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On Self-Doubt and Impostor Syndrome

impostor syndrome

It took me a long time to even call myself a writer. If one of my friends or family was nearby when someone asked what I did for a living, they would jump in for me with the answer. I would usually mumble something about doing a bit of this and a bit of that. Even now, despite my accomplishments, I feel like a fraud calling myself a writer at times. I didn’t go to journalism school. I don’t write long, narrative stories. I even have trouble supporting myself solely from writing. I often suffer from what’s known as impostor syndrome. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

Comparison is the Thief of Joy

Much of my self-doubt comes from comparison. I have the pleasure, and sometimes problem, of being friends with some really talented writers. I feel inadequate at times when reading the work by friends like Flora and Brenna (and many, many others!). I look at other peoples’ careers and wonder why they’ve done more than I have in the same amount of time. And it’s not just with writers. I compare myself to my friends and other people I know. I look at their social media and hear about their weddings and book deals and new houses. Why can’t I have all that?

But the bigger question is, why do I have to have it all? Do I have to be the best at everything? And why can’t I see that they probably deal with self-doubt as well? It’s not like someone told me that I’d never make it as a writer, something lots of people do deal with. I have had people tell me that what I do isn’t a “real job” and to only do it while I didn’t have a family to support. But there’s that voice plaguing me: “Why do you think you can write this story? What makes you an expert?” There’s also so much noise on the Internet, especially for a web writer like myself, so reader comments can be really harsh. I even have a print my sister bought me that says “Never read the comments.”

On Thinking You’re Special

imposter syndrome

Creative fields have long been plagued by self-doubt. Look at just about any great writer, painter or visionary and you’ll see patterns of substance abuse and mental instability. It’s like we’re all waiting for someone to pull back the curtain of our work with a big “Aha!” moment. This is not for just anyone, folks! So thinking that I’m the only person to deal with self-doubt is actually funny and naive.

I recently listened to a podcast about the same topic where the guest was Jordan Axani, who you may remember from when the Internet exploded over him finding a girl with his ex-girlfriend’s name to go on an around-the-world trip with him. The idea of being an imposter fascinated him so much that he launched his own podcast called Impostercast. So at the end of the day, everyone feels like a fraud at some point or another, whether in their jobs, their relationships or in general. You are not special enough to be the only one to experience this.

How Do You Know You’ve “Made It?”

impostor syndrome

I’ve never been one of those people that can brag about their accomplishments. But every media-related event or trip I go on, there’s at least one. “I’m Whatshisface and I’m the number one influencer in the world. I’m Whatsherface and I’m a multi-award-winning writer.” These people definitely exist. But my favorite people and the ones I admire most are not. For example, earlier this year I had the pleasure of meeting an actual, real-life, truly great travel writer. I didn’t know anything about him, but as soon as I saw his name in my in-flight magazine on the way home, I knew he was a big deal. But he never had to tell me how many awards he had won or the major publications he’d been featured in. He let his work speak for itself.

This is the type of person I want to be. I want to kick my self-doubt’s ass and not feel like an impostor, but to also not be a braggart who constantly wants to tell others how great I am. I think this is a large middle area. I want to eventually be able to support myself fully as a writer. I’ve far too long let other people define whether or not I was a writer. Sure, I’ve seen my bylines and am a member of writer organizations that say I’m a writer. At the end of the day, I’m too stubborn to quit. Self-doubt and haters be damned. I can say it: I am a writer. 

Next Steps

The biggest step for me has been writing this post, which stemmed from a Facebook group conversation about how you deal with crippling self-doubt (thanks Jodi for the links!). And also to tell people that I’m working on a book about my year in Australia. I have so much hesitation about it. Does the world really need another travel memoir? What do I have to say that is going to be something people want to read? Will anyone want to read a book that doesn’t end with “happily ever after?” And am I a good enough writer to even finish a book? I’m not going to answer any of these questions without actually trying. The New York Times wrote an interesting piece on the topic and summed it up best:

In fact, the impostor syndrome has not gone away, but I’ve learned to think of it as a friend. So now when I start to hear that voice in my head, I take a deep breath, pause for a minute, put a smile on my face and say, “Welcome back old friend. I’m glad you’re here. Now, let’s get to work.”

Have you experienced self-doubt or impostor syndrome?

