Suspend Your Disbelief

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Imposter syndrome


When I first got to college, I was pretty sure that I was an admissions mistake. My roommate was one of Glamour‘s College Women of the Year. Another girl downstairs played piano with the Philharmonic; the guy down the hall was almost sixteen. A guy on the first floor held two patents. You get the idea. Even now, I occasionally get the feeling that I am a complete fraud, and I have no idea how I managed to convince people I had anything worthwhile to say. In my worst moments I suspect I will get a phone call rescinding awards I have won, or announcing the de-publication of one of my stories.

You, too? Chalk it up to imposter syndrome. Lesley on xoJane explains:

Impostor syndrome happens to all sorts of people, at all ages and all levels of “success” in career and life. (However, it is especially common amongst graduate students.) People with impostor syndrome are convinced that their successes, no matter how concrete or obvious, are merely accidents that they cannot ever hope to repeat on purpose. They can’t own and internalize their accomplishments; instead, they are convinced that they are frauds, that they don’t deserve their accolades, and at any moment they will be revealed for the charlatans they are.

The phrase “impostor phenomenon” was first used in 1978 by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. […] Totally unsurprisingly, impostor syndrome was initially thought to be more common amongst women, although more recent takes on the idea have found that men are just as suceptible, they just tend to handle these feelings differently.

When I read this, a bell went off in my head. Though the article is mostly aimed at graduate students in the cutthroat academic world, “imposter syndrome” is a feeling all too many creative writers struggle with, too. xoJane offers some tips on getting over these feelings—read the full article here—as well as this parting thought:

The difference between the impostor-plagued person and the self-confident person is not competence; it’s attitude.

Do you ever feel like an imposter? How do you cope? Tell us in the comments—and don’t worry, we’ll keep your secrets.

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Join the Discussion

  • Great points, Celeste. I always feel the same way and I agree — there may be a gender correlation, which is obviously a more complicated topic (I challenge you to tackle this in a future post!).

    I still remember years ago talking to a stranger at a bar once and when she asked me what I do for a living, I shyly (and quietly) said, ‘I’m writing a book.’ She immediately told me how unattractive my attitude was and said I better own what I do or what was the point in doing it? Ever since then, I’ve always thanked this woman for the reminder that I should be proud of the fact that I’ve spent six years working on a project that no one has held me accountable for and no one has asked me to write (wait, now I’m wondering why I do this! Ha). But in all seriousness, if we are lucky enough to have chosen our paths in life, then we should be proud of this fact and whatever successes come our way are surely deserved (unless, of course, they’ve been achieved through nepotism).

    Thanks for the support, Celeste. Glad to know my self-deprecation/self-loathing is not reserved for me alone.

  • Celeste

    Kate, I think you’re absolutely right that there’s a gender correlation–though I’m not sure I’m willing to touch that one with the proverbial ten-foot pole. (We’ll see…) I wonder, too, if it happens more often to writers than other professions–actors? sculptors? doctors?–and why that might be so.

    Thanks for this anecdote, and your thoughtful perspective.

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