Impostor Syndrome – an analogy and pep talk

I’ve just given the same pep talk to three different writers, so I figure you probably need it to.

Let me speak to you about impostor syndrome. That thing where you are sure everyone knows you’re faking it and they are going to find out any minute and then you will be cast down and they will laugh and OMG EVERYONE WILL KNOW YOU SUCK!!!!11!!1!!!!

Years ago, when I was nominated for the Campbell Award I was having serious, serious impostor syndrome. And Nancy Kress — multiple Hugo/Nebula/Everything award winner with a bajillion books, told me that she still had impostor syndrome. That is at once tremendously heartening — because it means I’m not alone — and terribly sad, because it means that there’s not a point where I will have “made it.”

True. But…

You know how, when you’re playing a video game, you get to see this beautiful loading screen when you level up?

What happens with impostor syndrome to you is that you leveled up while you looking away from the computer. You didn’t see the loading screen, all you see are monsters that are bigger than they were.

But you DID level up and you can totally handle it.

It’s much, much worse to never experience Impostor Syndrome, because that means that you are staying on the easy level. Things will just keep coming that you know how to handle and that, eventually, gets boring.

So next time you feel the Imposter Syndrome hitting, recognize that it’s a symptom of the fact that you levelled up without noticing. It’s a crappy feature and the UI is totally borked, but you are can handle it.

Impostor Syndrome means that you are winning.

8 Responses

  1. Sally

    It happens in everything. I had a major case of impostor syndrome when I signed the loan papers for the house. The bank was trusting me with 6 figures? ME???

    At least I get to sit in my loading screen. 🙂

  2. E.K. Marler

    I sat down at a project and thought I have no business writing it. I found your analogy/pep talk in my online procrastinations. So back to the task at hand.

  3. TR Goodman

    So very, very true. Someone in my writing group (totally not me *ahem*) has been struggling with this for ages. I love how you reframed it in a more positive light. Thanks!

  4. Beth McKenzie

    Now THAT is something I needed to hear. Not because I’m suffering from impostor syndrome, but because I’ve spent the last year focusing on the freelance writing that gives me praise and pay while I avoid editing my book. Thanks, Mary, for pointing out that I’m hiding from my impostor syndrome rather than facing it down!!

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