Imposter syndrome is something that sounds very daunting and scary but is becoming more and more common place in everyday language in and in sport. If you haven’t yet come across this term, it describes a feeling that occurs when you don’t feel you deserve the situation you are in. Like your credentials look better on paper than you feel in reality and/or you are concerned that people will see you as a fraud at any moment. In the most basic sense, you feel that your are an imposter in your own life. It is a specific form of lower self esteem that occurs in a certain situation (especially those situations which seemed unattainable to you at one point of your life such as a dream job or getting your horse of a life time)
So why is this feeling worth talking about in the equestrian community? Firstly, because it is related to self esteem. We know from the recent grooms mental health campaign that horse riders and those in the industry suffer greatly in terms of mental struggles. It is an emotionally challenging sport with many factors, beyond your control. If we can acknowledge that imposter syndrome is normal, we can begin to understand that any sort of feelings of worthless are also normal and valid no matter what your situation is (from professionals and Olympic medallists to grass roots and amateur riders).
Another key part of imposter syndrome is how it is related to personal identity that is, the person you want the world to see. This is especially relevant for those that compete because we are continually putting our identity on display and attempting to show the world the person or rider we wish to be. As soon as something conflicts with that perfect self you want to show off, such as your horse misbehaving, your identity will be threatened. Leaving you with feelings of worthlessness as your brain compares how you ‘should be’ and how things actually turn out.
As an amateur rider qualifying for the a Area Festival champs at Hartpury for the first time, I have been experiencing this a lot lately. In the sense that my identity as an average grass roots rider is being challenged by the thought I should be in perfect harmony with my horse at all times, like the other national riders seem to be. From this personal experience, I believe that we have to remember this ideal self or idea of how we ‘should be’ does not exist. It is something our mind has constructed by comparing how you are right now to how you perceive others and even the self you want to be in the future.
I felt this was very apt to talk about with mental health week occurring recently and I hope that it can contribute to helping others realise it’s okay not to feel okay, no matter how good your life or opportunities within your life appear on paper.