We should not underestimate the power of belonging. That sense of connection to someone, something, or even somewhere. Growing up half-Indian in Ireland, I always felt this strong desire to fit in, to prove my Irishness and truly belong. I identify strongly with my Irish upbringing and the Irish way of life. There are plenty of things about Ireland that I would like to change, but I am proud of my heritage. Despite the fact I have to regularly explain my connection to the country, to every disbelieving new person I meet.
I studied law at University, graduating when I was 19 years old. Instead of joining my fellow graduates on the legal route to being a solicitor or barrister, I wandered off into a sort of career wilderness for 6 years: 2 years in accounts, 2 years in finance, and finally 2 years in commercial aircraft leasing! I then got back onto the legal route to do a Masters in eLaw back at the same University; focusing on the law as it relates to online information and technology. Again, my fellow postgraduates were focusing on professional qualifications, but again, I took a detour.
It was just over 5½ years ago that I moved to London and, through a friend of a friend, managed to get an entry level job in project management on a major rail construction project. This was intended to be a temporary arrangement, something to pay the bills while I figured out how I would make my academic legal qualifications work for me. I ended up working in railway construction for over 4½ years! Again, I moved around: just over 1 year in compliance/handback of projects, 1 year facilitating workshops and running team build events, over 1 year managing the delivery of civils construction elements on an electrification project, and finally, 1 year providing communications and stakeholder management support on high profile railway improvement project across North London.
And then, just under a year ago, I left railway construction to come work on a high profile residential property development in Central London; still construction of course, but a clear departure from the public sector, working at a much faster pace, and with a completely new architectural design language to learn as well!
Despite all this professional experience, and clear ability to retrain and reinvent myself, I often struggle to feel that I belong in the working world. I regularly feel like I need to explain how I ended up here, and why I should feel entitled to stay, let alone progress in my career.
Some people call it Impostor Syndrome. Others might just say that it’s my Inner Critic. Others again might just say it’s a problem that is endemic with women; that we need to feel that we can perform 100% of a job’s requirements before we consider ourselves even entitled to apply for a job, let alone proudly feel we are already accomplishing the one we are actually doing!
Perhaps it’s something that I would always struggle with, after growing up with a sense of always feeling slightly out of place. But it’s not something that I accept; it’s something I actively work to manage. I seem to be aiming to live the advice that Mindy Kaling gives in her book Why Not Me?:
“Work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled. Listen to no one except the two smartest and kindest adults you know, and that doesn’t always mean your parents. If you do that, you will be fine.”