As authors, we’re often seen as experts in certain areas. If we branch out into speaking engagements, editing, or coaching, this perception increases exponentially. And despite our credentials, experience and knowledge, it’s easy for us to doubt ourselves. Imposter Syndrome is real, and Elizabeth Hartl is here with some tips on putting it in its place.
Have you ever felt unqualified for a job even though you have extensive training? Do you ever shy away from giving advice because you believe that what you have to say is wrong or unimportant—even though you know what you’re talking about?
When I graduated and took on my first clients, I had nightmares about how others would receive me. I questioned myself constantly; Do you know what you’re talking about? Who would trust you to guide their writing? Regardless of the knowledge and experience I had, that little voice in the back of my mind continued to cast doubt, uncertainty, and fear.
I lived with this feeling for years. In fact, I still struggle with it. I figured it was a part of my brain trying to make me better at my craft, so I continued learning and growing. What I didn’t know is that this feeling doesn’t go away, at least not on its own. You have to consciously work to eradicate it.
I didn’t know until recently that this feeling had a name: impostor syndrome. It’s not a diagnosed syndrome, but around 70% of creative minds struggle with this issue. That’s a sizable portion of us. Impostor syndrome is the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite accomplishments. It is the feeling that all of your accomplishments result from luck. It is a psychological phenomenon to which most creatives can relate.
For writers, impostor syndrome attacks your unique “voice”, and it can be the worst feeling in the world. It causes anxiety, stress, fear, low self-confidence, and even shame and depression. If allowed to go unchecked, it can lead to less risk-taking and missed opportunities.
But don’t worry. Here are five ways to combat impostor syndrome.
1. Own and Celebrate Your Achievements
Nothing will ever be 100% perfect. We are human and the errors we make give us character. Your training, experience, and willingness to learn make you an expert in your field. Stop being so hard on yourself and trust that you know what you’re doing, even if it’s not 100% perfect.
2. Stop Seeking External Validation
The sun shines and the birds sing when others recognize you for your work (at least it does for me). Recognition is motivation to keep doing our best. While outside validation is nice once in a while, it should not define our lives. We must seek validation from within ourselves and the knowledge we have about our craft. Know that you are doing an expert job, and keep at it.
3. You Are a Work-In-Progress and That’s Okay
I bet no one ever told you this in school, but learning continues throughout our lives. If we’re smart, we’ll take every learning opportunity we’re offered because it will only help our craft. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself to produce genius-level results. No one is looking for genius; they are looking for a realness that comes with character and flaws. Admit to yourself that you are a work-in-progress, and all those charming quirks will shine through, easing the pressure to produce or perform. Chances are, people will love you more and still trust you.
4. It’s Okay to Ask for Help
Some creatives believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness (It’s me, I’m “some creatives”). When you need to ask for help you feel like a failure. It’s kind of like the stereotype of how men never ask for directions and get lost because of it. It’s okay to ask for help. No one knows everything. Asking for help when you need it will add to your credibility and ease your mind.
5. Gain Skills When You Need Them
Remember how we talked about learning being a lifelong process and a good thing? Well, if your learning is excessive, it’s not a good thing. Do you gain certifications or training because it makes you feel credible? Doing this might sound like a wonderful idea, but it causes unneeded stress and anxiety. Instead, try gaining skills as you need them. Give yourself a break, you deserve it.
I used to think impostor syndrome was that little voice in the back of your mind that everyone has to live with. I have learned that no one has to live with it. We all struggle with impostor syndrome at some point in our lives, regardless of our qualifications or achievements. Remember that you know what you’re talking about and it’s okay to share that knowledge with others.
Elizabeth is a freelance writer and editor with 12+ years’ experience in both fiction and non-fiction. She currently runs Elizabeth Edits, an editing and writing coach service, and can be found on Instagram.
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It’s good to know that I’m not the only one who struggles with this. This past week has been hard for me. Logically, I understand I have made a lot of achievements. I know no one is perfect. And it makes sense that what my current mood might see as a shortcoming is actually an opportunity to gain skills. But when the mood strikes, it’s a struggle to fight it back. Luckily, this imposter syndrome doesn’t last long for me. I can usually get out of it in a week or two.
Jennifer Lane says
Great post! I think that anyone starting a new job experiences imposter syndrome, which I define as the thought, “When will people find out I have no idea what I’m talking about?”
Yes! These issues really do exist in every industry. I’ve found that once you’re doing the job for a couple of weeks, consistently, you get more comfortable with it and that boost of confidence helps tremendously. For me, though, it never goes away, it’s just not a constant anymore.
BECCA PUGLISI says
I don’t know why this is such a universal problem for writers (maybe for people in all industries?) but it truly is. Part of the solution, as Angela said, is to give yourself time to grow and expand your knowledge. But the other part is changing your mindset from one of self-doubt to one of recognizing and accepting that you do know what you’re talking about. Your tip on celebrating accomplishments is huge for that.
Thanks for sharing, Elizabeth!
I enjoyed writing on this subject. I agree that celebrating accomplishments is a huge part of it, but it isn’t always easy. To me, and I don’t know if anyone else feels this way, but celebrating accomplishments seems kind of like bragging. I’m definitely a more humble, modest, “Yes ma’am, thank you sir” kind of person. So, I personally need to work on celebrating.
Richard Hebert says
I see people talk about this step and that stop to be a writer. I am a 75 year trying to be a writer. My quaification, in school I was never taught to read, so consequently I still have trouble with verbs. The local writer group I just join like my stories but they tell me I need to clean up my verb usage. I am in race against time as my former occupation I was expsed to chemicals that over time eat away your memory and also damages your kideney. By on the bright side I also have diabetes and neuropathy and live off of my Social Security. I tell my wife if I live another 20 years maybe my writing will pass for writing. That have been my one fault, I am optimist.
Jo Ann zsilavetz says
Thank you for sharing your story. Like you I have a disability called dyslexia. However, it did not keep me from moving forward in life and enjoy writing short essays and poems.
Forget about verbs and just enjoy life and writing.
Good day to you my friend. Jo Ann Z.
Richard, thank you for your story. Like Jo Ann said, just enjoy writing. Being a good storyteller isn’t about impeccable grammar or spelling, but about how well you, well, tell the story. The grammar and spelling can always be fixed. If you enjoy writing, that’s all that matters.
Deborah Makarios says
I find the tricky thing is learning to distinguish between the voice that says “impostor!” and the voice that says “you didn’t do a good job there.” Because the latter voice may actually be right.
I completely agree! That’s definitely part of the struggle. But hey, that’s why we’ve got editors and family and friends.
ANGELA ACKERMAN says
These are great tips, Elizabeth. I think in our heads we always want to be super-good right out the gate, but we need to remind ourselves that nothing works that way. Look at any athlete, musician, scientist, business owner or anyone else who has achieved success and you will find the same thing: a boatload of work, dedication, persistence, and most importantly, self-belief. That last one is a struggle for all of us, and why we must not let Imposter Syndrome take hold. It may be a battle that reoccurs, but we have to keep fighting it. We’ve all got a passion for words and as long as we stay true to that passion by working hard and stepping forward down the path, we will succeed. 🙂
Thanks. I have struggled with this issue for some time, and I had no idea that others had the same problem until I started looking into it. I figured a lot of people probably feel this way and I hope this awareness could help reassure at least one person.