IMPOSTOR: One who imposes on others; a deceiver, swindler, cheat; now chiefly, one who assumes a false character, or passes himself off as some one other than he really is. (Oxford English Dictionary)
Impostor Syndrome came up recently in an online forum, as it will when writers get together and talk about their work and lives and all that falls between. Wikipedia has a handy synopsis:
The impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud 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.
Last week, I hit send on an email to a lit journal and looked around the room. Wait. Who just did that? In moments of bravery, I am often unrecognizable to myself.
The editor I emailed got back to me right away, expressing interest. I’m going to follow up with him and another editor. It feels huge. And still, I felt disconnected from the experience, like it somehow wasn’t really me. Not the real me.
This time, I caught myself having that feeling when I was having it. That clarity is a shift in the right direction, a way through the notion that I am somehow not worthy.
Part of this recognition also comes from hearing other people’s experiences, knowing that I am not alone. As I sat down to write this up, I googled “impostor syndrome.” I never noticed that this phenomenon is common among highly competent and successful people. So maybe, for today anyway, I can place myself in the “highly competent” category of human being, and let that spill over to how I feel about my writing life. It seems like a cool way to turn things around. And useful.
In the past few months, I’ve taken a lot of chances and thrown myself out there, made my opportunities. I’ve pitched and pursued. I’ve asked editors to take a chance on me. It’s paid off. I taught a session at Seattle’s Richard Hugo House during their Write-O-Rama fundraiser. This summer and fall, I have work forthcoming on crosscut.com, Bitch magazine and the Bitch blog, Chautauqua Literary Journal (2015), and High Country News.
This is really just to say, and to remind myself, take chances. Your work and your writing matter, and you are worthy to tell these stories.