Thanksgiving 2015 is over, thank all things that are holy, and I’m sure a lot of us are feeling a few pegs lower than we did going into it. After all, it’s a time for feasting along with a side helping of interrogation from well-meaning relatives.
So, Kristi, what are you doing for work these days? Did you find a real job?
A real job? No. I still have the fake one. The fake one that pays the bills.
The Holidays can be a real bummer for freelancers and writers of any type, even the ones that are making a respectable living doing it. People don’t believe we’re working because they don’t understand what it is that we do. Not really — not on any level that matters, anyway.
But when they doubt us, we start to doubt ourselves a little bit, don’t we?
A Brief Introduction to the Imposter Syndrome
I’m sure you’re all very familiar with the Imposter Syndrome, though maybe you call it something else. Maybe you call it the Doubting Man, maybe you call it self-esteem problems — whatever you call it, psychology has recognized this as a real thing since 1978. Really.
By definition, Imposter Syndrome is when a perfectly capable person believes they’re a fraud and someone will soon discover it. The Imposter Syndrome is you sitting across from your great aunt trying to validate your work and feeling like you really don’t do anything special. And it’s actually very common, especially among high achievers. It can strike anyone in any field, though much of the research and focus has been on how Imposter Syndrome affects women.
A TED Talk featuring Kirsty Walker was filmed in 2013 focusing on this very concept, and honestly, the amount of knowledge about the subject hasn’t advanced much. The only new thing we’ve found is that the worst sufferers of Imposter Syndrome can end up in an Imposter Cycle, where you essentially derail your entire life. Men tend to bury themselves in work that’s not challenging to revalidate their feelings of being competent and women tend to shy away from anything that will get them noticed.
Although the sexes respond differently, they’re both acting against the uncomfortable feeling that they simply don’t belong where they are. And, subconsciously, some people work against themselves until they make that feeling a reality.
I’ve known a lot of good writers who are now working in very non-writerly jobs, including entry-level call center customer service stuff, despite years or decades of writing experience and education. They couldn’t conquer their inner Imposter, they gave in to it.
But it’s time that we do something about it. Time that we say, “Not today, and not me!” Even if Aunt Betty is staring you down over the cranberry sauce, remember who’s in control of this thing. Remember that you’re a lot more than she can comprehend.
Derailing the Imposter Cycle
Hey, I offer all sorts of writing-related advice, so shut up. I’m qualified. I think. Am I? Now I’m not sure….
Anyway, you can bury yourself in the same old work and do it until you’re a burned out husk of yourself, you can shuffle off into a sea of faces and disappear completely, or you can deal with this thing and become better. Whatcha gonna do?
Imposter Syndrome makes you feel sick at your stomach, I know it does. I’m a card carrying sufferer. I’m also an excessively accomplished writer and have been for two decades. So, if anybody knows what you’re going through, it’s me. I feel ya, bro, but it’s time to get up and fight.
Here are some tips for making it through Christmas AND the rest of your life:
Catalog your accomplishments. Often, the Imposter Syndrome strikes when we’re extremely accomplished and have plenty of hard evidence to show that’s the truth. I keep a catalog of my biggest accomplishments, even the very old ones that don’t go on my resume anymore. It helps me remember how far I’ve come and how talented I actually am.
Try something different, but related. The Imposter Cycle is a bitch — and I’ve seen too many talented people swallowed by its vortex of inner loathing. Instead of doing the same thing all the time, try something new, but related. Publish a book, write a screenplay, start a blog, teach people how to write — anything that’ll shift your funk.
Remind yourself that it’s an illusion. You’re actually not an Imposter, you’re an incredibly talented person. Sometimes all you need is a reminder of that. Remind yourself, make a poster with an inspiring quote on it, something. It’s just your mind playing tricks on you, and now it has a name — so banish that demon with all your might.
Swallow your fear. Sometimes in life you just have to take a deep breath and scream “GERONIMO!” at the top of your lungs as you plow into the unknown. Sometimes, you have to do the same thing just to get out of bed in the morning. People with Imposter Sydrome may fall into the second category, but you still have to give it all you have. Do you know what the worst thing that will happen if you fail? Nothing. That’s right. You’ve got a history of excellence to back you up, one little bump in the road will be forgotten almost as soon as it happens. So swallow hard and plow on, my plowers.
Next time Aunt Betty triggers your inner self-doubt, just remember that she’s really old and might not even make it to next Thanksgiving. Besides, what does she know about working in the Internet Age?