I deal with imposter syndrome every day. I am waiting, just waiting, for someone to realise I have no idea what I’m doing, that I’m terrible and worthless and that I’ve somehow been swept up in this fake life where people think I’m competent.
I don’t think I’m alone in this. It’s a big part of modern life, where our sense of what it is to be an ‘expert’ in something is pretty fuzzy, and sometimes the things we disregard as ‘easy’ are actually a skill.
I feel an imposter most frequently in the academic world – because I am not of that at all. I want to yell it sometimes, beat my fists on my chest and yell, ‘I am not an academic!’ But I don’t think that’s necessary, because no one would mistake me for one. I am not the person who keeps hold of sources, or references, or backs up her arguments. I’m impulsive and passionate and often make decisions based on gut feelings instead of rationality and reasoning. Exactly what an academic shouldn’t do. And yet, here I am, continuing to study, the mallard in with the swans.
But what about being a writer? Back when I was studying, I thought I’d be a writer when I finished a book. Then I thought I’d be a writer when I published a book. Then when I sold ‘enough’, when I wrote three, five, ten books. I changed the goal posts every time. Never allowing myself to be ‘enough’ to claim the title. Now, I admit I’m a writer, but I change the goal posts on what a ‘successful’ writer is.
Here is what I’ve learnt: If you write novels – you’re a writer. If you scribble poems on the back of napkins, or make up fairytales for your kids at bedtime – you’re a writer. If you find joy in telling a story, if you write a diary, if you fill in speech bubbles on a cartoon strip and bloody well love it – you’re a writer.
The purists will hate me, they’ll say I’m diluting their genius, that surely there’s a difference between someone who’s written ten novels and someone who scribbles fragments in a notebook at home. And there is, of course there is. But that is not the title. That’s the detail. If you love to write, be a writer.
I’m not an academic, but I’m studying. And what allows me to do that is my skills as a facilitator; my softness, my empathy. I’m not a researcher, but I’m curious and I’m enthusiastic. And so I will study until this damn research project is done and I can be curious about something else.
If you think you’re an imposter, I want you to think of someone you consider an expert in your field, someone you think is the poster child for what you want to do. And then I want you to remember that they probably think they’re an imposter too.