Interviews

Talking self-doubt, imposter syndrome and doing the things that scare you with Stevie Martin

If you bump into me on the Jubilee Line on a Tuesday morning, I should warn you that I won’t take my headphones out to say hello because I’ll be listening to the Debrief podcast. If you haven’t already listened (or heard me rambling on about it), it’s a weekly show hosted by writer/journalist/comedians Tessa Coates and Stevie Martin. Each episode hilariously addresses some very millennial issues – ranging from how to talk about feminism, to how to be single, to how to poo properly (it’s v informative, peeps, I tell ya). And if you’re STILL not listening to podcasts at all – gurl, where you been? The podcast app is literally on your phone already and you can download them for free.

ANYWAY, a few weeks ago, The Debrief’s podcast on self-promotion forced me to stop being so embarrassed about my blog/life/everything I’m doing, so I decided to write to Stevie to see if she’d be up for a chat about all manner of moany millennial issues. She very nicely said yes, and here we are.

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Besides being a podcast host, Stevie Martin (not to be confused with the white-haired actor Steve Martin, as Google may suggest) is a successful writer and journalist, published in The Debrief, ELLE, Grazia, Stylist to name a few. She’s one third of the critically-acclaimed stand-up and sketch group Massive Dad, alongside her podcast co-host Tessa Coates and Liz Kingsman, who all met at Durham Uni (one night I fell into a YouTube hole watching their sketch clips and was lolling very hard indeed). And to top it all off, she’s recently gone solo with her own Work in Progress stand-up show and had actually gone up on stage for her first show a few days before we spoke.

All of these achievements are obviously very impressive, but Stevie talks regularly on the podcast about being afraid of life, lacking confidence and suffering from imposter syndrome (the feeling that you don’t deserve your successes, and that someone may tap you on the shoulder at any moment and say ‘ha, just kidding, you’re actually shit’). As someone who needs constant reassurance that I’m actually doing fine and not completely terrible at everything, I find it interesting that so many of us feel like this – even those who, from the outside, seem to have their shit together in a big way. We chatted a lot about this (among other things), and I hung up the phone feeling much more positive, powerful and feeling like I should really get a pet tortoise. I hope you enjoy our conversation!

Arielle: To me, stand-up comedy seems like the scariest thing ever. How do you deal with that fear?

Stevie: It really is terrifying. I’ve done comedy since 2014 with Massive Dad, and I remember doing our first ever gig as a sketch group. It felt so embarrassing because you’re basically getting up there and saying to everyone, ‘we think we’re really funny and we want you to all pay to come and watch us’. We were so shaky, but once you’ve done the first one, you realise it actually doesn’t matter if it’s not great. No-one really cares other than you. People will barely think about it beyond the time they’re watching you. And I was so frightened about doing my own show, but actually it was really nice – the audience were so friendly. And I’m so glad I did it because I’m not frightened anymore, so I just want to run around screaming at people to do the things they’re frightened of.

A: You talk about being scared of things a lot on the podcast, but yet you seem to do such scary things like this! Would you say you take this fear and run towards it?

S: It’s funny actually, my boyfriend listens to the podcast (also known as ‘the shadow’) and he was saying, you always act like you’re so scared of everything and completely shit, when then you’ve also done a lot of things that are objectively completely terrifying. So yeah, I think so. I had a really difficult time when I was at university, where I actually dropped out for a year. I was at Durham which was really academic, and I wasn’t enjoying my degree. I didn’t know what I was doing for the first time in my life and wasn’t in control of anything, so I sort-of lost it. I stopped going to lectures and stayed in bed a lot, and I was frightened of everything. My friend convinced me to join a comedy sketch group and everyone in it was so amazing and I responded really badly, basically withdrawing from everything. So my parents and I made the decision to take me out of Uni for a year. I did some work on myself and tried to boost my confidence a bit and I went back feeling so much better. But I think I got this thing where I was like, wow I can’t do that again. That was really horrible, that feeling of being paralysed and being frightened of everything. So I refuse to ever feel like that again. I kind-of got to a stage where I was feeling like that last year, and that’s when I decided to do the podcast. To be honest, I probably should have done a solo show earlier, but I was too scared. But now I just think, it frightens me more not doing it. I think it was Tessa who said that to me; that feeling of not doing something is so much worse than the feeling you get before doing something you’re scared of (in our case, stand-up shows). It actually makes you feel alive. Like, it’s also horrible and I couldn’t stop going to the toilet for like three days before the show, and I couldn’t eat, but I felt like I was actually doing something useful.

