Building a tool to keep the impostor at bay and my wellbeing in check.
I recently read a post by Kit about her Mental Health MOT, and it was good to see someone who, when they needed it, was able to call on some of what they’d read and help themselves to feel a bit calmer with the world.
Kit’s post also got me thinking, what tools do I have that I deploy in order to keep my mental health relatively, well, healthy? And then I remembered my “Work Wellbeing Wall” and thought I’d share it in case it helped someone like Kit’s post did.
Start with Why
One of the things I struggle most with is an intense feeling of being an impostor.
There have been a few things that make this worse (aside from my general mental health and looking after myself) in the work that I do and the roles that I take.
Being a generalist rather than a specialist means I often fall into (and actually, I’ve realised, seek out) roles with breadth, I like to investigate things and have the space to put myself where I think I can be most useful.
I like to be intuitive and follow my nose, creating connections, leads and ideas, starting things for others to build on, but it can often be difficult to quantify how those things impact and show progress. Sometimes you wonder if all of the little things you are doing are really adding up to anything.
And lets face it, when that impostor gremlin is on your shoulder, it wouldn’t matter if you were the most successful person in the world anyway, you wouldn’t believe it.
So my wall is not a plan, it’s not a roadmap, it’s a record. It is something that helps to calm my brain when I’m feeling like I’m not enough at work. It helps to remind me where I am, where I’m going and to show that things build up.
Here’s my wall…
I’m really lucky that we have a spare room that I have been able to take over and make into my office. I have a little desk that is easy to move when people come to stay, and a wall of my own .
I’ve broken the wall up into three bits:
- Impact in my day job
- Impact outside of work
- Inspiring things and thoughtful thank you’s
So what does it all mean?
Impact in my day job
This section relates to my day to day work, my aims and objectives and what I’m doing within my team.
My wall isn’t groundbreaking, it’s not tidy and it doesn’t cover everything I do. It frequently changes as I add and remove things and I try not to beat myself up if I don’t see something through. Its informality is what works for me.
I’ve chosen to break this section down into:
- Speaking / writing. It’s a personal objective that I’ve wanted to do more of these things as part of my day job.
- General. In this section I keep stock of anything I’ve done which I haven’t done before in previous roles, or things that I think have made an impact to the team.
- Training / events. In this section I take stock of any formal personal development, that is, conferences, events, and any paid or free training that either directly affects my role or is tangential to it. I use star post-its to show what is either in progress or not happened yet e.g. I’m currently working through Apolitical’s Structural Racism in Health course because it’s interesting when thinking of systems change, but I haven’t completed it yet, keeping it up there reminds me that I’m interested in and want to do it.
Whenever I think of a new thing I want to put on the board I consider if it builds on something I’ve already got there, or if it’s different. If it builds on then I plonk the post-it on top of another one (stacking), if not, I add a new line.
The idea is to every so often take stock of the things I think have gone well, not so that I can shout about them, simply so I can remember them.
When times get tough for me and my brain is noisy, I need a reminder that not everything is terrible and that I’ve done some things .
There’s an added benefit that when I’m working at home I can look up and be reminded of something, my wall often sparks off other thoughts or memories about things I was thinking.
Impact outside work
One of the things I appreciate most about being in the Civil Service is the range of things I can get involved with. There is also a really peculiar (in the sense that I haven’t really had this within the private sector companies I’ve worked in) sense of community, and (for some of the reasons I’ve detailed in the section above) I really enjoy the diversity of things I can poke my nose into and get involved with.
It’s really important to me for my personal and professional development that I make time to do some of those other things. I believe that it helps me when I get the views and opinions of people from outside my team, friendship group, department, domain, it sparks a lot of creativity for me.
There is a problem with this though — because I enjoy doing these things — I often don’t think of them as work. I often do them in my own, which is problematic for a whole range of reasons. Not least of all because it creates an illusion of being a “super productive person” which might feed the impostors of other people (a thought I absolutely hate).
Also, it can sometimes be hard to see when you’re doing too much and are likely to burn out. I really struggle with this. So if there’s too many things on the right hand side of the board which also feature star sticky notes because they’re in progress, then that might be a red flag for me.
