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
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?”
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.
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?
- Impostor Syndrome, Or Not– Whatever
- Jordan Axani on Unexpected Fame, Imposter Syndrome, and The Myth of Life Purpose– Real Talk Radio
- Learning to Deal with the Impostor Syndrome– The New York Times