I know we are often told to live in the moment, but I’m one of those sentimental types who often reflect on times gone by. I see nothing wrong with it. I’ve been writing a diary since I was eight years old and every now and again I escape to the loft and flick through the pages, reminiscing about that boy who broke my heart or the day my dog died, with fondness. At the time I was too heartbroken to appreciate what these experiences had given me, but there’s something about time that allows you to see a situation differently.
The other day I found an old school report. I opened it up and read to myself and was shocked to see that at the age of 15 there it was in black and white: IMPOSTER SYNDROME. Written by my English teacher Mr. Kelstead.
‘Alison is more able than she gives herself credit for, often appearing surprised and bemused when she is praised for her work.’
And here I am over two decades on, doing exactly the same thing. When I submitted my first article to the Sun I was genuinely shocked they decided to publish it.
If I had any advice for my younger self it would be trust yourself and your experience.
I think it’s something that girls in particular suffer with; perhaps we are not praised as much academically, with the focus on how we look or how kind we are to others. As a mum of a boy and a girl, I try to be less gender specific with my language, but it’s so hard to change something that is ingrained in you.
Imposter syndrome is a version of not trusting yourself, not trusting your abilities or your experience. I’m lucky that I am a forty something who has chalked off most of my goals, but it’s taken me a while to finally feel confident in my ability and it’s mostly because there weren’t many people along the way supporting me. I’m now a TV presenter of over 20 years and if I’d listened to the ‘friendly advice’ I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.
Take Greta Thunberg. I’m saddened by the number of people who think it’s ok to bash her when she’s just trying to do her bit to help our precious planet. She’s young and vulnerable, it’s not a fun place to be without support.
When I was 4 years old I became vegetarian. I know, 4 years old! I know some of you will not believe me, but I’m telling the truth. Back then I had an older friend who was 8 years old, my next-door neighbour. She was very strongly against animal cruelty and into campaigning; a little Greta you might say. She would show me horrific posters and write to companies lobbying them. I was so shocked by it all that I decided I didn’t want to eat meat. This was 1981; I can tell you now it was not an easy time to be a vegetarian. My mum despaired and tried to trick me, but I was pretty stubborn.
Poor Alison, she looks so weak and skinny
Back then I remember everyone talking about me, sometimes behind my back and sometimes to my face. ‘Poor Alison, she looks so weak and skinny’ or if I ever had a day off school sick ‘it’s because she’s vegetarian.’ My poor mum was constantly attacked by other parents for being a bad mother, even though it had nothing to do with my mum. My mum loves meat! The classic one was ‘if she was my child she’d just starve, I’m not cooking two meals’. I mean come on, what mother would actually let their child starve through choice? I was a vegetarian and that was that. There was very little my mum could do about it, and she tried. Sometimes I would tell people I was trying to do my bit for animals and they would laugh saying ‘what can one person do?’ In the end I found it easier to just tell people I didn’t like meat, spare myself the constant lectures.
I carried this with me my whole life. I was the outsider, the only vegetarian in my year and rarely met another. As the years went by, one by one I had some support.
For what it’s worth, years later I thought it was a good idea to try meat, I was a little older and I had my own mind. I did it partly to shut people up too, but I didn’t see what all the fuss was about, I tried a few things (yes I tried bacon) and although it was ‘ok’ I really didn’t enjoy eating it all that much.
The reason I’m telling you all this is not to sound all smug and righteous, but to explain that it has taken almost 3 decades for me to learn that being vegetarian might actually a pretty good idea. Because I was constantly criticised about my health I made sure I took supplements and had a varied, healthy diet. It actually makes me laugh (and a little sad) that now and only now people are finally saying that a plant-based diet may actually be better for you… and yes, one person CAN make a difference.
When I watched the documentary What The Health I finally felt vindicated, but imagine having to wait that long to feel approval? I feel sad for the young Alison constantly having to defend myself but I had no power, confidence or education to support me, so I let the adults bully me and make me feel like I was wrong.
So this, my friends, is a little anecdote, the adults aren’t always right. Go with your instincts, sometimes children are smarter than they might appear. Ignore the haters. If you swim against the tide it will take longer, but when you get there you’ll be so much stronger for it, and one person CAN change the world.