After all, no-one else has a clue what they’re doing, either.
Something weird has been happening recently.
First, a friend asked if I could give her any advice about breaking into the writing business. That same week, a stranger sent me a message on Facebook, telling me she’s stuck in an abusive relationship and doesn’t know what to do. Then a relative sent me some of her writing, saying she’d love for me to take a look and tell her what I thought. She addressed me as “big city writer cuz”.
It’s as if people think I know what I’m doing, as if they think I can help them somehow.
When I got one of those messages, I was apartment-sitting for friend, having given up my place because I could no longer afford it. And when another one came through I was at a friend’s book-reading, feeling awkward because everyone else seemed to know each other and I didn’t have anyone to talk to. But honestly, even on my best days, I never feel like someone who should be handing out advice.
This isn’t the first time my reality has felt out of line with the way people seem to see me. Whether I’m running a marathon, leaving my abusive boyfriend or speaking up about being raped, people have told me I’m strong, brave, inspiring. Even listing those things – real things I’ve done, things I’ve written about before – feels uncomfortable, immodest, arrogant.
Maybe you’ve heard of imposter syndrome. It’s the feeling that you’re a total fraud, that nothing you do is quite good enough. No matter what you achieve, you don’t feel worthy – you feel like you’ve pulled the wool over people’s eyes when they praise you, or give you a promotion, or ask for your advice.
I set out to write this article as a how-to piece, offering tips for shoring up your confidence and overcoming imposter syndrome. But now that I’m actually trying to write it, I feel paralyzed by self-doubt once again. What do I know? Do I really have anything to say?
Yes. I do. I do!
Here are a few things to keep in mind if you suffer from imposter syndrome.
No-one else knows what they’re doing, either
Sometimes it might seem as though everyone else is coasting through the world on a wave of unflappable self-assurance, but that’s not true. ‘Imposters’ are everywhere – and the more successful someone seems, the more likely it is they are secretly waiting for someone to find them out.
‘Fake it ’til you make it’ is a real thing
See up there, where I said I had something to say? That was a total lie – but I kept writing anyway and it turns out I did have something to say. So stop second-guessing yourself and forge ahead. Pretend you know what you’re doing and people will believe you. Eventually, you might even start to believe yourself.
Sometimes other people will see you more clearly than you see yourself
One thing imposter syndrome makes me do is protest when someone says something nice to me. But when I do that – explaining why I’m not actually brave or smart or strong – I’m essentially telling people they’re wrong. It’s not only self-destructive, it’s rude. If someone tells you you’ve inspired them or you’ve done a great job, it’s probably true – why would they say it if it weren’t? So go ahead and believe people when they praise you.
Daily affirmations are your friend
Imposter syndrome isn’t something you can just “get over”, at least for me it isn’t. I need to wake up every morning and remind myself that I’m okay. Better than okay. That I can do whatever I set my mind to, or at least give it my best shot. If you need to give yourself a pep talk every day, do it, just like Jessica.
Sometimes I get the feeling we’re all just big kids playing make-believe – so why not go with it? So you’re a fake. I’m a fake. We’re all fakes. Who cares? Embrace it. Get childlike and play pretend. It’ll work. Trust me, I’m an expert.
Comment: What do you tell yourself to get through bad days?