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David our FE Coordinator talks about Imposter Syndrome.

My name is David Stapleton, and I was an imposter!

For the longest time I thought Higher Education wasn't for me. Sometimes when I thought about it, it seemed that going to University was something that other people did - other families, people from other places, people from other backgrounds.

I was wrong!

So let's rewind a bit. As a child, I had the greatest curiosity for reading, and wanted to learn as much as possible about as much as possible. Books were my thing, and I used to spend as much time as possible in the library or with my head in some adventure or book about the world. I think this led me to be a bit excitable in class, perhaps not the easiest child to deal with!

By the time I was a teenager, though, my parents were divorced, my home life was very turbulent - I narrowly avoided homelessness. At school, the local comprehensive, I was even less easy to deal with (even though I was still intellectually curious), and as a result, I didn't really get any careers advice.

So I left that school and joined the Army at 15, back when you still could - that was something you could do without qualifications, but even then there was only so far you could go, and I still felt restless. After I left, I came back to Grimsby and faced a very difficult jobs market in the 1990s - there wasn't much you could do without A-levels or more. After a few years working at sea, then I met the woman who's now my wife, who told me to get educated!

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But here's the thing - no-one in my family went to university, only 2 had gone to college. School hadn't prepared me to think about my education. More importantly, I hadn't been trained to think of myself as a student! This is where the imposter syndrome kicks in - the idea that 'you can't really succeed there', or ''that's for other people, not me'.

But I took a deep breath, went to my local college, signed up for an Access to Higher Education course, then on to Lincoln University, while working part-time and studying in the evening.

Going to university was a revelation....

For the first time in my life, I was able not only to study what I wanted (English literature - books, poems, plays, films, theories about culture and language), but my voice was heard in the seminars and classes. When I put my hand up to speak, people listened and responded. Not always to agree, but that was the best thing! Being challenged to grow, being supported to learn and to then use that learning was an amazing thing, and something that did wonders for my confidence.

I took a first-class degree in English (that was my passion for books, plays, poems and films coming out!), then studied a teaching qualification, and then into university lecturing and education management in 3 major colleges.

I was finally in the right place for me ... somewhere I could work to help people and have a fulfilling career. But it still took a while to shake that imposter feeling! I compared myself to people who'd gone straight to uni, or had been doing the job for decades, and I always thought 'pretty soon I'll get found out'. But do you know - it actually wasn't like that. Going through Higher Education gave me the same tools as everyone else and allowed me to make a great living in a field that was important to me, to make a difference, and that's a good feeling!

I've spent the last 17 years working with adults in higher education. I've learned so much from them - that students are curious, keen, that they don't like being talked down to, or given easy answers, and that this is what makes Higher Education such a special and invigorating environment.

What I have learned above all, though, is that you have to learn to think of yourself as an undergraduate, someone who's made a commitment to learning, and this isn't always easy if you come from a background where going to university is an unfamiliar experience.

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My advice? Find out as much as possible about what's out there in Higher Education. Get as much support as possible from as many people as you can. UniConnect and HOP are all designed so you can get the right information and build your confidence.

Start to speak to family, friends and teachers about opportunities. Don't worry if no-one around you has done the same thing that you're thinking of doing - you can be the first. This is where getting advice from teachers and outreach services like HOP are really useful - we can show you what's actually possible, and help you make the choices that are best for you.

Also, look at examples of people who've done really well in the field that your looking to study, whether medicine, arts or business. Don't assume that they were born to succeed, they probably started from where you are right now - and this means that it's possible! You'd be surprised at the journeys to success that many of the highest-performers went through, and the thing that's common to most of them is that they went through Higher Education, worked really hard, and then used what it taught them afterwards to succeed, and to enjoy what they do.

Above all, know that you can do it! Get the grades, plan the journey to higher education, and begin to take small and regular steps to making your dream come true. The bigger you dream, the better the payoff.

Do you now have lots of questions? You can have chat with me here!

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