When you’re magpie-like and attracted to new shiny ideas and projects, it can also be tough to be strategic about what you do and get involved with. Keeping to three themes on this side helps me to feel like what I’m doing is building up what is important to me.
Also, this part of the board helps to remind me about the opportunities that have come my way. I feel really lucky that I get the opportunity to do some of this stuff, it helps to remind me that there’s a lot to be grateful for.
There are three themes currently on this side of the board:
- One Team Gov. A list of things I’ve done or am helping with relating to OTG, including things I’ve written or events I’ve been supporting on. Again, when I do something I haven’t done before I add it, or when it builds on some other work I stack it.
- Weeknotes / writing. When I started writing weeknotes they were just for my benefit, but as I kept doing it and seeing the benefits to myself I realised how important it was to me to help other people get their thoughts and opinions out there, so this section includes things I’ve supported others on, like helping people to publish as part of One Team Gov or Amy’s #10MoreBlogPosts initiative.
- Speaking. As above, this is something I’ve wanted to get better at. When I started to write online it felt terrifying, talking in public still fills me with dread, but I want to meet new interesting people and to push myself, so there we are.
Even though this board is a record, not a roadmap, having it laid out often reminds me to be more strategic about the things I choose to do, and, though I don’t want to close myself off to opportunities, it’s started giving me a better idea of the things I can be confident about achieving.
Inspiring things and thoughtful thank you’s
The final part of my wall is right in my eye line, above my computer screen.
This section is dedicated to things that I think are beautiful, things that remind me how to be, and things that remind me of people.
There’s a postcard from my brother’s girlfriend telling me how to count to 10 in Estonian, my “Be generous” sticker and a “Rebels get Results” patch by Rebecca Strickson.
There’s a Psyduck pokemon card that makes me laugh, a sticker that says “shitty first draft” to remind me that nothing ever starts out perfect, and another that says “An idea without a test is just an idea” to remind me to push things forward.
I’ve added letters, cards and notes that people I know thought work (many of which have become friends) have sent me (often with stickers that they have made) or given me to say thank you; it reminds me of how people have gone out of their way to build community.
Then finally there are some quotes that I’ve picked up from people I’ve worked with or things I’ve read that I want to remember:
“Tenacity beats talent, every time”
“A problem only exists in the absence of the right conversation”
It might seem silly, but when I sit here and I need to think, these things bring me back to where I want to be. They help me to take stock, and when I’m stuck, prompt me to work out what to do next.
And so what?
All through writing this post I’m very conscious that I’m talking about my own experience and that this is unlikely to be useful to everyone, the themes and structures I’ve outlined might not translate, but there are some ways that I think it might help you (if you’ve got this far in reading this):
- Take stock. Take the time to think about what you’ve done, and write it down. However you record it(your own wall, bullet journals, weeknotes, trello boards or other ways) I thinkit can be hugely important when you’re feeling uncertain or having a wobble.
- Be generous. With yourself! It’s ok to think about what you’ve achieved, what you’ve learned, or new things you’ve experienced, give yourself permission.
- Be sentimental. I find it useful to keep the things that remind you of how good people can be. When you’re wobbling it’s really nice to see how people can make the effort to be there. We do this with our families and friends, but less often with the people we work with. You could keep physical things like I have, or you could keep a folder with nice things people have said in emails that you can come back to later.
- Be a magpie. Bring things together that spark ideas, or offer directions to solutions when you’re not sure where to go next. I used to keep files and folders of clips from magazines or designs that I’d found and loved. The author Chuck Palahniuk keeps files with news articles,writings and adverts and groups them by theme so he can rifle through them for inspiration. I always thought that was cool, because I’m weird like that, and now I’m writing it here, because yes, I really do think it’s cool.
I would love to hear about how other people do things like this or, even better, for you to write about your ways of coping with the impostor. Our wellbeing at work is important, and sharing these things might help someone.
If you want any support publishing a blog post — hit me up. I’m happy to help!
Thanks for reading.
 Virginia Wolf would have loved to have a wall of her own, I’m certain.
 This, incidentally is why weeknoting works so well for me.