How to Beat Impostor Syndrome
In writing, you may hear something like this: How could you sit down and write right now? You have nothing to write about! What makes you think you can write a story about whales? You don’t know anything about whales! You call yourself a writer? Humph. Well “real” writers do x, y, and z which I haven’t seen you do at all.
My name’s Rachel, and I have impostor syndrome. Despite the fact that I have a degree in writing, have won awards for my writing, have been working for over a year to go to grad school for writing, I feel that somehow I am not a writer. Somehow, I am not smart enough, talented enough, disciplined enough, good enough to be a writer. These days, I don’t write frequently. I don’t read much. I don’t blog much. I’m not in a writing group. What do I have to show for it, the past? The past does not equate to the present. And the present is telling me that I have failed.
And yet, this is only temporary. A simple break in writing because of holidays and moving to a new apartment doesn’t mean I’ve failed as a writer and I’ll never write again. What is happening, brain?!
The definition of impostor syndrome, according to Wikipedia, is when “high-achieving individuals [are] marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as ‘fraud’.” Sketch artist Carl Richards calls it “the moment when you’re most vulnerable that all your doubts come crashing in around you.” In simpler terms, it’s that little nagging voice that says, despite everything, you’re not good enough.
And it’s paralyzing. If you listen to this voice and succumb to this fear, this uncertainty, these doubts, you’ll procrastinate. And it’s paralyzing. Your brain will reason its way out of doing something because it’s terrified. It’s terrified of not being good enough, smart enough, talented enough, so it will avoid revealing that at all costs. The writing will stop.
But the voice is wrong.
Impostor syndrome is a phenomenon that occurs for many, many people. With all the fantastic people in the world doing fantastic things, it’s easy to believe that they’re somehow better than us or that our little award for writing here isn’t as good as their writing award. Our brains are hard-wired to compare and compartmentalize. We view others as successful and smart, and we put them in a higher category than we place ourselves. We’re our own worst critics, and that’s not fair. With the infiltration of social media in our society, we have an increased number of people (ordinary and extraordinary people) to compare ourselves to. She blogs consistently. He’s been published. She’s won an award that I haven’t. And so perhaps it’s easier to fall into impostor syndrome these days. There’s so many people who are visibly great!
But that doesn’t mean I’m not.
The only limitations are the ones you place on yourself. If you don’t believe you’re a writer or you don’t believe you can write a great book, then you can’t. But there’s nothing that is actually making those dreams impossible. All you have to do is show up and put in the work. You can do anything you want to do, if you put the effort into it.
Most people in my generation have been told from a young age that they can do anything and be anything they want to. And I agree with this. But the piece that has been missing from the catchphrase is: if you put in the work. You can say you’re a writer and therefore you can be it. But you’re only going to be it if you sit down and put words on the blank page. Showing up is the key.
Perhaps, at this point, I am an impostor. I am a fraud. But that’s because I haven’t been showing up. And that’s about to change.
If I keep listening to this evil, nagging voice in my head that says I’m not good enough then I’ll never be good enough and I’ll never do it. I’ll keep procrastinating and nothing will get done. If, on the other hand, I realize that this impostor syndrome is my fears, uncertainties, and doubts creeping up on me, I can acknowledge it and move on. It doesn’t have to be this way forever. This, too, is only temporary. I am a writer. I believe it. I know that it’s scary and paralyzing and hard to go after your dreams and make them a reality. But I will confront that and I will get through it. Because what’s more important: the fear that I can’t, or the fear that I can?
Acknowledge it, and let it go. Impostor syndrome sucks. But I won’t let it suck the life out of me.
So the next time you’re feeling alone and impostor-ish, remember that you’re NOT alone. Welcome your fears in, confront them, and keep being you. These thoughts, this moment, is only temporary.