Fuck Impostor Syndrome: How I Got Over It (And How You Can, Too!)
When I was younger, one of the really fun tricks my classmates used to play on me was being nice to me for a minute, and then when I responded cordially, yelling “SIKE!” at me and then laughing hysterically with their friends about how stupid and foolish I was for thinking they would ever be friends with the likes of me.
Out of everything I went through in school as an outcast–eating lunch in the girl’s room, having every part of my personality and appearance torn to shreds literally every day of my life for 10 years–none of it left a lasting imprint on my psyche like this one stupid joke did. I have always had an intense fear that the second something seems OK, that the rug is going to be pulled out from underneath me and I am going to feel like a fool. I can deal with the worst of times like nobody’s business, but when things are good I have a really hard time trusting in that.
One thing that every female writer I know has in common is serious case of Impostor Syndrome. We talk about it a lot. It affects women of every profession, of course, but if you’re not familiar with it, here is how Wikipedia describes it.
Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Notably, impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women.
It’s really, really common. Even Maya Angelou had it:
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ ”
Meryl Streep has it! She told a reporter once that she gets cold feet every time before every new project, and thinks “I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?”
Now, clearly, I am no Maya Angelou or Meryl Streep. But ever since I started writing professionally, I have this voice in the back of my head constantly saying this:
“I don’t know how you tricked all these people into believing you can do this, but you are going to be found out and exposed as a fraud any minute now! You personally know a thousand writers who are better and certainly way the hell more deep than you are! Clearly, they deserve this way the hell more than you do! Probably the only reason you even have your job is because you’re a hustler and people think you are nice! Everything you have is due to pity! THEY’RE ALL GONNA LAUGH AT YOU!”
Some of these things are literally true. I do know a lot of writers who are better than I am, and whom I admire greatly. Of course I do! It would be weird if I did not. I’m also a hustler. If I want something I work towards it, and I am not afraid to ask for things. I got my first steady freelance gig largely because I asked. I was not like, organically spotted in the wild like Lana Turner at Schwab’s pharmacy. I am also a very nice person.
I can’t really do anything about these things. But I did do something about that voice in my head. I got rid of it. And it wasn’t by convincing myself that I am so fabulous and totally deserve everything I’ve achieved and more. It’s because I decided that I don’t give a fuck.
That’s right–I’m an impostor! So be it! And I don’t care! So what, really? I mean, honestly, if I am an impostor, and I am somehow good enough at being an impostor to get published, to get a job that I love and am happy about? I am a kick-ass impostor. Just look at all these people I’ve fooled!
I will continue to be the best goddamned impostor I can be. I’ll be Wonder Woman/Diana Prince. I’ll be Anastasia. I’ll be Will Smith in “Six Degrees of Separation.” I’ll be Christina Applegate in “Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead!” I’ll be, uh, the guy that “The Impostor” documentary was about! Go me! Queen of the goddamned impostors! As The Platters once said…Oh yes, I’m the great pretender.
I mean, think of all the assholes going around with the Dunning-Kruger effect going on, thinking they’re fabulous geniuses when they’re not? Why should they be happier than me? Why should I have a knot in my stomach worrying all the time that the fraud police are going to come and bust me for accidentally thinking I might be OK for half a second? Fuck that. I don’t need that shit. I sincerely doubt there are too many men out there concerned that they only got their jobs because they are nice and people felt badly for them.
And you know what? Sure, it may happen someday that the entire world will suddenly come to their senses and realize that I am an utter fraud and a hack. That one day, everyone will turn and point at me and laugh and yell “Oh you horrible fraud! As it turns out, you are not at all good at any of this! It is beyond us how we have allowed you to go on for this long, thinking you are OK!” Maybe I will then actually die of humiliation. Which will be unfortunate, but I will be dead so I won’t care, now will I?
However, I am pretty sure also that the entire world is not actually all that invested in a random girl who writes things on the internet. I imagine they probably have enough of their own crap going on, and worrying about being outed as frauds their own damn selves. And hey! If they haven’t outed Maya Angelou and Meryl Streep yet, I think I might be in the clear.
Besides, I’ve had the rug pulled out from underneath me before, and I’ve landed on my feet.
While men do suffer from Impostor Syndrome, it kills me that it affects women more. I want us all to stop it right now. I want us to take it, crumple it up into a ball, and throw it right out the goddamned window. I want us to actively decide to be done with it. If, for you, that means deciding that you are fabulous and deserve everything you get and more? Awesome! But, you are also welcome to join me over here and decide you don’t actually care if you are an impostor, and just be the best impostor you can be. Together, we can fool the world.