Imposter Syndrome is something you might hear writers talk about. It's the secret fear that sooner or later everyone will figure out that you have no idea what you’re doing and reject you forevermore.
In reality, it’s something that can affect anyone. You experience a degree of success and you’re not quite sure if you deserve it. You don’t feel like you did anything special but people are thanking you or telling you that you did a good job.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
I’m writing this blog post because I recently started doing the adult professional thing; that is, receiving compensation in return for services I provide. It’s new, and things here at ECG are going well. That said, it’s still so easy to let my mind slip and start thinking, ‘My god, I somehow scraped my heel on my couch last week (true story), there’s no way I should be taken seriously!’ In spite of logic, successes often intensify this feeling.
That’s the essence of Imposter Syndrome. I first became aware of the official term for it listening to a podcast called “Writing Excuses.” Professional authors, people who’ve sold countless books, talking about how they still weren’t completely convinced they were better than anyone else.
It was ridiculous. Of course they’re good writers, totally deserving of their success. But that’s the point. Imposter Syndrome isn’t rational and it doesn’t discriminate.
Bearing in mind that I’m not an expert, I wanted to share a few ways that I fight this issue just in case anyone else out there is starting a new phase of their working life and feeling the same way.
I’m of the belief that a bit of self-doubt is a healthy thing. It keeps me grounded. If I start thinking I’m infallibly awesome, I get sloppy. I stop trying to improve every day. I try not to think of it as a fear of failure, but keeping in mind that there’s always a way to be better.
It’s still important to try to objectively evaluate what I have accomplished.
You can do the same thing! Look, you got a new job: there’s a reason for that. Even if it’s hard to see sometimes. You worked hard, you learned all you could, and you got rewarded. Maybe there was some luck involved, but if you look for it, you can probably pinpoint a decision you made that put you in the right place at the right time. As Louis Pasteur said a century ago: “Chance favors only the prepared mind.” For better or worse, I’ve found very few things in my brief professional life to be truly random.
Taking a Step Back
This is closely tied to being objective about achievements. Being a goal-oriented person—especially in an environment where projects tend to happen concurrently—it can be very easy to move from one project to another without a breath. Back to the drawing board. The last thing doesn’t matter because look at this new thing.
Step back. Try to appreciate that something was finished. Everyone was happy with it. You’ve done your job, objectively proving that you are capable of doing so. There’s going to be a voice in your head saying you just got lucky, and next time you’re bound to get exposed as a fraud. I will refer this voice back to the last sentence of the previous section.
At the heart of Imposter Syndrome is a mistrust of yourself, but there too is an implicit mistrust of those who put their faith in you. If it’s difficult for you to believe in yourself, try believing in the judgment of others.
If you trust they know what they’re doing, and they trust you to do your job, there must be a reason for it.
Putting One Foot In Front of the Other
While it can feel good to look back at a finished project and admire that you did something good, there is a flip side. You might look at it and think it’s so good you won’t ever be able to reach those heights again.
Remember: a first draft never looks like a final draft. A rough cut edit doesn’t look like the final version. There’s so much in between and it can be easy to forget how much work went into that awesome project.
One step at a time. If you’re feeling this way, don’t focus on the old finished product. Focus instead on all the things you learned making that project. If you can, apply that knowledge to your new project and let the process start again.
As I said, Imposter Syndrome is something people far more successful than I still struggle with. I don’t expect these tips to fix everything for me or for you, reader. But sometimes when I’m thinking that this next thing is going to be the one that undoes me, it helps me to go over these steps, maybe while taking a few deep breaths.
Remember the hard work you’ve done and trust that, if nothing else, you’re capable and driven enough to keep working just as hard in the future. It’s tougher for your brain to find time to doubt itself if stays occupied.