A: I definitely think I’m scared of doing things, for fear I’ll look like an idiot, but in reality, my harshest critic is usually myself.

S: Yeah, I definitely felt that much more in my early twenties. But I’ve started to realise that if you try something out, 90% of the time it will be fine. And that 10% where it’s not fine will make you so much better at whatever it is you’re doing, and helps you develop a thicker skin. When I did my MA in Journalism at City, I found it so difficult and I was so stressed. I look back and wish I didn’t get so upset about it and so worried about what other people thought. When I didn’t get a job for 18 months after my course I was like, ‘I’ve ruined my life.’ But actually, if you keep on moving forward, it will work out fine.

A: I think I’m always worried that I’m in the wrong place, that I should be so much further ahead. Did you ever get that?

S: Oh, yeah. I have some friends who are doing so much better than I am, and in my sad times, I get really down and think I just must not be as good. But I’m getting to an age now where I’m realising life is actually just a race with myself, not anyone else. I’m doing my own thing, and there actually isn’t an outside adjudicator being like, ‘oh well you haven’t done that in time’. We have so much more time than we think we do. When I didn’t have a job in journalism yet aged 24, I was like ‘well, I’m finished’ and that is so absurd to me looking back. You just have to keep going because it’s always good enough for where you are. I mean, I do still feel like that sometimes. I did the show and I’m really excited about it, but when I was with Massive Dad we did our first show in 2014, in the same small venue in Edinburgh, in the same slot, and I’m like, ‘oh am I just going back to when I was 26? What am I doing?!’

A: It is hard not to compare yourself to what other people your age are doing…

S: Yeah, especially with social media it’s kind-of forced on us that we have to see what people are doing at all times. But even the people who have everything together feel like they’re behind. Like even my friend Emma [Gannon] has everything together, she’s doing so amazingly with two books and a successful podcast, but I know she sometimes feels like that too. It’s reassuring to know that no-one feels normal, and everyone’s looking for the next thing. The problem is we don’t have a barometer to know what’s going well and what isn’t, so we look at other people for that, when that really doesn’t help at all. And using social media as a way of seeing what everyone’s doing is just psychologically unhealthy. I used to find Instagram made me feel really shit about myself, but now I’ve curated my feed so that I can use it without it making me feel sad. I’ve unfollowed people who triggered that reaction and now my feed is full of dogs and memes – things that make me happy! I especially found it really hard when I finished City without a journalism job and everyone was posting about their amazing jobs.

A: Social media is one of those things where I think, it sucks – but you can’t beat it so you sorta have to join it.

S: Yeah definitely. I have to use it to promote shows or articles I’m doing, but also I know I literally wouldn’t speak to some of my friends if I didn’t have things like WhatsApp.

A: Something I always feel really torn over is the fact you’re told that your twenties is the time to make the groundwork for an amazing career, but it’s also when you should have the most fun, where you’re most carefree. How do you juggle that? Do you feel like you can do both?

S: I don’t think you really can do both, but the important thing is just to forgive yourself when your career or social life suffers. When I look back, I really don’t regret any of the times I went out when I could’ve been working on my career. I’ve never thought, ‘I wish I didn’t go to that party and wrote my blog instead’ or whatever, because you really need that balance. I actually think earning going out by working hard is a really good way of living. So, I try not to work on weekends, and just really buckle down during the week. But it’s also okay to go through phases where you really focus on one. When I did Massive Dad alongside the Debrief, I was a complete mess. I was so tired all the time, so you do need to push yourself as well. Sometimes you do need to go through times where you work flat-out because those times make you feel more alive. In the same way, other times you’ll be going out and getting really drunk and that makes you feel alive too. You shouldn’t lose sight of the fact you’re not going to have your twenties again. I’m not saying it’ll be that much different to your thirties, but it’s true what people say that gradually your priorities change. A big night out genuinely doesn’t appeal to me as much anymore now I’m nearly 30. I just don’t want to go out as much, so I don’t regret doing it loads in my twenties. You won’t forever!

