I’ve noticed a trend in the discussion threads of groups that I belong to. I’ve also noticed that on occasion I fit into this trend. Not all the time, but every so often. Sometimes more than others. There is a doubt that winds its’ way through the community, touching on everyone here and there. Occasionally it strikes quickly then fades away. Sometimes it lingers like a summer cold and affects our work twice as much. It isn’t specific to writers, but it is definitely prolific among us.
“Each time I write a book, every time I face that yellow pad, the challenge is so great. I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out’.” -Maya Angelou
“Some years ago, I was lucky enough invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realize that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.
On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, ‘I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.’
And I said, ‘Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.’
And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.” —Neil Gaiman
I’m sure by now everyone knows the story of Tabatha digging the first pages of “Carrie” out of the trash because Stephen King threw them away. An incredible story rescued from a bout of self-doubt. If not for that woman in that moment we may not have had one of the greatest story tellers of our generation.
One of the best ways to combat Imposter Syndrome is to name your problem, state aloud that it is in fact Imposter Syndrome that is weighing on you, this immediately drains some of its’ power. Another is to realize that you are not alone. This is not a “You Problem”. This is something experienced nationwide, and no one is immune. The more successful you are, the more likely you are to feel as though you didn’t earn your success but were simply in the right place at the right time, and will be discovered as a fraud at any moment.
“It’s almost like the better I do, the more my feeling of inadequacy actually increases, because I’m just going, ‘Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud, and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved’.” –Emma Watson
Imposter Syndrome runs deep in younger, or newer, writers because we haven’t cut our teeth yet. It feels awkward to tell someone you’re a writer. You know they are going to follow up with the dreaded question, ‘what have you written?’, and we all know they mean ‘what have you published?’ When the answer is ‘nothing yet’ you know ‘then how can you call yourself a writer?’ is coming right behind.
“If you wish to be a writer, write.” –Epictetus
Writers write every day. It’s just what we do. I have never published a story, and I have sold only one product description to another website, but I hold my head high and call myself a writer, in the privacy of my own home. Am I a writer? I really can’t say with any sort of confidence, within ear shot of anyone else, that I am. I believe I am, until I don’t. I can tell you that my posts are better received, and stories easier to write, when I am writing with confidence. They also feel better to me in that moment. Take this post for example, I feel good about this one because one thing I’m confident about is knowing what not being confident feels like.
“I think the most creative people veer between ambition and anxiety, self-doubt and confidence. I definitely can relate to that. We all go through that: ‘Am I doing the right thing?’ ‘Is this what I’m meant to be doing?’”-Daniel Radcliffe
When you hit one of those valleys, talk to someone. Talking to family or friends about it helps, good friends almost always make good sounding boards. Talking to other writers really helps, they have an intimate knowledge of what you are going through, and can offer a unique insight. Most of all keep writing/working. It’s hard for Imposter Syndrome to drag you down when you are fighting through it. Fake it till you make it definitely applies here. It’s like swimming against the current, if you rest for even a minute you lose ground. Continuing to work can help prove to yourself that you’re not an imposter, or a fraud.
“Envy is ignorance.” –Emerson
In the world of social media, perception is everything, even if rarely true. Comparing yourself to other writers or copywriters is pure folly. You don’t know what someone went through to get where they are. You can only see what they show you. It’s like opening a candy store then comparing yourself to Milton Hershey. Most people don’t know that Hershey had multiple failed candy companies before he started Hershey’s Chocolate as you now know it. Bloggers touting 50k unique visitors in their first 6 months aren’t telling you that it’s their 10th site, and they pretty much got their system down pat by this point. You can’t judge your self-published e-book based on the success of 50 Shades. You are who you are and, you will have to take your own path to success. Remember to learn from others, be yourself, and that quitting is the only failure.
Make a list of all you’ve accomplished, and don’t be stingy. I sometimes have to remind myself that the stories that I’ve entered into contests are accomplishments, even though I did not win. I stood up and took a chance, I put myself out there. I did something I had always wanted to do. Whether or not I won, I achieved a goal and raised the bar for myself. Even small deeds are still triumphs, so be truly honest with yourself. When you’re making this list include any positive feedback you’ve received on work you have done, no matter how small. Keep all of this in a file for easy access. These are your successes. Successes that show you are not an imposter or fraud. You worked hard for this and you deserve it.
“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.”― Lao Tzu
This is the hard part, accepting that self-confidence is exactly that, confidence in ones-self. It can’t be given to you, but it also can’t be taken from you. You alone hold sway over how you feel about you. Others can point out traits that they admire in you, but whether or not you believe them is solely up to you. I can tell you all day long that you are a brilliant writer, and it won’t make a bit of difference if you believe otherwise. Repeat to yourself a few times a day, ‘I am not a fraud, I am great at what I do, I am successful’.
“Even when everything is going terribly and I have no reason to be confident, I just decide to be.” -Derek Sivers
There is a trait in Imposter Syndrome that is constantly looked over. Imposter Syndrome is the feeling that one did not earn their successes, that they will be discovered as a fraud, that their successes are undeserved, that their accomplishments were the result of luck rather than skill. Success. One who has done nothing doesn’t feel as though they are a fraudulent couch potato. I’ve never heard someone say ‘I haven’t really done anything with my life, but I actually feel like a ginormous success.’ Imposter Syndrome is a symptom of success. You feel this way because you have busted your ass, and you stepped outside your comfort zone, and you’re still uncomfortable. It’s ok. It’s ok to not be ok. Think of it this way. Your brain knows that you are successful enough that it can convince you that you aren’t. You feel this way because you have achieved great things, even if you don’t realize it yet.
Comment below and tell me about your bouts with Imposter Syndrome.