Chatting about impostor syndrome

A few weeks ago, a Twitter chat started up in my mentions around the subject of impostor syndrome. I made the comment that I was very familiar with it, which interested–and quite possibly horrified–a writer who is newly-published. He believed that the feeling of not being good enough, that publishers are going to “find you out” and take away all your hard-won success, would go away at a certain point.

Except it doesn’t. Success is a combination of factors. Talent, timing, perseverance, hard work–all of these go into the cocktail. And they can also trip you up. There will always be someone you think is more talented, someone who seems to work harder, get luckier. So when you become successful, it’s all too easy to undermine yourself by second-guessing your arrival. It doesn’t help that it never quite feels as if you HAVE arrived. You’re always after the next rung on the ladder, not just because you want more but because most of us grow up with the cultural expectation of ACHIEVEMENT. I blame the Puritans; it’s hard to appreciate the concept of la dolce vita when your ancestors were hewing out a new country and sitting through six-hour prayer services. FOR FUN.

So, the short answer is NO, this feeling that you might not be worthy doesn’t necessarily abate. You can cushion it with your successes; you can look at awards or contracts or bestseller lists and feel pretty good about yourself. Better, you can read a sentence you’ve written and LIKE it. And hopefully those good days will vastly outnumber the bad. But there will inevitably be bad ones too, days when you doubt yourself and your talent and everything you think. The important thing to remember is those days aren’t real. They’re products of your imagination. Of course, so are the good days. If you insist on listening to your mind when it tells you you’re rubbish, you have an obligation to listen on the days it says you’re a superhero. Because THOSE are the days that get you through.