A lot of writers have said to me that they feel they’re impostors when writing, and that they’re really not cut out for the publishing industry. Somehow, they feel like their work is lesser, that there are other “real” authors out there, and they’re not one of them. Today, I’d like to talk a little about why writers (and many more of us) struggle so much with Impostor Syndrome…
Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
Our world is fast paced, high-octane, ultra success driven, and relentless. Everything has to be bigger and better. We’ve lost the ability to recognize that cookie cutter “perfect” isn’t perfect at all. In fact, it’s inherently flawed, because people then believe that if they don’t achieve it, they won’t be “the real thing”, they’ll be an imposter in whatever their chosen path in life is (writer, artist, mother, anything). So no matter how much they achieve, it will never feel enough. It’s the endless cycle of the serpent swallowing its own tail.
One of the beauties of life is its sheer diversity. And I’m not just talking about broad strokes religion, culture, creed, etc. (though those things are certainly included!). It’s more than that – each person is unique, individual, and that in itself means there can be no impostor. For, if we’re all different, then how can we all be the same? How can we all perform in the same way? The logical nature of that question reasons that we can’t be impostors. In turn, then why shouldn’t we celebrate the successes that we do have? Why do they have to be on a comparative scale?
There’s so much pressure in modern society, which none of us want. But where does it come from? Well, if we take a good hard look at ourselves, it comes from us. We either heap it on ourselves, or we inadvertently heap it on others. For example, look at when JK Rowling moved on to write her first adult book after Harry Potter…the weight of sheer pressure for the book to be good came from us, the very people who hate that pressure when directed onto ourselves. Do you think JK felt like an impostor? Who knows? But perhaps, because I think it’s far more common than people realize.
There are a few types of Impostor Syndrome I’ve noticed and how I try to deal with them if they crop up from time to time in my own life (which they do!).
- The Natural Genius – this is where we judge success based on natural ability and not hard work. If this thought ever strikes me, I put a very simple scenario in my head (and you can adapt this in any way that works for you). I’m a horse riding instructor, so I’m going to use that experience as an example. Horse Rider 1 is naturally inclined to riding and doesn’t have to train as long or hard to win her first contest. Horse Rider 2 has to work harder when training, and sometimes longer…but does her win means something less when it happens? Of course not. Just because something might take longer to achieve, doesn’t diminish its value.
- The Superwoman/man – Ah, the one where you feel like you need to handle the whole world and not take on an ounce of help, and if you do, you’re an impostor. This is where you’re striving toward constant validation, whether you realize it or not. For me, there’s another simple scenario that helps me out with this. I imagine picking up a plate and placing a small piece of food on it. Then another. And another. And another. And another. Until I have so many things that the plate can’t possibly hold any more. Something’s going to drop. So do I blame the plate for not being able to hold more? Of course not. There was no physical space left. I apply this thought process to my daily life – am I leaving enough space to hold what I can? Or am I putting so much into every day that it doesn’t matter what happens, something will fall, because it can’t physically not?
- The Perfectionist – this is a constant cycle of feeling like a failure because everything’s not quite 100% where we want it, or think it should be. When this person achieves the goal set out, it’s rarely satisfying because they believe they could’ve done even better. It can also lead to people never starting what they were going to do (like writing that novel!) because they don’t think it’ll come out good enough. The example I use to help counter this might be silly, but it’s effective for me. I think about my favorite food, one that is perfect to me – mince and potatoes. I love it. However – there are people who hate it (scandalous!). The point is, it’s not perfect to them. That means nothing can ever be perfect. Because someone will always see it in a different way than you. And even if you’re directing your perfectionism to just how you want it to be and don’t care about other people’s opinions, think about this: When you were age 6, you started to learn basic math. Were you perfect? God no. At age 7, you were better at math. Were you perfect? Nope. At 10? 12? 17? It’s about natural development and progression, something that continues for your life, so view it as learning and not perfection. There’s a big difference. Especially since perfect doesn’t really exist, anyway.
I hope this post shows you that you’re not alone, and that there’s no such thing as an impostor (unless you’re doing something silly like pretending you’re an elephant, and that’s a whole other thing in itself!). There are only people who are doing what they love, what they can, and what they want.
Until next post!