A: I do sometimes feel though, that I’m running out of time. Like, that you need to get everything done in your twenties.

S: Yeah, it sounds so silly but I actually had a cry the other day about the fact I’m approaching 30. I was watching Graham Norton and Saoirse Ronan was on there, and she’s 22. There’s literally nothing comparable between the two of us; I’m not an actress or whatever, but I just happened to have a meltdown and eat a tub of Ben and Jerry’s because it just made me think, I’m old! It’s funny because Tessa actually said to me, really sadly, that now she’ll never be an Olympic athlete. Obviously she never would have been one anyway, but when you’re young you feel like you have all those options open to you. And then you get to your late twenties and freak out a bit that you’ve picked the wrong path. It’s totally stupid, I know.

A: One of the things I love about the Debrief podcast is the way it deals with that feeling of not being an adult yet. Do you think it’s just our generation that feels like this?

S: I think it’s because older generations had a bit more guidance of where their lives were going to go. Like a lot of people just did the job their parents did, and obviously a lot of people were aiming to settle down with a house and kids in their twenties, and if you didn’t do that then you were a bit weird and cause for concern. But now we’re all in that weird category, and we’re all just crashing around wondering what the big milestones are. I think that’s why we’re all feeling behind for our age, because we don’t actually know where we’re supposed to be.

A: You’ve mentioned feeling like you have imposter syndrome a few times before – is that something you still deal with now?

S: Yeah, I don’t think it ever really goes away. When people ask me for work, I do often think, ‘oh could you just not get anyone else?’ But I think it’s a really common trait in women. Most guys from birth are programmed in a way to believe that they just deserve their successes. I have a few good guy friends from university who went to Eton, and they could whip our a dissertation in three nights and get a First. I used to think, ‘oh, they’re just really clever’ but I think it’s more that they’ve been taught that they are good enough to be able to do that. They’re blag artists. They go into things with so much confidence and just don’t believe they will fail; they’re taught from the age of 11 that they won’t fail because they’re the cream of the country. Obviously Eton is a very different ballgame, but I do think that roughly applies to men generally too. They’ve been taught, if you walk into a meeting people will listen to you. If you shout the loudest, you will get your ideas across. Girls don’t do that, unless you’re a ‘mouthy girl’. It’s like being called bossy when you were younger. I don’t think any of the boys I knew were called bossy. I really hope that will change with the next generation though. Millennials are definitely more woke to these issues and I don’t think they’ll bring up their children like that anymore.

A: Do you have any takeaway tips for conquering self-doubt?

S: My biggest thing would be: isn’t it better that something keeps you up at night because you’re doing it, than it keeps you up at night because you’re not? The other thing that really helps is feeling so prepared for anything you’re doubtful about. Whether it’s leaving a job, doing a new course or even breaking up with someone, you’ll feel like you’re going to fail because you just don’t have enough information. I think being prepared for any decision you’re making is really going to help. I really over-prepared for my comedy set, and saved up a lot of money to hire a director I really like. We tried really hard to minimise all the things that would make me freak out. I think Tessa said that to me – just look at all the things that are going to make you freak out and try to minimise them. And don’t feel stupid for it. I also think you need to be really kind to yourself. You should be really proud that you’re doing something frightening, and it will always be beneficial. Remember it’s never going to be comfortable, but it’s a good thing to be out of your comfort zone. You need to do that in order to move forward. And in terms of everyday, if you’re having a day of really crippling self-doubt, write a list of all the little things you can do to make yourself feel better. Do that thing that help you relax, even if its just 15 minutes out of your day. I know for Tessa, it’s having a shower and washing her hair (which should really be a given, but each to their own). Personally, I like to spend time with my tortoise. She literally doesn’t give a shit about me, or my self-doubt. It’s really effective.

Follow Stevie on Twitter and Instagram

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