Who's that Woman Behind the Mask?
Here’s the thing, I was having breakfast with my friend Rachel that other day and we got to discussing, well discussing ME! Sheesh. I can be so rude. Anyway, we were talking about some travel plans I have relating to my writing career (I'm heading to the American Library Association National Conference), about my deadlines and books and career when we discovered that I am suffering from IMPSOTOR SYNDROME. Yep, that’s right. IMpostor Syndrome. Seems I mentioned to Rachel how I will be at the conference with REAL writers. This in view of the fact that I have published four books with four on the way and achieved various and sundry awards and accolades. Which all adds up to me still not quite achieving Real author status. Rachel, who by the way, has studied these things, said, "You have Impostor Syndrome.
Now, Imposter Syndrome is nothing new or exclusive to me. It was first identified by a couple of psychologists in the 1970s. Many people, particularly women, suffer from IS, which is essentially an inability or perhaps an unwillingness to believe in one’s success. I think it’s something that creatives deal with more than say, accountants or zookeepers but I might be wrong.
At its most elementary level a person with IS sits around waiting for someone to call them out, to discover that they are frauds, totally untalented and unworthy of any accolades, awards, money, prestige, whatever received. It’s true. I just know that one day an editor is going to call me and say something like, “What the heck were we thinking? You can’t write! Give us all our money back.” So far this hasn’t happened—quite the opposite, actually.
But I got to thinking, that Impostor Syndrome is really just another form of anxiety. A little fear, a little anxiety is a good thing, otherwise I would be walking into open elevator shafts and petting ferocious pit bulls. So, anxiety keeps me alive. In a similar way, IS (Impostor Syndrome) keeps me from getting a swelled head, from dipping into the pool of narcissus, from thinking myself better or more highly than others. It helps to keep me grounded in my own reality and to genuinely be pleased when a colleague succeeds. IS is a filter that wards off mega self-delusions.
However, believing that I am fraudulent author has a downside. I think it can paralyze me sometimes. When IS is at its most active is when the internal editors, (who in my case are three, pot-bellied, men upholstered in three-piece suits smoking cigars), gather around and tell me I am the worst writer on the planet and should be sitting in Author Prison on fraud charges. So, yeah, IS can be damaging to one’s career.
How do we beat it? Uhm, I don’t know. By believing in your own abilities? Maybe. But does something deeper need to happen? And like I said, isn’t a little bit of Imposter Syndrome a good thing? Do you struggle with this. Are you concerned that someday you’re going to wake up and realize that all your success is a sham?