Impostor syndrome is a nasty affliction that causes the sufferer to believe they’re somehow out of place: That they’ve ‘faked it’ and don’t deserve the successes they’ve had.
It robs the sufferer of any joy to be found in triumph, dumping them instead into the constant belief that they’re a fraud.
And few suffer more from its spiteful grip than those in creative fields – writers who can’t accept their acclaimed work is actually any good, artists who constantly compare their techniques to others, and designers who relentlessly criticize their own constructions.
All of them, telling themselves they don’t deserve what they’ve achieved, no matter how happy everyone else is with the finished product.
Sound familiar? Thought it might.
Yes, it’s demotivating, disappointing, draining, and dangerous. Make no mistake, living with it can be a nightmare.
But there’s one thing you need to know about impostor syndrome above all else, and that is:
It happens to everyone. You are not alone.
It doesn’t matter how you define success, if you’ve already achieved it or even if you’re nowhere close – impostor syndrome finds us all at some point or another.
Another thing you should know is that you’re lucky if you live your life without encountering it at some point.
Impostor syndrome is easy to identify. If you find yourself squirming at compliments instead of feeling a swell of pride, or responding argumentatively when someone else is talking about what you’ve achieved, you probably have impostor syndrome. If you meet someone terribly famous and they look uncomfortable and unwilling to talk about their work, and no other personal matter is weighing on their minds (although this is often impossible to tell), they could be struggling with impostor syndrome too.
It gets us all.
But on the bright side, no-one’s alone.
Talk to any successful person about it and they’ll likely confess to feeling like an impostor at some point – maybe even right now. Impostor syndrome’s one redeeming quality is that it levels the playing field. If Emma Watson, Bill Gates and George R. R. Martin feel like impostors – and each have confessed that they have at some point – then we’re in good company, aren’t we?!
If you’re dealing with impostor syndrome, it helps to remember that it hits high achievers more… so feeling like a fraud could actually be symptomatic of doing an excellent job. Instead of wearing it as a badge of honor, however, it’s much better to manage the symptoms so you don’t become a bore at parties or sabotage your own work. Don’t make impostor syndrome doubly deadly by trying to make it your friend.
An important part of any self-diagnosed impostor’s routine is self-care: Take time out to enjoy your successes and avoid burnout. Meditate if it helps and practice mindful gratitude with a focus on yourself. What attributes do you like about yourself, and are they natural gifts or hard-won personal achievements? Either way, they’re your gifts. Be proud of them. You do deserve them.
Like a nasty rash, impostor syndrome is tricky to beat, and nearly always comes back. That’s why it’s so important to diagnose it quickly, and have an arsenal of tools at your disposal to alleviate the symptoms, steer you away from procrastination and despondency, and get you back on track to enjoying your achievements.
Remember: As a writer, your work is work. You aren’t slacking off, your success is not just dumb luck, and the very fact that impostor syndrome is raising its ugly head is testament to the fact you’re putting a whole lot more of yourself into this than you would probably like to admit.
Acknowledge your talent. Own your achievements.
You’ve earned your place.
Feel like sharing your impostor syndrome war stories or combat techniques? Let it out in the comments below – you never know… it might be exactly what someone else needs to hear right now.