I didn’t know I had impostor syndrome until I read about it recently in Ladies Get Paid by Claire Wasserman. I’m a DJ, which means that I only make up 10% of the overwhelmingly male-dominated industry. Can you imagine the amount of pressure we feel? We stick out like a sore thumb! Last year, on DJ Mag’s poll-based Top 100 DJs list, there were only 13 women (three more than the previous year), and the highest placing women, Nervo, were only ranked at number 20.
Even before I was a DJ, I noticed that only female DJs were questioned on their skills and abilities – “is she really mixing?”. Their sets were placed under a microscope, with many viewers waiting for them to make a mistake. She could play a flawless set, with a well-selected tracklist and the smoothest transitions, but sexist commenters (who don’t even know how to use a mixer) will still try to find fault in her – “why didn’t the crossfader move?”.
Here, in Malaysia, the scene welcomed me with open arms. I’ve been playing for more than three years now and have been lucky to not face any discrimination because of my gender. But, until I started working on my impostor syndrome, I still felt like I didn’t know how to DJ – after all those years and countless shows. My insecurity stemmed from not being taken seriously and being seen as an ‘influencer DJ’ – influencers who aren’t DJs, but are booked because of their high follower counts (see influencers getting hired as actors). To sum it up, impostor syndrome is feeling inadequate “despite evident success”.
My anxiety was really bad, I’ve experienced stage fright before, but the way I felt behind the decks was different. I’ve blanked out, I’ve looked down and forgotten everything, I’ve messed up because I was trying too hard not to mess up, I’ve even just hated it and couldn’t wait for it to end. Something that was once so positive to me started becoming negative fast – I began to dread performing and found myself constantly apologising after my shows, picking my own performance apart.
I now realise that I was unfairly looking at my own self under that microscope. My suffocating self-doubt came from what I thought others would think, as a result of systemic bias and exclusion. To be honest, it surprised me – I’ve always marched to the beat of my own drum, but when it came to playing my own set, I would sabotage myself in a tireless attempt to prove myself. Now I want to share what’s been helping me overcome my impostor syndrome!
- Get to the bottom of it:
First, you’ve got to find out why you feel so pressured to prove yourself. Impostor syndrome is common among women and minorities, but it can also affect overachievers, and stem from trauma. Please remember that you are not alone and it is not your fault.
- Look out for it:
Notice when you start downplaying your efforts – who was there, what did you do, how did it make you feel? By identifying your self-doubt triggers, you’ll be able to stop yourself from spiralling.
- Write it down:
Organise your thoughts by writing all of these down – your self-sabotaging behaviours and the negative thoughts you have about yourself (writing can also help release these feelings). You’ll be able to understand your impostor syndrome better when it’s laid out in front of you.
- Reframe it:
Start looking at ‘failure’ as an ‘opportunity to grow’. Instead of wondering “what if it goes wrong”, ask yourself, “what if it goes right”. Even when it comes to feedback, see it as a way to improve rather than taking it personally and feeling criticised (I’m still working on this!).
- Set boundaries:
Stop over-apologising and over-explaining yourself! This comes from worrying that you’re doing something wrong. Honour what feels right to you not what you think is right for others. If you’re not wrong or to blame, be more straightforward and say “no” when you need to.
I hope this helps you understand your impostor syndrome better! You’re not going to overcome it in a few days, or even a few weeks, but by shifting your focus from the outcome to the process, you can begin to free yourself and take up the space you deserve. Don’t forget to own your worth and be proud of everything you’ve accomplished! You are more than enough.