Further Reading

11 Responses to On Self-Doubt and Impostor Syndrome

  1. Lauren July 12, 2016 at 10:48 am #

    Hey Caroline. Great post! I recently listened to a ProBlogger podcast on the same topic and it was really helpful. One of my favourite suggestions was to keep a private “accomplishment document”. In this document you list all your big wins, best compliments, personal victories, whatever makes you feel good. You don’t share it or publish it, you just keep it for yourself and read it whenever you start to feel like a fraud. It is so simple, but I think it is so smart. I definitely think this is something we all struggle with and having an easy trick to combat it is wonderful.

  2. Jayne July 12, 2016 at 8:45 pm #

    I completely relate to this post. I know many writers suffer with self-doubt but sometimes I feel it’s worse with blogging because you’re supposed to be your own marketing manager as well as the writer and sometimes you just don’t have the confidence to even say what you do. I love the anecdote about the travel writer you met though – we should all definitely strive to be a bit more like him.

    Wishing you lots of luck with the memoir. That’s so exciting!!! You’ve got this xx

  3. Ali July 13, 2016 at 11:03 am #

    OMG YES!! This is totally me. Every time someone asks me what I do, I mumble about blogging and freelance writing and inevitably I say something like, “It’s not a ton of money or anything, I couldn’t live on what I earn.” But I have to stop saying that. No, I couldn’t pay for me and Andy on what I earn, and it’s still less than what I earned in 2002 at my first job out of college. But if I did have to support myself (if I was single) on what I earn right now, I think I could do it if I lived with a roommate. I have to stop downplaying what I do.

    I think your book sounds like a good idea. You have unique experiences to share, and sometimes a book that doesn’t have a “happily ever after” ending is refreshing. That’s what life is, it doesn’t always tie up nicely. I’m looking forward to reading it someday when you’re done!

    • Caroline July 13, 2016 at 2:43 pm #

      Yes! So glad people agree. We should be proud of our accomplishments! And we’ll see about the book…

  4. Lauren July 16, 2016 at 10:26 pm #

    I can identify with this so much – especially this:

    “I have so much hesitation about it. Does the world really need another travel memoir? What do I have to say that is going to be something people want to read?”

    I finished my memoir over a year ago and it sits in my hard drive while I edit, edit, edit, and still struggle with these questions. I have days where I’m motivated because I believe in it and other days when I think ‘why would an agent (or anyone) be interested in this?’ but like you said, you don’t know until you try.

    I for one would certainly be interested in reading your year in Australia memoir!

  5. Becky July 30, 2016 at 6:50 pm #

    You’re doing just fine. Don’t let self-doubt dictate your success. Glad to have met you and occasionally cross paths. Travel safe!

  6. KareninCalabria July 31, 2016 at 11:34 pm #

    I think everyone has experienced self-doubt, and those who haven’t are probably the ones who should be feeling it the most.
    It’s funny about the “writer” label. I wrote a book and have a blog. Does that make me a writer? Technically, it does, but I don’t exactly feel like a “writer.” I hear people introducing themselves all the time as “writers,” whether they make money at it or not. (And by the way, I don’t think that financial success determines whether or not someone is a writer.)
    I’ve found myself looking over my shoulder, searching out the “writer” standing behind me on several occasions. Then I realized I just had to smile and go with it. I’m a writer.
    I’ll tell you what seems even stranger is being called a writer in a foreign language. It really makes you feel legitimate. “La scrittrice americana” – the American writer, in Italian. I could get used to hearing it, but the amount of work that goes into being what I consider a “writer” is mind boggling, and perhaps that’s why it’s such a daunting title.

  7. Leigh September 23, 2016 at 4:59 pm #

    For SURE you can finish this book! I’ve seen your work and what you can do. I have no doubts!

    And I really want to know more about it, too!

    • Caroline September 24, 2016 at 11:59 am #

      :) Thank you for your kind words. It’s about my year living in Australia and the things I learned between college and adult life. I’m really thinking about your retreat this summer so you may be hearing lots about it!

  8. Leigh September 24, 2016 at 12:51 pm #

    I would love that! I’ve been following your blog for years as well as your other writing. So I know this book will be fantastic.

    I’d love for you to join the retreat, too! It’s such a great space to let everything that usually gets in the way of writing, particularly that doubt and imposter syndrome, and let what you want to say FLOW!!


    • Leigh Shulman September 7, 2017 at 2:59 pm #

      How cool to see this now after the retreat. Fwiw, I think imposter syndrome is a sign of being really good at what you do. Sounds counterintuitive, but there’s actually research to bear that out.

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