Lady of the jungle

"Lady of the jungle"

I grew up on the 13th floor of a block of flats on a council estate in Birmingham. Just before my 6th birthday I was sent off to an all white school.

All I remember is that one minute I was at home with people who looked like me, the next minute I was feeling alone and exposed – the only one in the room.

I didn’t just feel like an imposter. When my teachers called me “lady of the jungle” and my friends told me “Caroline, you’re not like normal black people at all, you’re actually quite nice”, I felt like one.

I felt ashamed and humiliated.

Caroline Flanagan - people like us

"People like us"

At 13, despite extraordinary grades and winning all the prizes and awards at my previous school, I got rejected from an all-white school.

On hearing the news my mum looked at me with tears of anger in her eyes. “It’s not your fault” she said. “Places like that don’t want people like us.”

I remember how painful it felt to think that. But more than that I remember the rebellious fire of determination this ignited within me. That day I vowed to myself never to accept that. I vowed that the colour of my skin would never stop me from achieving my goals.

Caroline Flanagan - success down to luck

Feeling like a fraud

6 weeks before my A levels we got evicted from our council flat. I was living in London at that stage, just me and my brother Calvin left to make ends meet. It was hard.

Being evicted was devastating. When I got the grades I needed to take up my offer at Cambridge it was a dream come true. I was one step closer to a job that would give me financial security and ensure that no-one could take away my home again.

I only remember seeing one other black student at Cambridge. Everyone else had gone to private school and there was a lot of talk of trust funds! I felt like such a fraud and that I didn’t deserve to be there.

But I battled through and the hard work paid off. I won a training contract at magic circle firm Allen & Overy. After all the struggles and challenges, this was it – the career I’d worked so hard for. The career which cemented my experience of being the only one in the room.

Caroline Flanagan - imposter syndrome my strength

"Imposter Syndrome is my strength"

Despite all my success, I couldn’t stop feeling like a fraud. I knew I was capable of more, but I kept holding myself back. I was terrified of being found out.

I tried everything to change this. Every tip, every hack, every confidence trick in the book. When nothing worked, I tried the only thing left – understanding why I had imposter syndrome and choosing to value what it said about me: that I am unique, one of a kind; that there is no one like me.

From that moment on, Imposter Syndrome became my strength. I was proud to be an imposter.

Caroline Flanagan - you're not the only one

"I'm not the only one"

Sometime later I attended a fancy black tie event in Claridges. There was just me and another black girl in the room. “Why are we always the only ones?” she said to me, despair and frustration in her voice.

What happened next changed me forever. “We’re not the only ones in the room. We’re the first!”. The answer rolled off my tongue so fluidly, so naturally. I felt this truth so deeply and powerfully.

My story, my whole life’s journey, my mission and my purpose were all crystallised in that moment by a belief that elevated my-self concept and transformed my life – I’m the first.

Caroline Flanagan - Be the first

"Be the first"

This belief can be as powerful for you as it has for me. With this belief you will be you bigger than your circumstances. You will break down every barrier and break through all the bias. You will build a career and a life that blow your mind and surpass your wildest dreams. All you have to do is, be the first.