Remona Aly
Wednesday 10 October 2018 Pause for Thought, BBC Radio 2

The Imposter Syndrome

The Imposter Syndrome
Pause for Thought, BBC Radio 2, Chris Evans Breakfast Show


I clearly remember the first time I felt like a fraud. I was 10 years old, and I ascended the dark winding staircase of a church pulpit, clutching on to the Bible for dear life. I looked down at the expectant congregation and read out the verses with as much gusto as my wobbly voice could muster.

‘And Pilate said unto him, What is truth?’ The truth was, there I stood, a Muslim, desperately trying to own that pulpit, but all the while the words, “You are a total fake” were ringing in my ears. “I’m going to mess this up,” I said to myself. “Should I even be here? I can’t do this!”

The imposter syndrome is something that’s stayed with me pretty much through every step of my life. No matter how many times I’ve spoken in public, or sat across from you Chris, I can’t shake that fraudy feeling.

It happened recently when I stepped up on a big stage, packed house, spotlight smack bang on me. I was looking at the audience looking at me, looking at me looking at them. And suddenly, my 10 year old fake self was back. I froze for a second of eternity, styled it out, went for it and to my relief got a huge round of applause.

I take comfort in the fact that even the legendary greats of our time felt like imposters – inspirational people like Maya Angelou, Meryl Streep, even presidents and brain surgeons. Their stories tell me that a little dip in self-doubt can be a good thing – if only I make that choice to take the risk and rise up, instead of letting myself sink low.

The American Muslim writer and speaker, Yasmin Mogahed, puts this perfectly: “Sometimes” she says, “the ocean floor is only a stop on the journey. And it is when you are at this lowest point, that you are faced with a choice. You can stay there at the bottom, until you drown. Or you can gather pearls and rise back up—stronger from the swim, and richer from the jewels.”

So I will seek the jewels, rise back up, find success in the struggle of swimming upstream. For it seems that small splash of self-doubt could be my greatest ally.