So the other day the subject of imposter syndrome reared its ugly head again. This was in a quick Twitter chat, but it reminded me that I blogged about the subject a few years ago. I thought I’d repost both of the entries I wrote then, along with a final note: faking it until you make it is a STELLAR strategy in life. Since the imposter syndrome is your own hang-up and NOT what other people really think of you, putting on that brave face and acting as though you have complete confidence is the best way to get what you’re feeling on the inside to catch up to what’s going on outside.
I was lucky enough to have dinner the other evening with a lovely group of women and Kristan Higgins and Michelle Willingham and I got onto the subject of “imposter syndrome”. It’s the feeling that creeps over you that somehow you’ve gotten by thus far on luck and deception and that THEY are going to find you out and come and take it all away and oh, just in case you thought you were going to write another book, WRONG. Your talent was always imaginary and it’s gone for good now and enjoy your new job at the convenience store where you will sell lottery tickets and pull slushy drinks for the rest of your natural life.
Yes, writers are histrionic, neurotic, and bug-nut crazy, in case you haven’t noticed. But we’re usually crazy in the same way, so when we get together, we unload these things and feel INFINITELY better. Even the best–most talented, most successful, most glamorous, just MOST–writers suffer from these feelings from time to time. Comes with the territory, I’m told.
So, what do you do about it? Nothing will banish it entirely, but there are a few things that will help. I joke about having taken up drinking as a hobby since I got published, but I do find that the occasional glass of wine with dinner is restful. I try to get plenty of sleep–although the dreams do put a bit of a spanner in the works on that score. I sometimes resort to meditation or journal-writing. When I’m very desperate indeed, I remember the mantra of Julian of Norwich–the English mystic: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
The other remedy, of course, is just to do the work. At some point you have to tell that wretched inner monologue to SHUT UP and you buckle down and put words on the page, no matter how foul, because it’s only by writing that you can rewrite and only by rewriting that you can make something better.
And that post was followed by this one:
So the last post on imposter syndrome really seems to have struck home for quite a few of you. I had notes on Facebook and emails saying, “THANK GOD” because apparently there are loads of you going through precisely the same thing.
Well, of course you are. I’ve always believed that people who don’t question themselves are dangerous. If you’re presented with opportunities and you never once hesitate or doubt or soul-search, then chances are you are either mindlessly arrogant or you are never pushing yourself far enough. I think to grow in any sort of creative occupation–and I suppose you could apply this to life in general–you have to always walk the knife edge between safety and annihilation. Either option is fatal, so the only remedy is balance, constantly checking your equilibrium to make sure you never lean too far to one side or the other. That sort of balancing act is exhilarating and dangerous and exhausting, but I also think it’s the only way to live. There is a frisson of fear that shivers the spine when you contemplate something you are not entirely certain you can do, and there is a palpable sense of victory when you manage to pull it off. (And if you fail, there is always the consolation of having tried.)
I think I’ve mentioned before that a few years back I was having a bit of a moan to myself about the fact that being published was keeping me in a permanent state of terror, it suddenly hit me that it was my own fault because I CHOOSE FEAR. It was one of those out-of-body moments where you suddenly see something with the most tremendous clarity it’s almost blinding. I realized that when presented with a choice regarding my work, I always pounced on the option that was most fear-inducing, most challenging, most terrifying. Now, I haven’t yet entirely worked out WHY. I actually have pretty well-honed slacker tendencies. There are certain areas of my life, *cough–college–cough*, where I did just as much as I needed to and not a particle more. I’m lazy about any number of things, and when it comes to my personal life, I’ve chosen a relationship of completely satisfying stability in that I’ve been married for twenty years.
Why then am I so happy to jump without a parachute when it comes to my work? I haven’t the faintest, and I’m not entirely sure I want to know. But just for today, contemplate doing something that makes you afraid…