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“So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains.” There are no imposters out there.

Updated on: 05 Jul 2022   First published on 04 Jul 2022

Author:  Dr Alastair McKinlay 

 BSG LIVE 22 has come and gone.  Rarely has one of our Annual Conferences been so anticipated.  The mood throughout was palpably buoyant and positive.  People were just so glad to be back together, notwithstanding some significant obstacles that made the organisation a little difficult.  The RMT Union’s decision to hold a series of strikes right in the middle of the event was a problem we could have done without.  COVID was unfortunately still present, and I am sorry if anyone has become unwell and wish people a speedy recovery. 

The Annual Conference has been the missing ingredient for many BSG Members over the past three years.  Members have been deeply appreciative of the Society’s work during the pandemic and in particular for the COVID specific advice relating to endoscopy, liver disease, shielding, immunosuppression, and outpatient work.  We have had two successful virtual conferences, and BSG Campus will return in November 2022.  We had not done webinars before.  They are now a routine part of our membership offering.  The work on guidelines continued and the latest on qFIT, eosinophilic oesophagitis, and functional dyspepsia were warmly received at the Conference.  Above all, people appreciated the fact that the BSG led from the front during the unprecedented crisis that we have been through.  But at the end of the day, they were desperate to meet face to face, rekindle old friendships, and renew the social aspects of the Society; the glue that keeps it together. 

So why don’t more people come forward to take on the important roles that we need to fill to keep the Society running? 

I have reflected a lot on this as I complete my presidency.  BSG Presidents serve two years as President Elect, then two years as President, after which we simply fade away, a bit like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, hopefully leaving a smile.  It allows the new President to stamp their individual style on the leadership role.  It means that the Society constantly re-invents itself and moves forward.  As much as I have loved being the President, Andy Veitch and the team need to be free to move on and not be lumbered with the ghosts of their predecessors, appearing unhelpfully on the battlements. 

Part of the strength of the BSG is renewal and reinvention.  We started as a Scientific Society and Dining Club with a select membership.  A membership in which women did not feature prominently.  In fact, initially they did not feature at all. As the Society grew, so the membership diversified.  The increasing number of members who are women, or who trained outside the UK, or who come from different backgrounds, have reinvigorated the Society and are deeply appreciated.  They have been good for the BSG. 

Presidents used to be tapped on the shoulder, now they are appointed.  Technically any member can become President, although some experience with the Society is a pre-requisite.  To take on a role, you also have to apply.  The BSG is not a stage hypnotist. It cannot read the minds of its members.  You have to step forward. We can and will advise you, mentor you, encourage you, and try to help you decide if you want to take on a role.  But you have to have the courage to step forward and exorcise any perceived imposter that might say otherwise. 

Applying for any post requires courage.  Appointments are usually competitive, so by definition, not everyone can be successful, on every occasion.  To come second in any process always feels like failure or a personal judgement.  Honest people will admit that they have not always been successful, or succeeded in getting every position that they have ever wanted.  The same applies to less honest people; they just don’t talk about it. 

Success requires a combination of motivation, opportunity, ability, and importantly luck.  Ability is only one factor in the equation, and it isn’t always the determining factor.  Organisations don’t always need the most able candidate.  We all have different strengths and qualities and lots of factors determine the outcome of an appointment.  I have applied for many positions over the years.  Sometimes the failures came as a disappointment.  Sometimes, to be truthful, failure came as a relief.  Not every job is the “right job”.  

Which leads me to “imposter” syndrome: “the persistent inability to believe that success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own effort or skill”.  It is common, and there is some evidence that women may experience it more than men.  In my time as President, I have been surprised by a number of highly talented and successful people who have told me that they suffer from imposter syndrome.  By definition it is a personal experience and so it is not always obvious from the outside.  I see highly competent, extraordinarily assured trainees, nurses, and consultants.  They see self-doubt, failed applications, incomplete research projects and all the baggage that we carry, but carefully hide.  I know, I have several box rooms and attics in my brain packed to the rafters with baggage.  It is normal.   

The problem is that the baggage often leads to feelings of unworthiness and a reluctance to put oneself forward.  There is also the British tendency to be modest, to avoid self aggrandisement and publicity.  Which is very worthy, but sometimes gets in the way, and stops us from using all our talents.  And your talents, whatever they are, might be just the skill set the BSG needs.   

The BSG needs people who have the courage to step forward, and accept the risk of failure, and the possibility of having to put another piece of baggage in the attic.  I did not think I would be President.  Whether it was a good choice for the BSG, I leave to others to judge, but the Presidency was good for me.  Back in 2018, I would of course have felt some disappointment if I had not got the job.  Disappointed, but not devastated.  I can remember thinking that as I sat waiting for the call the morning after the interview.  I had already worked out what I would do next if, as I had expected, my services had not been required.  Disappointed, but not devastated.  Only one issue is certain.  If I hadn’t put in an application, I wouldn’t have got the job.  No one ever knocks on your door and says, “I know you didn’t apply but we need you back at the BSG,” as you gaze distantly out at the sunset, with a determined glint in your eye.  That only happens in movies.  Bad movies.  

There was an excellent seminar on “Burnout” at BSG LIVE 22.  It was practical, informative, and positive.  One comment stood out for me.  The people most likely to burn out are those who stick entirely to clinical work.  Doing something else, teaching, training, research, or work for the BSG, is good for people.  When it comes to burnout, the solution often lies in our own hands.  The key is out there waiting. 


“So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains, 

And we never even know we have the key.”  

From: “I’m already gone”, by The Eagles. 

Which by the time you read this, will also be true of me.   


Some final thoughts.   

Best wishes to Andy Veitch and Colin Rees as they take the Society forward over the next four years. 

To our many talented members.  Could you be the next President in line?  Forget the imposter and be ready in two years. 

If not the President, why not become a VP or chair a section? Or be a regional Rep?  Or an elected councillor?  Remember, you will never see an advert for the Chair of a Higher Committee.  It will always be the Deputy Chair. That gives you two years to tie up the imposter, learn the ropes, and just be you.  And what’s the worst thing that could happen?  We won’t tell anyone if you don’t get appointed next time round.  Who you tell is up to you.  


A huge thank you to all the BSG staff, Sarah Linnington, and Mark Hacker, for their hard work and unswerving loyalty during my term. 

To the Trustees, Executive, and Council for all their advice, help, and encouragement. 

And most of all, to the Members of the BSG for their continuing support and the hours of unpaid work that they do for the Society.  It is genuinely appreciated. No imposters here. 


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