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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