The short definition is “Impostor syndrome describes a situation where someone feels like an imposter or fraud because they think that their accomplishments are nowhere near as good as those of the people around them. Usually, their accomplishments are just as good, and the person is being needlessly insecure.”[above link]
I was struck when I first started reading about this, because it absolutely describes the problems I have faced in trying to learn more about computer technology. I’ve wanted to learn various things, but feel that I’m not good enough, and I frequently find myself denying what I know I’m good at. I’m always second-guessing myself.
And then I realized that it’s not just the geeky stuff that it affects; it affects my writing, too.
If someone asks me about my writing achievements, I will certainly mention what I’ve done, but I’m quick follow up with “but.” “But I’m just e-published.” “But I haven’t sold much.” “But it’s not that good.” I don’t feel like I have made any huge accomplishments to be proud of, in part because I’m not published through a big New York house. Realistically, that is becoming less important every single year, and even if I were, I think I would still feel the same way.
It’s something I hear a lot from writers. I’ve been in a lot of writers’ groups, and it’s so very common that someone will get published, but still feel like they’re some kind of sham. That it’s not real. That they’re making it up. I suspect the “sophomore novel” blues that frequently are discussed have something to do with Imposter Syndrome — we have trouble believing that what we’ve done is real and valuable, and now that the whole world is looking at us, now they’re going to see what a farce we really are.
This year, I wanted to submit ideas for panels to my local SF convention. I went last year, and they had a wide range of panelists. Many people only had short story publications, and some were not even published, but had real life experience in what they were talking about. Despite having several e-published books, I couldn’t believe that anyone would take me seriously. I was convinced people would just laugh at me. That they’d see that I was some sort of fake, a fraud. And then came the shame, that, who the hell did I think I was, trying to present myself as some sort of expert? What the fuck was I thinking, that I had anything worthwhile to share?
All these things ran through my head, and my gut twisted and turned, and I just let the deadline pass, because deep-down, some part of me doesn’t believe that I have the credentials to speak on — well, any issue. And truthfully, I don’t think it would be any different if I were NY published. Because I have seen the same thing from NY published authors.
And it seems primarily a problem that affects women. We are so devalued by society that it is hard for us to believe that our ideas and experiences are worthwhile. It is hard to believe that there are those that would value our expertise when it is still common to run across people who tell you to shut up and demand to speak to a man instead. It’s something that is reiterated through all our lives, when as kids boys are called on more often in class to answer questions and rewarded more.
Even now, just writing this, my gut is twisting and I fear that I’ll be ridiculed for speaking about this with any sort of authority — because, after all, don’t others have it worse? Aren’t there other people better able to speak? Why should anyone believe me?
It’s part of what led to a breakdown the other night when I received a hurtful comment related to some of my writing. The comment came from someone I trusted, and the novel the commentary was about was one that I had some amount of confidence about. The end result being that I was completely torn up and questioning whether I should even keep at this thing, because, well, obviously I’m just a fake and not anywhere near as good as I think, and I should just give up and make way for Real Writers…
And I know that’s bullshit. I really do. And I suspect some people are going to be rolling their eyes here and thinking that I need to get some self-confidence. But it isn’t about that, really. It’s a cultural issue. Otherwise this wouldn’t be so common. Otherwise you would not see professional, published authors, some of them award-winning even, convinced that they suck.
It’s not generally talked about. I think it needs to be. I think that’s the only way that it will ever change — that we speak up about our fears and our doubts and these deep feelings that we aren’t good enough. Because, you know, I can’t put into words how it felt when I first read that article on Imposter Syndrome. I just about burst into tears, because, oh my gods, there was someone out there that was going through the same thing. It wasn’t just me. I wasn’t crazy.
And I’m writing this, and I’m convinced that I’m going to be told that I’m crazy, that I don’t know what I’m talking about, that it isn’t that big a deal, that I need to suck it up, that I’m some kind of fraud, that I can’t speak about these issues, that this isn’t a real issue, that I’m just making it up. I’m scared to the point of my gut knotting and feeling like I’m going to throw up. But I have to write this, and get it out there, because if I feel this way, there have to be others. I know there are others.
This is a discussion that we need to have. Let’s start.