In May of 2017, the author Neil Gaiman shared the following anecdote on his blog when asked about dealing with impostor syndrome. Years ago, he had gone to a several day gathering of all sorts of amazing people. There were artists and scientists and writers and discoverers. Gaiman, despite his own success, felt out of place and like he didn’t qualify to be in the presence of so many great people.
On the second or third night, however, he struck up a conversation with someone who essentially said that he also felt like he didn’t belong at that same gathering. That man said something along the likes of “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”. That man that Gaiman was speaking to? Neil Amstrong, the first man to ever walk on the moon. If even the first man to be on the moon deals with anxiety and feeling like an impostor, then maybe everyone does.
Dealing with feeling like an impostor is something that many people face. For some, it’s this overwhelming feeling that prevents them from creating new things or going out into the world. Everyone’s experience with impostor syndrome is different but there are some ways you can deal with or even embrace these feelings to become a better writer, creator, and person!
Remember that you have something to contribute.
The aforementioned anecdote is a prime example of this point. There are many successful people who deal with feeling like an impostor but as the writer and podcaster Sarah Werner said at a PodCon 2 panel: “there is always value in sharing your truth”. You have something to share with the world, regardless of what your own impostor syndrome is saying.
People share what they want you to see
The magic of social media and the current digital landscape is that you can see and hear from millions of people every single day. Celebrities and famous creators are, for example, more accessible than ever before, thanks in large part because of platforms like Instagram and Twitter. But the downside is that these platforms for many, and not just for celebrities, can be curated in a way where you’re only seeing the good and successful moments. You might not see folks in the midst of a panic attack or exhausted after a 16 hour day. You might not realize how much work and time went into a project and all the help someone might have gotten.
So while it’s incredibly easy to compare yourself to the lives people share online, doing so only does harm to you. It can be easy to wonder how Serial became an overnight sensation while your show might be struggling to get an audience but it’s important to remember that Sarah Koenig had been working with NPR and This American Life for years before starting Serial and had a ton of resources and experience with audio. That isn’t to downplay Keonig’s talent or hard work but it does say that it takes time and a whole lot of work to make something like Serial.
Also, remember that everyone has bad days because there are just some days where something goes wrong or you’re just not in your element. These days are by no means an indication that you are a failure. They’re a reminder to take care of yourself and be kind to yourself!
Be kind to yourself.
Impostor syndrome is, at least in my experience, an incredible liar and tends to thrive on doubts that aren’t quite true. At a PodCon 2 panel, Dane Terry, creator/writer of the Night Vale Presents podcast Dream Boy, said something to the effect of: “imposter syndrome is not about what you are but what you are not”. Having tools that help you remember exactly what you are and tools to take care of yourself help soothe those doubts.
Surround yourself with people that you love and trust and don’t be afraid to ask for help! Having a community of different people who are willing to support you and help you work through some of these doubts can make an incredible difference. If need be, consider going to therapy or on medication if possible. Your community can help uplift and support you but therapy can help guide you through many of your feelings and experiences in a way that your friends and family can’t. And for some folks, there’s no amount of love that can fix the hormonal or chemical imbalance in your head. There is absolutely no shame in therapy or medication.
Have a self-care tool kit.
And finally, take care of yourself and have a toolkit for the times you’re not feeling up for things. Not a literal, tangible toolkit filled with nails, hammers, and other tools but a toolkit of things that help you feel better about yourself and more like a human person. Take a shower if it’s been a couple days and you’re feeling crummy. Clean up your workspace or other areas if you’re feeling stressed and overwhelming, as a clean space might help! Exercise in some way, whether that means doing yoga or going for a walk/run or going to the gym. Drink some water and have a mini dance party all by yourself.
Impostor syndrome affects so many people, from famous authors and creators to everyday people. Overcoming it won’t involve a quick cure or something someone gives you because it’s something that you have to struggle with personally and there’s no one way to deal with feeling like an impostor.
Constantly working through all the doubt, worry, and sadness is the way to get through feeling like an impostor and surrounding yourself with creative, supportive people that you trust and love can only help. And always remember that you are not the only one going through this. It’s something that can help you but it’s not something that should control your life and prevent you from being the person you want to be.
To end, here are some amazing words of wisdom from writer and creator Shonda Rhimes from her book, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person.
“We all spend our lives kicking the crap out of ourselves for not being this way or that way, not having this thing or that thing, not being like this person or that person. For not living up to some standard we think applies across the board to all of us. We all spend our lives trying to follow the same path, live by the same rules. I think we believe that happiness lies in following the same list of rules. In being more like everyone else. That? Is wrong. There is no list of rules. There is one rule. The rule is: there are no rules.
Normalize your lives, people. You don’t want a baby? Don’t have one. I don’t want to get married? I won’t. You want to live alone? Enjoy it. You want to love someone? Love someone. Don’t apologize. Don’t explain. Don’t ever feel less than. When you feel the need to apologize or explain who you are, it means the voice in your head is telling you the wrong story. Wipe the slate clean. And rewrite it. No fairy tales. Be your own narrator. And go for a happy ending. One foot in front of the other. You will make it.”