Imposter syndrome, not you again!
It seems to be inevitable, although the frequency, the symptoms and the intensity vary for everyone who ever wanted to pursue a passion or vocation of creativity of any sort.
When I say creativity I don’t only mean artistic passions, where the output is very much fitting the art category. Creativity exists in programming, in business, in decision making, in writing presentations or direct mails.
Being part of the writing community the most occasions I have seen it in myself and in my fellow writers is the regular appearance of the imposter syndrome — regardless of writing poetry, tutorials, personal essays or a novel.
Imposter syndrome is the inner critique that tells us we are worthless and useless, it tries to stop us from reaching out for our dreams, it stops us from pitching, and the worts is when it stops us from starting anything at all.
It can appear in the form of mild procrastination or in a debilitating depression with trembling anxiety.
When it appears, and trust me it does time and time again, we freeze. After all, it’s our own selves trying to bring us down, with more or less success. It’s our own negative creativity that fights our ego.
This is one of those days again. When you are not good enough, no matter what you do…
It’s not logical, not at all. Maybe because you had a couple of good days, and your frenemy thinks it’s time to stop being big-headed, who the hell do you think you are anyway. Maybe you had a few rough days, when nothing worked out and still, you persevered and pushed through… and it starts whispering ugly words, ending up shouting at your face…
Imposter syndrome, you bastard! I know you, oh-so-well. And I know what you are up to — again!
But I know you only too well to let you ruin my days, I know who you are and I know where you come from. I know that your creative ways of dragging me down stem from the same creativity you accuse me not having. I know your persistent reappearance, again and again, is my grit and my persistence that will guide me through the maze of your awful words. I know that you throw back at me every tiny and major rejection I ever faced is the springboard for me to remind me how many times I tried.
You are the uninvited guest that I can’t throw out because you come back in a different costume anyway. Maybe we should be friends… or I could pretend we are friends.
Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.
I am keeping an eye on you because I know you do the same.
You are hellbent on dragging me down, I am determined to stay afloat and soar. What are we going to do about it? It’s not a zero-sum game, and trust me, I will win.
It takes two to tango, so let’s get to it.
How to deal with your imposter syndrome?
Know that it’s inevitable
The first step is to make peace with having your inner critique around. Whatever you do, it stays. No matter how talented and successful you get, it stays — and it gets worse.
And then use it to your own advantage? How? Set the right goals and have the right tools!
Set the right goals
The most common move from your imposter syndrome is to stop you from trying because you can’t reach perfection anyhow. And it’s best to let go of the illusion of perfection because perfect is overrated and unsustainable…
You need to set the right goals, that are small enough to reach but big enough to give a slight challenge. The goals are like a staircase in the dark where you take one step after the other. You don’t need to see the whole staircase; it is enough just to see the next step and maybe one or two after — you don’t need to plan too much in advance anyway.
Plans fail, life happens.
If you can’t reach one goal, then you can re-iterate it, start anew, start from a different direction, make a workaround — as long as it keeps you moving toward your true north.
The problem usually occurs when you set unattainable goals. Imposter syndrome is very resourceful: after all, it is your creativity that fights you. That very creativity that fuels your writing can paralyze you in various ways when it takes the form of the imposter syndrome.
Even with attainable goals, the imposter syndrome might be lurking around you, frowning at each accomplishment, diminishing the value of what you have achieved. But being dedicated to writing, you can shoo it away easily. You have just received tons of feedback in different forms (views and reads and fans and followers and attention and comments). It is obvious that people believe in you more than you believe in yourself, and for a while you are fine and you get back to working on the next article, next chapter, next book.
It is very important to set your goals in a way that they should be just a little bit out of reach. Just to push you forward, just to motivate you to try again if you fail. Just enough to make you work harder or try different routes and strategies. To make you read more, look for more inspiration.
The series of smaller, close-to-attainable goals will help in keeping you on the track towards your dream more, than huge leaps of bigger goals.
What sounds realistic for you? 10 more fans? Set it to 15 and work for it! Always consider what is something that you can easily reach. What can you accomplish in a sustainable way? Start from reality and move slowly toward your goals. Do not double the expectations and do not raise the bar continuously. It is a process and you should be enjoying the journey too. Writing is about passion, if you imply the same rules as a factory, permanently raising the normative, you will lose all the fun and just the work and struggle remain.
Don’t compare your journey to somebody else’s. Your journey is yours and yours only. It is your learning curve, it is in your pace, you need to own it. You have never walked in anybody else’s shoes, you have no idea what they sacrifice to be where they are, you don’t know their struggles, you don’t live with their demons and imposter syndrome.
Setting smaller goals gives you more opportunity to celebrate victory — and tell off your imposter syndrome. It also allows you to surprise yourself more often — leaving you speechless and grateful.
Create your own toolbox to fight your imposter syndrome
You have heard of the writer’s toolbox, it comes in handy whenever you start writing. It’s within reach for you, it helps you move forward.
Creating a set of tools for your daily battles with the enemy within is just as useful as grammar and vocabulary:
- document your wins — take screenshots of your achievements, save the best and most encouraging comments, remind yourself of your own worth with tangible proof: the amount of views, the number of fans, the badges you receive — whatever you have to do to make sure your confidence is stronger than your doubts.
- celebrate your victories — don’t just acknowledge them, don’t shrug them off, take them seriously, no matter how small they are, no matter how unrealistic they are. Is a top writer badge just part of the gamification on Medium? Well, it might be, but you still have it — and it is there for a good reason. You wrote in a certain topic enough to earn it and keep it.
- stop self-sabotaging — stop using the word: “only”. It’s not only one article, but it’s also exactly one article more than nothing. It’s not only a nice comment — it is proof of someone taking the energy to give you feedback, sacrificing time and energy to read and to interact. It’s not only 10 more fans, but it is exactly 10 more people who are curious about you and your work! If you don’t respect yourself enough, when you are dying from self-doubt, respect all those out there, who believe in you more than you believe in yourself.
- reach out to people for encouragement — writing online or writing a novel is a lonely job. You are immersed in your own thoughts, sometimes without no human interaction. The creative process is a lonely task. The writers’ community is a great place to rediscover your own strength. They are like-minded and talented people, who struggle with the same issues, face the same crippling self-doubt — and they can help you snap out from your negativity, shower you with their love and appreciation.
- Imposter syndrome is inevitable. Only those who don’t think at all can stay out of its reach.
- You don’t need to be perfect, because good enough will do.
- And setting a series of attainable smaller goals is more fruitful and rewarding than beating yourself up with not accomplishing impossible challenges.
- Create your toolbox to fight off imposter syndrome, and use it whenever you need it!