Recently, one of my friends asked me when they would be a “real” author. Mind you, this person is exceptionally funny, insightful, and considerate—they also write and have gotten paid for their stories, too. They’re already a “real” author, even if they don’t acknowledge that for themselves.
My friend’s question is timely, too, because ever since I taught Self-Care for Creatives at the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, I’ve been thinking about Imposter Syndrome in particular. Given that feelings aren’t facts but they are information, the feeling of being a “fake” author/artist/musician/etc. is, to me, less important than understanding what causes it. By knowing what triggers that emotion, we can address it and move forward.
What, then, is the feeling of being an imposter trying to tell us?
I cannot know what it means for you, but I feel it’s a sign that we feel like an outsider. That we don’t really belong.
Like a character in any story, the desire to belong is a powerful one. It is also a fundamental need that each and every one of us has. This need is so strong we tell ourselves stories about the people who do belong, those we admire and respect, morphing them into lauded figures. We fill our heads with stories, because we want to be them. Sometimes, however, deep down we don’t think we’ll ever be capable of standing alongside them.
I’ve listened to many people over the years; what I hear beneath the words they’re using is: “I don’t feel like I’m good enough to belong.”
Except, what is “good enough”? I’m pretty sure you’re aware that nobody knows what the F-bomb we’re doing and we’re all just making it up as we go along. When there isn’t a clear path to follow and there’s more than one form of success, confusion and uncertainty sets in. “Am I a real author?” emerges from this murky cauldron. You want to be an author? Great. Like I said in 101 Softly-Delivered Writing Lessons, if you’re writing, you’re a writer. If you’re paid to write, you’re a professional. Same goes for any other field, too.
The reason why I keep my definitions simple, is because everything else is b.s. we don’t need. It’s literally crap that gets in the way of us taking risks, creating, networking, etc.
Gatekeepers exacerbate this problem in our communities by assigning value to who "gets" to belong. Sometimes, their criteria is based on all the ancillary aspects of a career. Sometimes, it’s just petty b.s. based on their perceptions of what you’re wearing, where you live, even who your friends are or what choices you’ve made. It’s also true that the minute “you” become accepted by a gatekeeper’s metrics they tend to change their tune. So, here’s a secret: gatekeepers only have power if you believe they do. I think of them as speedbumps or roundabouts to drive over or around.
Whatever your feelings, I want you to know they are legitimate and real. I know a lot of you deal with rejection in other aspects of your life, and I believe those lessons apply here, too. That said, sometimes we under-or-over emphasize our feelings and forget to ask why. Do we feel like an imposter because we have legitimate concerns about our future in that field? Because we F’ed up and we’re worried someone won’t give us a second chance? Because we haven't “done enough”? Or, do we feel like we don’t belong because we’ve encountered some people who simply aren’t a good fit for us?
There’s another part of imposter syndrome that, I feel, sometimes is overlooked. Remember when I said that stories in our heads can sometimes affect our sense of belonging? If we don’t address our everyday needs, sometimes those stories can become epic tales. A lot of creative pursuits require us to perform the work alone. That can be isolating, absolutely, but it’s also necessary to create, revise, practice, draft, etc. Except, the heart of any industry are all of the people in it. All of them. You may not be as prolific or acclaimed as others in your chosen field, but that doesn’t mean you do not “belong.” It just means that your journey is different than that of your peers; it’s what makes you unique.
What does imposter syndrome mean to you? If you had advice to share with others, can you share a comment to help others?
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