Yesterday, at the gym, I stopped to talk to a fellow True-Crime-o-Philo (Lori Vallow Daybell was found guilty on all accounts last Friday). As we speculated about the upcoming trial of her partner-in-crime and husband, Chad, she asked me if I was still doing “the whole writing thing” and wrinkled her nose.
To some, giving oneself the title of “writer” is ridiculous unless they’ve read your work—meaning you are well-known—and you make gobs of money doing it (by the way, both are extremely rare). If not, no matter how hard you work, how much you’ve accomplished, you might as well claim you’re a writer, a princess, or an astronaut—which is inevitably answered with the oh-so-condescending word “cute.”
Feeling I must prove myself is nothing new. Once, I was standing on the front lawn of a neighbor’s house when a person I didn’t know asked if I was a real writer and then proceeded to google my name right in front of me!
It’s tough staking that claim in the first place, and every writer I know struggles with asking, “Can I call myself a writer if I only have a couple of novels written or if I haven’t been published yet?”
I swear, besides being an actor or artist, there is no other job title that one must prove they are worthy to say. Even the fast-food chain Subway has “sandwich artists,” and nobody jumps online to look up their names for proof!
Confronted at the gym, I immediately went into overdrive, trying to justify why I could call myself a writer and why I’m still doing it despite not being a household name. It was humiliating.
For the last week and a half, I’ve wanted to write about Imposter Syndrome, and until yesterday, I hadn’t found the right angle—thanks, Planet Fitness person!
To be clear, I don’t have Imposter Syndrome. Instead, I have often triggered low self-esteem, a rancid bout of low self-worth, and sometimes uncertainty about my abilities when it comes to something new. But when it comes to something I know, like how to tell a good story, I’m incredibly stubborn—I know what I know because I’ve been studying and practicing for a decade. Period.
People with true Imposter Syndrome spend their careers worrying about someone they work with finally calling them out as a fraud, no matter the mountain of evidence to prove otherwise.
I mean, if you suck at your job, you aren’t going to be able to continue at it, right?
It’s not like your boss has been watching you pretend and fail for thirty years, just so thirty-one years later, they can jump out and scream, “Gotcha!”
What’s worse is the personal and emotional toll on the person experiencing it. That “Gotcha” moment never happens because they are not frauds, so there is no release of all that fret and toil, and they remain paranoid that they’ll soon be found out.
So, what is their colossal worry? Their fear is that if they are found out, they risk the worst possible outcome, Death (aka the Death of their career, the Death of their self-esteem, the Death of their reputation). See? True Imposter Syndrome!
In reading up on this topic, I found that Imposter Syndrome and Fake-it-till-you-make-it seem to come hand in hand and are sometimes interchangeable. They’re so often connected because Fake-it-till-you-make-it is a strategy towards psyching one up to do something that intimidates them, hoping that they are no longer afraid once they finally do it.
From what I understand, people with true Imposter Syndrome might start with that strategy but for some reason, only fixate on the “Fake-it” part, mixing up the act of practicing a skill with that of the actual process, which, when added all together, equals performance. That is not me! I’m not really a Fake-it-till-you-make-it person, either. I’m an all-in, feet-first kind of gal. I always have been, too.
When I was growing up, Summer was my favorite time of year. The season was marked by no school, parents M.I.A from dawn until dusk, and the state of my bare feet.
Always at the beginning, right after Memorial Day, my bare feet were nice and pink and tender, feeling everything in my path. However, by Labor Day, my little piggies had grown a tough hide that no amount of hot pavement or sharp pebbles would be noted.
I looooovvved summer, when days were filled with adventures, like long bike rides and swimming, where, in the 1980s, parents and lifeguards on duty were like ghosts.
One summer, my eldest brother took us siblings to the North Ogden Outdoor Pool (I think it’s under a different name now). He gathered us up, and we walked about a mile with only our bath towels, scrounged couch change, and flip-flops (just in case).
Usually, once we entered through those metal gates, each sibling would pair off to their preferred pool section. The younger ones, me at seven years old, and two of my younger sisters would head to the wading pool.
My slightly older brother and another sister would strike out to the middle and play around the four-foot mark. My most senior two brothers, the eldest of our brood, would rush to the deep end.
The deep end was a mystical place of extremes where the bottom of the pool seemed nonexistent and was punctuated by the fiberglass diving boards and metal ladders that seemed to disappear into the glare of the midday sun.
This year, my eldest brother dragged me out of the wading side to teach me how to swim. I followed him along the pool edge, with a certain kind of swagger (I mean, I had been the chosen one, after all!), up to the tallest ladder and was told to climb. I did.
At the high dive, my brother walked me down to the end of the plank and told me to jump. I stared down at the glossy surface below, so far down. I could see the light blue bottom, and the people were like ants—okay, well, like smaller people–but still. I was really high up, higher than I’d ever been.
Drowning, even at seven years old, was a real fear of mine. I could splash around in the kiddie pool and pretend to glide horizontally along the surface by walking on my hands. I could even survive a long dunk if one of my brothers decided to hold me down and watch me panic. However, I did not know how to swim, and no amount of Barbie-printed Lycra could prevent me from drowning. I never joined the four-foot mark with the others and never dreamed of dipping a toe in the deep end. Yet here I was, standing on that thin fiberglass tower, peering into the blue of my fate. I jumped.
I remember free falling, the wind chilling my body moments before I struck the surface, and gravity took over. I remember once inside, my momentum stalling as bubbles erupted around me, my ears popped, and the deadening of the scream and shouts of all those playing at the pool. I remember finally hitting the bottom, stubbing my toes, and rebounding, the water surface siphoning me topside.
I exploded out of the water, coughing, gaging, and struggling for breath, adrenaline surging! I doggy paddled to the side. I survived, and then I did it again and again. This was not the same as fake-it-till-you-make-it. This was not Imposter Syndrome. This was me hurdling myself into the task and practicing until I could swim. That is the difference and, oddly, how I go about life. It’s worked so far!
My point is this, we are all in this life together, for good and for bad, ’till death do us part, no matter what kind of death scares us and no matter the job title. We must co-exist even if we all have a different way of existing. We need to elevate, not debilitate!
So, good luck! I’ll be waiting for you in the deep end!
*If you struggle with something resembling Imposter Syndrome like I was, I have a friend ( a trained therapist specializing in creatives with Imposter Syndrome) you should check out!
I love this! It is you 100%!
LikeLiked by 1 person