently put it, influencer marketing is that coveted blend of: ‘word of mouth, at scale’.
Yet, to write these rationalisations is to perhaps fall once again under the curse of Imposter Syndrome. They are simply a list of justifications; nothing more than hastily presented evidence to validate what I do. “See, Important Richard, I’m not silly – I am relevant”. To write a long-winded defence of my own bearing and ability, only eggs Imposter Syndrome on.
She’ll of course find issue with each and every point.
After watching blogger after blogger go up on stage to collect their awards last Thursday night, hearing firsthand the enormous impact that blogging has had on their lives and the lives of others, I realised that it was just this – a shared passion – that was my justification. And furthermore, it was the only justification that I needed. When it comes to blogging, I’m not driven to write because I am aware of my relevance to influencer marketing. I don’t take photographs because I’m conscious that an image will offer excellent ROI to a brand. I don’t go to events simply because I want to meet the likes of Richard. Blogging has, and always will be, something I am excited to do, because I love writing. I love carving out stories, sharing them and hearing stories returned. I love the communities that surround blogging, and the confidence blogging has given me to overcome anxiety and depression. I love blogging because I value having a voice – however small – in a society now deafened by them. I love blogging as I feel comforted, happy and excited to read the thoughts and experiences of other. I love blogging, as it doesn’t need any explanation: the opportunity it offers to simply write and share my experiences, is justification enough.
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Next time I meet Richard, and he asks what I do, I’ll shake his hand firmly and reply: “I’m Laura, a travel blogger”. I’m that lucky girl living out my passion for travel and writing; and sharing this with a community I value. Nothing more, nothing less.
Even Imposter Syndrome can’t argue with that.