Impostor! Impostor Syndrome and You

Have you ever felt like you don’t actually deserve the attention or success you have had? Do you ever feel like the good things that happen are because of something outside of your control or a mistake someone else made regarding you? Do you feel like if people actually knew and understood, they would take away those successes?

Well, my friend, you just may be suffering from Impostor Syndrome. And let me tell you, it’s not the most fun thing in the world.

Impostor Syndrome is defined as a persistent, internalized fear that you will be exposed as a fraud, that your successes come from external sources rather than your own abilities and self-worth (source). It is a trick that causes us to doubt the worth of our work and our successes and feel as if we don’t deserve the good things that happen to us.

And it’s often our brains lying to us.

Unfortunately, this is a common feeling among high-achievers, particularly women (though this idea may be incorrect… some emerging evidence suggests it affects men and women equally). I first encountered this idea while I was in grad school, and I think it’s pretty relevant to writers, too. We can experience this feeling when we receive compliments or awards or publications, any time our work achieves some level of success or recognition. It keeps us from ever feeling like we have made progress in our skill, talent, and career. Even the greats, like Stephen King, will tell you they still don’t feel like masters (see his book, On Writing). Many writers who have “made it” still feel like impostors. Just like us.

You see, we consistently put our souls out for the world to see whenever we share our writing. It is easy to think that people who say negative things are correct while those who say positive things are just “being nice” or have fallen for a “trick” of some sort. We attribute what success or acclaim we gain to luck rather than our hard work or our talents.

And this is unfair to us and our readers. Let me tell you why I think this.

When we shrug off a compliment and tell ourselves it’s not because of anything we did, that people will figure out soon enough that what we did isn’t worthy of attention or adoration by anyone, we prevent ourselves from taking pride in a job that not everyone can or will do. Writing is hard business. And by ignoring or downplaying the compliments or good reviews because of our feelings, we are invalidating our worth and the worth of our work. That’s not fair to you.

On the other side of the coin, when you ignore or shrug off a compliment, readers do not find it attractive or humble. It can be just as invalidating to them. You are telling them that their opinion doesn’t affect you at all, which can translate to you not caring about their opinion. And as writers, our life and the life of our stories depends on readers. We need connections, and we need to make our audience feel appreciated. If they took the time to write to you or leave a review, your work affected them. End of story. Say thank you and accept the praise.

So next time you’re feeling like a failure, remember that it might not be true. Take a few minutes to step back and look at your feedback. Don’t dwell on the negative reviews (people tend to remember the negative over the positive, no matter the difference in numbers). Realize that not everyone is going to like your work, but that doesn’t say anything about you as a writer. Take pride in your successes, accept the accolades you receive, and most of all, keep writing no matter what your mind tries to tell you.

Because as long as you keep creating, these feelings lose.

Your turn: Do you have any suggestions for dealing with impostor syndrome? Anything to add? Tell me in the comments below!

Night Tales

I recently went on my annual family vacation, and this time things were a little different.

First, my boyfriend came with us. I’ve never had someone to bring along before, and he’s never been to the Outer Banks, NC. My family has been going there for at least a decade, nearly every summer. So for us, there really wasn’t anything new. But for him? It was all new.

And this time there was something new for me, too.

Boyfriend wasn’t really interested in most of the usual tourist-y things: climbing lighthouses, visiting the Wright Memorial (he would have wanted to go, but the museum is under construction until fall 2018, so we decided to postpone that one), going to the Roanoke Island Festival Park, etc. Instead, the one thing he wanted to do is something none of us had ever done before. He wanted to go kayaking at night.

Now, we had done some kayaking tours in past years, mostly around the Alligator River (I’ve never seen any alligators, but some of my family has). Those tours were pretty awesome, but we always went early in the day to avoid the summer heat. But to go at night… that was something all of us were afraid to do. So afraid, in fact, that only I would go with boyfriend this time around.

So we signed up for the Maritime Forest Bioluminescence Tour. I dreaded the coming of the night, afraid to be lost in the dark, by myself, in a salt marsh. Who knew what lurked just beyond my sight? How much would I really be able to see? How would I find my way back?

Turned out that a huge storm system rolled in and we were forced to reschedule right as I was starting to get excited about the tour.

So we went the next night to the Bodie Island Bioluminescence Tour. The night was warm and clear, the moon was nowhere to be seen, and even if it was, there wouldn’t be much light as it was in the waning phases. We also found out this was the better of the two tours being offered. It was a perfect night for such a tour.

All we really expected to see were fireflies, but it was so much better than that.

We left the shore into the super calm waters across from the Bodie Island Lighthouse. It was so quiet, and it got even more quiet (and dark) the further we got from the highway. We saw the International Space Station fly by overhead. The stars became clearer and more abundant. We could even see the cloudy light of the Milky Way overhead.

And then something happened that I had never expected to see in my life: bioluminescent plankton began to glow and sparkle with every stroke of the paddles. Every drop to fall from the paddle, every stroke, every hand drawn through the warm water stirred up these plankton.

It was magical.

The guides instructed us to put our hands six inches down and snap our fingers if we couldn’t quite tell, if they just looked like bubbles, but it just became more and more apparent the farther we paddled from shore (and the light pollution). I put my hand in the water, which terrified and exhilarated me at the same time. Around my hand, the plankton were almost a white cloud of light, and the bright blue of their glow grew brighter as they drifted away from me. It truly did look like magic.

All around, fish began jumping in the water. You see, small fish are attracted to the bioluminescence of the plankton, and they pursue it for their dinner. The glow then also attracts larger fish, the ones who were jumping, to go after these small predator fish. So the glow attracts the predators of the plankton’s predators, thereby protecting them. Weird, right? But so cool (I know, I know. But hey, I’m a biologist!). Other than the fact that one of these larger fish jumped out of the water and right into my shoulder! I smelled like fish the rest of the night, and it scared me more than anything else. And now I have a funny story to share!

But, besides sharing this magical experience with you, there is a point to my story.

If we never do something because we are afraid, we miss out on something that could be truly magical. Perhaps this applies to your creative processes, such as writing or drawing. Perhaps it is in sharing what you create. Perhaps it applies to an activity that scares you, like this nighttime excursion scared me.

Sometimes we need to do things that scare us, because those can end up being some of our best experiences. And if we can’t do them alone, we find those people who push us and encourage us.

So this is my learned lesson shared with you: do the things that scare you. And if you are having trouble on your own, find those people to push you past your comfort zone. Let the magic happen.

As for me, I’ll be forever grateful to boyfriend for making me go on this tour. I have beautiful memories with him and of the experience, I have a painting to make of the experience, I have material for my writing, and I have pride in knowing I did something no one else in my family would do.

It was a good night, and I can’t wait to do it again.