Imposter syndrome is something that I feel like I've always had a little bit of. I didn't really know what it was called until the last five years or so. I frequently have felt like I don't belong or deserve the success that I've had. I downplay my accomplishments and struggle to take a compliment. When I'm in a room with my amazing, talented friends who have written dozens of books I feel like I don't belong there. I tell myself I am a complete fraud who has no business being in that room.
That feeling makes me turn inwards, fall quiet, and try to disappear into the background. I stop trying to join in on conversations and instead I sit in silence and wait to be invited to participate. When that does happen, I answer briefly then fall silent again. Hearing my own words, I take that as confirmation that I am a loser that no one no one likes and no one even wants here.
I don't write this as a pity party or as a way to for compliments, which I really do have a very hard time taking, instead I'm writing this to talk about the ways that I'm working on overcoming it. Maybe they'll hope you too and maybe sharing them will help me a little bit. So here are five things that I am doing to try to manage feeling like a fake.
1. Remember that I'm still learning.
Yes, I've been around and trying to do this writing thing for a while but at the end of the day I am still learning. There's nothing wrong with that. Let me repeat that for myself there's nothing wrong with not knowing everything. Every time I start beating myself up for not knowing who someone is or what something means I remind myself the world of writing contains multitudes. I don't have to know the intricacies of every single piece of it right now. It’s okay to learn something from a conversation.
2. My friends are my friends.
It's such a simple statement, but one of the worst things that happens when I'm feeling like a complete phony is that I start to doubt that any of my friends like me. I start thinking they're only keeping me around because I'm just so pathetic, or because they think I'm cute and want something from me or because I just don't have the heart to tell me to get lost. Pretty much all of my friends are very much tell-it-like-it-is people and I see them tell people to get lost or to leave them alone.
My friends are my friends because they like me. My friends want to hang out with me and make an effort to talk to me. I know that. So, when this challenge gets particularly loud I like to think of the quiet moments with my friends. The late-night conversations with just a small, intimate group. The foggy breakfast where we sit in silence over a cup of coffee but we are choosing each other’s company. Those are the moments speak the loudest against this particular monster.
3. Your accomplishments don't have to look like everyone else's.
Success is a fickle thing that looks different for everybody. What counts as a success for me might not mean anything for you. It's so easy to get caught up in the comparison game. That thought loop of well so-and-so has 15 books out or well so-and-so is a best-selling author or even well so-and-so has 10,000 Twitter followers. Those are some of the arbitrary measurements that I've suddenly decided are a measurement of worth when before I haven't really cared about them or counted them as a success for me. But suddenly when I'm feeling insecure every little thing becomes a game of numbers and I always come up short. For me, it's important to remember what my goals are and that I am taking steps towards my vision of success, not anyone else's.
4. Get out of your head.
Imposter syndrome frequently feel makes me feel like I’m locked inside my own head. I can't get out of head, and my thoughts and feelings of inadequacy turn into a spiraling silence before I finally flee in humiliation, all without saying a word to my friends of course. What I found helps me in these moments is to ground myself in the world around me. Mostly I do that through a very mundane task like naming every single in animate object I can see. Chair. Table. Glass. Plate. Etc. The simple act of slowing down and forcing my ring to focus on what is tangible instead of the swirling thoughts in my head gives me that instant to pull myself out of this spiral.
5. Ask for help.
This is by far the hardest one. Honestly, it's still the one that I struggle with the most. I think I've actually done this once and it was a huge help. It was terrifying leading up to that moment of admitting how I felt. What makes it slightly less terrifying is to mention it before you're in the moment. I know that DragonCon triggers my imposter syndrome like nothing else so I reach out to a few friends before the convention even starts and tell them.
I don't need them to play chaperone or guard dog, just knowing someone else is aware that you're struggling can be a huge relief. Usually the person that you're telling this to will ask you how they can help you, and that answer varies widely from person-to-person. What helps me is to just check in. I don't need someone to talk to me every second of every day but if you haven't seen me or if I haven't spoken word in the hour we've been sitting together just checking and see how I'm doing, just a simple ‘Hey what panel are you going to next?’ Can be enough to help me out of the spiral.
These are some of the ways that I am working on dealing with my imposter syndrome and the strategies that I came up with to handle this year’s DragonCon. I'm technically writing this before the convention starts so we’ll see how they go. I’ll update on the success rate!
Almost every writer I know struggles with this but you're not alone in your feelings. Take some time to learn what best helps you and then implement the strategies. Really try to figure it out before you find yourself in the moment because trying to strategize while you're in the self-doubt spiral is not going to go super well. Take a deep breath, find the methods that work for you, and get on out there. The world is waiting for you.