I was talking to a friend the other day about imposter syndrome. Because I like using big words to talk about myself, apparently. Wikipedia calls it “a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. Basically, it means feeling like an amateur at something no matter how accomplished you really are.
A few months ago I took a creative writing class at my local community college. I have a degree in English: Writing & Communications. I’ve had work published in my school’s literary journal, I ran the school newspaper for two years, I’ve been writing poetry and short stories for as long as I can remember and blogging as long as I’ve been mothering. I don’t know that I’d call myself a professional but I have experience in the field and sometimes I even like my writing. Weird, right? But after eleven years of mothering, I found myself in a rut creatively and I thought taking a class with other writers might help (spoiler: it totally did).
When I showed up to the first class and the teacher asked us to introduce ourselves and tell the class what we write I found myself mumbling something along the lines of “Hi my name is Jen, I’m a stay at home mom and I’m kind of new to writing. I don’t really have a specialty.” Wait, what? NEW? I don’t know if I downplayed my writing experience for the glory of being judged as an amateur or if my eleven years of parenting make me feel like I’m moving backward instead of forwards. Or if I’m just really weird. But I am not “new to writing” by any stretch of the imagination.
The truth is that there is a little voice in the back of my mind that is always warning me that I’m probably not very good at this. Even if I amuse myself with my writing and people have been kind in the past – it doesn’t make me a good writer. How many horrible poems have we been forced to read by a friend or classmate? Who’s to say that I’m not another person with terrible poetry. More over, my inability to finish any of the novels I’ve started must be proof of my inadequacy, right? Or the fact that I wake up every morning to find that I’m still not J.K. Rowling?
And it’s not just about writing. I do the same thing with my photography and frankly with my life. I downplay any accomplishment so that when someone finally tells me how mediocre I am, it won’t be too big of a shock.
They say that we are our own worst critic and that is definitely true – but how do we stop being that awful troll booing loudly through our piano recitals and writing sessions? How do we start patting ourselves on the back and staking our claim – how do we find the bravery to tell the world that we’re awesome and talented and that we may never be J.K. Rowling but that someday a struggling writer might lament the fact that they aren’t US?
I wish I could tell you that I have an answer but the truth is that right now I’ve just got an “I noticed a problem and want to do better.” But maybe that’s the first step to figuring this out. Sometimes naming the demon is the best way to vanquish it.
Let’s try something: Name something you are GOOD at. Just blurt it out right now – out loud. I promise I’m not really listening – but say it out loud before your inner internet troll can tell you that you are wrong. CLAIM that talent today. Feel free to tell me about it in the comments.
Do you struggle with this problem?
What are you GOOD at?
2 responses to “About imposter syndrome and owning your talents.”
Back before my stroke, I loved playing the guitar, but never gave myself credit for being good at it. One day I answered a comment in a way that implied I wasn’t that good, and a friend of mine, who I had played with for years, commented back that I was one of the better guitar players he had heard. He had gone much further in music than I had, so it actually held some weight with me.
The stroke put an end to my guitar days, so I took up blogging. It’s taken six years to realize that I am a whole lot better than I give myself credit for. I think in my case the nuns in grammar school and my mother had convinced me that blowing my own horn was wrong, but now I wish I had told them to shove it and blowing my own horn away.
I’m glad you are realizing now that it is okay to toot your own horn once in awhile!