On writing

Always Feeling Like an Impostor

I remember I got invited to a spoken word night to read some of my work, and all I could think was ‘Huh, surely someone has made a mistake, my stuff isn’t good enough to be read out loud.’

One of my short stories got picked out of a dozen others to be published on my university’s website, but surely, another mistake had been made. ‘I’ve read some of the other stories, they were way better!’

Even recently, when my advisor gushed over how much he liked my idea and how excited he was to see where I was going with it, I found myself thinking  ‘Surely he’s just trying to be nice.’

This, as I’ve found out recently, is not an uncommon reaction among creatives in my generation. It’s called the impostor syndrome and ‘some researchers believe it hits minority groups harder, as a lack of representation can make minorities feel like outsiders, and discrimination creates even more stress and anxiety when coupled with impostorism.’ (1)

Frankly, it makes me feel inadequate and underqualified like I’m a fraud or I’m not good enough to be in the position that I find myself in.

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Illustration by Heather Buchanan

It’s completely irrational and not at all productive to have this internal monologue, especially when presented with evidence against it. Although I was shaking the meat off my bones and could barely read through my whole set of poems, people came up to me and said they enjoyed it. My story got published and no one said ‘Why did that one win, it wasn’t that good.’

Keep a daily diary and record every instance in which you receive positive feedback, Dr. Cokley advises.

“Do that over the course of a week or a month and go back and look at all those instances in which you’ve gotten good feedback, where you’ve been told you’ve done a good job and done something well,” he said.

When your impostor feelings take over, this daily diary can serve as a reminder that you’ve earned your way to this position. (2)

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A fuzzy snapshot of my first-ever poetry reading.

But a surge in confidence is ever so hard to get a hold of because we’ve been conditioned to always look for flaws. I blame social media for that. The constant exposure to the ‘gurus’ who get paid to show off the best side of life makes me think there must be something wrong with me.

The perfect writing routine, the perfectly arranged rainbow bookshelves, the unattainably long reading list. Trends, challenges and hashtags. ‘Be there or be square.’ This influx of information and showcase of everyone else’s measure of qualification pushes me to look for whatever I must be doing wrong, because why else would I feel so self-conscious about calling myself a writer/reader/blogger/person?

But often times I can’t find anything. No unruly thread to pull at and say ‘Aha! This was it. I’ll trim this off and it will all be better!’ What’s left to question, then, other than me? ‘Am I simply not cut out for this?’ When an opportunity presents itself I always want to ask ‘But why me?’ because I know I’m not the best performer or the best writer.

‘Wait a minute,’ a voice in my head appears. ‘They didn’t ask for the best, the asked for you. Yeah, you. You know why? Because there is no one else like you, no one who can tell it as you do.’ The world doesn’t have any other me. So I must show up, write, enjoy. I must, because no one else can do it as I do. That’s why I have to accept when my work is being recognised and when I am in a room full of people, I have to own it, to be confident in saying ‘I am.’

Have you ever experience the impostor syndrome?

(1),(2) Wong, K. (2018). Dealing with impostor syndrome when You’re treated as an impostor.

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