In the few short years I have spent working in outdoor sports media, I have become increasingly enthralled by the women I have encountered. The great outdoors seems to attract some incredibly compelling and complex women in an environment conducive to self-reliance, independence and the unapologetic pursuit of one’s goals. But conversely, these things coexist in equal measure with the issues that women must face and overcome. Through the multiple discussions I have had the privilege to hold with many gutsy girls, it is apparent that a common denominator that brews insecurity in the outdoors is imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome implies that an individual may not feel that they deserve their space in a certain environment, that they haven’t earned their right to be there or that they don’t meet the standard criteria for belonging to said environment. Straight off the bat, imposter syndrome is one of the many lingering side effects of a patriarchal society and structural violence that withholds power from women and demands that they earn their space to exist. For the most part (although it does seem that perceptions are slowly beginning to shift), Western culture doesn’t nurture leadership in young girls, or their sense of adventure and the pursuit of outdoor exploration. That’s not to say that many women opt to take up these sports, simply that it isn’t necessarily the first road they are pointed down, hence the low numbers of women result in them being held to higher standards.
Finding your place and feeling a sense of belonging in a male-dominated sphere can be tricky and induce feelings of inadequacy. Doing things wrong, being a beginner, feeling limited in your abilities, not having the right equipment, not looking ‘the part’, these are all things that can be a hindrance to taking the next step in your endeavours. Here are some steps to take to feel at ease and in control of your own experience:
Remember that everyone started as a beginner :
In 90% of cases, someone else has experienced exactly what you’re going through at some stage. Even though it’s hard to accept, experience and skill are slowly built over time, each achievement or setback holding a new lesson. Don’t be ashamed of failing – it will just bring you closer to your goal, little by little.
Take pride in your own achievements :
You can admire someone else’s accomplishments and use them to fuel your motivation, but at the end of the day, your existence is yours. No matter how small your achievement is, it is yours only and you are the only one crafting your progress. No mind or body is the made identical, and their is truly not one right path to achieving a goal.
Join a female club :
Finding an inclusive community that welcomes and encourages you is the best way to learn and share your journey with like-minded people. There is no bond stronger than the one shared between women who strive to elevate each other.
Take the time to be alone :
The support of others is a precious thing. But at the end of the day, you are on your journey alone and the most important support you will ever receive is the one you provide yourself. Go find out what you’re capable of alone, learn to enjoy your own presence and you’ll never be held back by fear of judgment.
On a more subversive level, emotions are information. Many of us experience imposter syndrome in some form or another in our daily lives, may it be professionally, or emotionally (“I don’t deserve my job, I’m not good enough for my romantic partner, I don’t feel like I fit in with my friends”) but since feelings of insecurity are often exacerbated by environment, the physicality of sports can often highlight them. Acknowledging and seeking to unpack these emotions are a way of taking back the power from the things that inflict these insecurities and the first step to finding self-reliance. I think that one of the main reasons that women are drawn to the outdoors is their need to define themselves in a space where they are free from behavioral and social expectation. They see the potential to gain consciousness of their strength and ability in an empowering environment, to push through the noise of cultural discourse and be fully present in their entirety without the fear of taking up space, without feeling they need to carefully contain themselves, a sensation that organised sports can occasionally bring back up.
In order to fully own ourselves and our expectations, we have to unlearn the limitations that have been laid upon us, to be the sole operator of our own machine. At the end of the day, the best way to gain unwavering self worth is to give yourself permission to be the provider of said worth. To build it with your own hands.
So climb that mountain. Run that race. Ride that downhill. Kayak those rapids. Your chapter doesn’t make sense in anyone else’s book.
Written by Céleste Botton
*if this post resonates with you we highly recommend you check out the Sparta Chicks Radio Podcast. The Imposter Complex is something they deal with on a regular basis: https://www.spartachicks.com/radio/