“Hi, I know you don’t start until 11 am today, but we need you to cover an inquest this morning. Is that okay?” My editor barks down the phone as soon as I pick up.

I rub my eyes and stifle a yawn. What time is it? I wonder to myself.

“S-sure,” I stutter. I’m not meant to start until later this afternoon. I was given two hours off in lieu on account of doing a 70 hour week last week. We don’t get paid overtime, you see.

“So, can you get down there for 9 am?”

“Sure, yeah, I’ll be there!” I say as I stumble out of bed and fumble around for my shirt. It’s 8 am now, and it’s at least a 30-minute drive to court.

But I don’t complain, because I work in journalism now. It’s is my dream job. I’ve had it for two months, and I won’t mess it up.

Also, this is expected, isn’t it? Aren’t journalists supposed to be flexible and passionate? Willing to drop everything for a chance to get the story? Forget time off. I’ll get time off when I die.

“Great, we’re short on staff today. Speak soon!” She hangs up.

I get down there in record time, take notes, do the story and call the newsdesk: “Hi, I’ve wrapped up here so I’ll drive back to the office and write it up.”

I’m pretty happy with how quickly I got there and the notes I took. Especially as I had no time to do background research — this wasn’t a breaking news story, and I would have typically prepped in advance.

“Right. Don’t you have your laptop on you? We want it now, really.”

“No, it’s in the office, I didn’t have time to — ”

“Well, you’re new, but in the future — take your laptop home. You never know when we’ll need you to jump on a story.”

“I could write a holder story on my phone and send it to you?”

I hear a sigh as she acquiesces. I grit my teeth but say nothing. I want to scream, “I’m doing this on my morning off.”

And that’s how I end up writing the story on my old iPhone. It’s slow going. Work never got around to sending me a work phone, so I’m using a personal device that desperately needs upgrading.

But I do it anyway.

A rocky start to my dream job

My first three months in the journalism industry were a string of events just like that one. I used my own tech, I worked 70 hour weeks, and I never got my overtime back.

The pay was paltry; given the hours I was doing, it was far below minimum wage.

In response, I was more often than not treated as an inconvenience. This was an entry-level job. The training was offered as part of the role — but a mention of training only ever appeared in the job description.

I was expected to hit the ground running and work my butt off like I’d been doing this for years. It wasn’t until I gained some experience that I realized I was a complete doormat who had fallen prey to toxic management.

There were many issues, partly because there were many editors who didn’t communicate amongst themselves. Too many cooks in the kitchen, as the saying goes.

The editor-in-chief often failed to remember when I was supposed to have to time off, but he never struggled to remember when I was meant to come in on my days off.

At the time, I naively believed this lack of communication was an oversight and that not bringing it up would make me more palatable — a real part of the team and a real journalist.

Imposter syndrome made me feel worthless

When I got the job, I was sure it was a fluke. They’d made a mistake. I mean, I was an introvert who wasn’t even a native English speaker. What was I doing in a newsroom?

Imposter syndrome (IS), where you believe you’re not as competent as others perceive you, is a lot more common than previously thought. Recent research suggests that 70% of the population experience it at least once in their lives.

Individuals who experience IS are also more likely to put themselves under significant pressure to avoid failureCoupled with demanding management tactics and lack of experience, this led me to compromise my boundaries to the extent I described.

But guess what? When your boss is toxic, it doesn’t matter what lengths you go to please them. They will always want more, and they will exploit your lack of experience and confidence for their own gains.

I was so desperate to feel like I was a real journalist; I did everything I was told without questioning it.

It wasn’t enough.

It left me wondering whether I’d made a horrible mistake. Clearly, I was doing an awful job, and maybe journalism just wasn’t for me.

After three months, I moved to a different newsroom and had a wonderful experience, though not right away.

I was still terrified that I’d be a disappointment and not good enough once again.

Once, my new editor called me ‘a solid journalist’ after I delivered a particularly difficult story, and I nearly cried. It was the most affirming thing I’d heard from someone else about my career in journalism so far.

Slowly, very slowly, I started gaining confidence.

I was working on my own stories, not stories that were handed to me by editors. And they were doing well! They were being picked up by national outlets and shared widely.

Letting go of the feelings of inadequacy

They were always there — I doubt I’ll ever fully let go of them — but I was able to focus on more positive emotions as I succeeded.

Yes, flexibility and grit were still expected, but the attitude of our management was different. And that made me confident and showed me I did have what it took.

When you’re struggling with imposter syndrome, a supportive management style that focuses on your successes and lets you thrive can make all the difference.

However, especially when you’re first starting in the workplace, the last thing you need is a toxic environment that makes you believe you’re worthless. If you’ve just started your dream job and aren’t sure you’re cut out for your career of choice — don’t lose hope.

It’s probably not you.

But you don’t realize that when your imposter syndrome is exacerbated by a toxic boss who takes advantage of your inexperience and lack of boundaries.