Feel like a fraud? Waiting for the axe to fall? Faking it but not making it? Kali Anthony talks about reframing your thoughts to avoid being held hostage by Imposter Syndrome.
My day job requires me to give lots of advice. Sometimes it’s high stakes kind of advice that affects people’s lives which can take an emotional and financial toll. An objective assessment would tell you that I’m pretty good at what I do. My employers and clients have thought so. Some days, I think so too. But you know what? On other days, deep down, I’m stricken by the fear that everyone will find me out. That I really have no idea what I’m talking about and I’m a fraud.
For many, many years, I thought it was just me. I was an imposter. The only one in the history of my job. Everyone else was wildly competent, whereas I had fooled people into believing I knew what I was doing. I spent wasted months, waiting to get found out.
Then one day I went to lunch with a girlfriend who was wildly successful in her own field and she said to me the very words I internalised constantly. “I’m such a fraud. One day someone will find out I don’t really know what I’m doing.”
My reply was, “I feel like that too.” It was an epiphany for both of us. I discussed it with more people I knew. Almost invariably, each one confirmed what I had thought was only a product of my own fears. They too, were imposters waiting to be found out.
Research shows Imposter Syndrome is common. In fact, it’s more likely you will feel that way than not. The affliction apparently affects most people. Even worse, the more competent you become in your field of endeavour, the worse it gets. You’re more likely to believe you’re an imposter than not. So the better you become at something, the more likely you are to feel like a fraud because you have further to fall. Most people with Imposter Syndrome believe their success is down to luck and not skill. It’s a throw of the dice and not the years of work they’ve put in.
Funnily enough, whilst the feeling has abated somewhat in my day job, writing is where it has come roaring to life again. And its insidious effects impact on the creative flow. It’s difficult to believe in your story when you don’t believe in yourself. That little voice tells you not to bother because you really don’t know what you’re doing. That your writing is bad, and everyone will figure out you’re a one hit wonder, or simply not good at the writing caper at all. At its worst, it can make you think, “What’s the point of writing at all?” At its best... Well, there is no best in this situation.
The good news is, there are things you can do. The first is to recognise is that you are not alone. I repeat, "You are not alone." Most people feel exactly the same as you. It’s what keeps me going when that voice starts to nag again, because it does.
Maya Angleou felt it. "I have written 11 books but each time I think, 'Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.'" John Steinbeck did too, and he won a Nobel Prize for literature. "I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people." Neil Gaiman said, "The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you. It's Impostor Syndrome, something my wife, Amanda, christened the Fraud Police."
The next step is to realise you can’t know everything, but you can try to learn as much as possible. You feel like a writing fraud? Read some published writing that’s worse than yours. Learn some more about craft, or talk to a supportive friend who loves your writing and can give you some positive feedback. Take note of your achievements. Make a list of what you’re good at and revel in it. Make a list of what you’re bad at and try to improve it.
During my day job, I tried to focus on the letters and emails that said, 'thanks for work well done'. In my writing, the comments of my trusted beta readers who loved my story is my reward. But you know what? Even a rejection letter with words of encouragement is a huge win for a writer.
Don’t keep yourself locked away. Talk to other writers, who will no doubt be going through the same thing. If you haven’t already found it, there’s a tribe out there waiting to pick you up, cheer you up, and reassure you that they get it. Because they’re feeling it too.
Most of all, keep writing. The more you write, the better you get. Accept your limitations. Realise you don’t have to be perfect, because if John Steinbeck, Maya Angleou and Neil Gaiman have felt like frauds, then what hope do the rest of us have?
Remember that doing your absolute best is all you can ask for. You’re no imposter. You’re an individual. You’re… You, and that’s more than good enough.
Have you suffered from Imposter Syndrome? What did you do to overcome it? Tell us here or on social media using the hashtag #FakingIt. We'd love to hear from you!
Kali is a writer of happy endings and failed domestic goddess. She will work for coffee, wine and chocolate! For more information follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.