Do You Have Impostor Syndrome?

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

One of my favorite parts of being an agent is when I get to celebrate the sale of a client’s project to a dream publisher. Usually this comes after many months (or years) of working with the author on the manuscript.

Sometimes I know the moment I first read it that it’s something special. But in many cases, the manuscript isn’t ready to send out to publishers. I might ask the author to take some time to polish the manuscript, while also working to build their platform. This kind of approach requires both author and agent to be patient—and trust that the slower road is the right one.

woman in maskIt’s risky to ask a client to be patient, and to trust that we’ll find the right timing to give their project the best chance for success. I might have moments of worry. What if I’m wrong? What if this long wait doesn’t pay off for my client?

Who am I, anyway, to be advising anyone about anything? What do I know?

Yes, every now and then, I spend a few minutes mired in Impostor Syndrome. In fact, I think many professionals do. And I’d bet most writers do too.

Impostor Syndrome is when you have those moments of thinking: I can’t do this! People think I can do this, but I’ve got them all fooled! I’m a fraud! A poser! A fake! I’m not REALLY an agent/novelist/physician/teacher/take your pick. They’re going be on to me soon!

But then … we have those moments when we’re reminded that we do, in fact, sort of know what we’re doing. I have that moment when an editor I hand-picked for my client’s book calls me with an offer. I have to acknowledge that I do know just a teensy bit about what I’m doing. Maybe I’m not an impostor after all.

I think it’s important to be aware of the insecurity that makes us sometimes feel like a fraud; and to remind ourselves that we do have talents, skills, and abilities. The most helpful thing I’ve done to keep my confidence strong is a simple sticky note on my computer:

this is what i do

“This is what I do.” Every day when I sit down to work, that simple phrase reminds me that I know what I’m doing. I don’t need to waste energy thinking it’s too hard or I can’t do it. I’ve put years into learning this job; I can simply start the day with confidence, do my job, and always be open to learning how to do it better.

Do you ever feel like an impostor? What makes you feel that way? What reminds you of the truth about yourself?

 

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77 Responses

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  1. I suppose I used to feel like an impostor at times, but I cannot now remember it.

    Current physical circumstances have made both the syndrome and memories thereto luxuries I can no longer afford. I do what I need to do, and then move on to the next thing. Self-image doesn’t play a role.

    I guess it’s the Post-It you mentioned, stripped down to its essentials.

    Or, methinks, to a singularity.

    It sounds more melodramatic than it is. Imagine having to prepare for a dinner party while dealing with a massive headache; if you get the place settings right, and the food’s edible, and there as many chairs as there are guests, it’a success, full stop.

    I won’t say it’s not a blessing, because the situation does confer rather a gentle sense of irony onto the questions of striving and status. It’s a view that feels Olympian, at times.

    Aha!

    There! Among the Titans, I should feel like an impostor…but in what will sound like overweening arrogance, it is they who are playing at greatness, and not I.

    Let the eye-rolling commence.

    • Am I doing what God calls me to do, or am I chasing a dream based on our culture’s definition of success? If it is the latter, then I am “playing at greatness,” to use your phrase, Andrew.

      Along my journey, I picked up the phrase, “God doesn’t call us to succeed, He calls us to obey.” Not that obeying is easy, but I don’t feel like an impostor. I am God’s handiwork, striving to do the good works he prepared in advance for me to do (from Ephesians 2:10).

      • And obedience IS success.

        Ask any dog trainer.

        Hey, a dog’s a step up from a sheep, eh?

      • Mike Eddy says:

        Exactly Shirlee, I have the same problem. I thought God called me to write my book and now it’s published I wish I had an agent to help. People say it’s good but I don’t really know and I’m full of self doubt. It’s hard to get it noticed through all the noise. Thanks for your comment I see others in my same position. I will just obey.

    • Bravo, Andrew! Self-esteem out the window. Christ-esteem is so much better. 🙂

      I needed that reminder.

    • I loved what you said about the Titans, Andrew. When we know who we are, and who we aren’t, we live genuine and without fear of being an imposter.

      And eye rolling? Not at truth. 🙂

    • “There! Among the Titans, I should feel like an impostor…but in what will sound like overweening arrogance, it is they who are playing at greatness, and not I.”

      No, you are not playing at all. This I know.

  2. Becky M says:

    My struggle lies in feeling like my material is meager. I feel compelled to share my story, but I am surprised every time I get an overwhelming response to a blog post because I feel like my story isn’t that significant. When I step back and look at it written out linearly or imagine it’s someone else’s story, I see how incredible it must seem to someone else, but since it’s the life I’m living, I guess I assume it’s a pretty average experience.

    • I go through the same thing, feeling that my story and life are pretty mundane, but I don’t think it’s really impostor syndrome.

      Life is kind of like living in a house from which we can never move more than a few feet. We can paint the exterior walls, or add a second story, or build a tower of stone…but we can never get far enough away to see what it looks like. The only view we have is either the micro – the part of the house on which we’re working – or outward, across the landscape in which it’s situated.

      When we get feedback (like the blog posts you mentioned, with a huge response), we’re getting metaphorical photos sent to us, of what our house actually looks like from a distance.

    • Don’t we all do that to ourselves? We think we’re average. All “Middle C surrounded by B flats”.

      But no one is. No one is average.

      Especially you!!

      I just read your latest blog entry, Becky. And I just about dropped on my knees to pray grace and mercy and God’s sweet love over you and your little man, and the Bundle.

      I’m reminded of that anchor verse in Isaiah, “they that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

      Oh, Becky. May God light your days and weeks.

      You are a jewel and I’m so glad you have “met” you today.

    • Becky, I’m so sorry. May God bless and comfort you … surround you with peace.

      You are in my prayers.

  3. Cathy West says:

    Insecurity. That’s what it boils down to for me, plain and simple. And it doesn’t matter how many people tell me they loved my book or give me wonderful feedback on a new manuscript, I still fear it won’t be good enough. But it’s something I have learned, well, something I’m still learning, to push past. Because it’s a sucking black hole and will drag me down into that place of immobility if I let it.
    This is what I do!
    Yes. Indeed it is. I wouldn’t change that path for anything. Being a writer is who I am. And I thank God every day for the folks who tell me I do it well.
    And for the record, Rachelle, I think you’re pretty darn good at what you do too. 🙂

  4. Yes, I know imposter. What makes me feel that way? I’m afraid to look inward that closely. 🙂

    I’ve been writing for many years, and I can see the improvement. Maybe when I read others works and am blown away, I feel the imposter closing in. And I think adding fiction into my mix has shown me that I had much to learn. But I also feel like a work in progress, being molded by God, others’ works, others’ encouragement and guidance.

    Andrew alone reinforces Texas to me consistently. I know he’s right. I’m doing my best to weave that into my story right now … because it truly is part of who I am.

    And I’m trusting that this road, slow as it feels at times, is the right one. 🙂

  5. Rachelle, As you well know, I’m a card-carrying member of the Imposter Syndrome Club, as are many other authors. You’ve very correctly pointed out that this same syndrome (which is also known by the name of Richard Mabry Disorder) also affects people in other professions, including agents. It helps when I realize that, like a turtle on a fencepost, I didn’t get here by myself. Whenever I feel like an imposter, I recall the way both Bach and Handel–both pretty talented people–signed their works: to God alone be glory. And He’s no imposter.

  6. Kristen Joy Wilks says:

    Yep,
    I feel like an imposter all the time. But if I sit down and actually write…I’m writing aren’t I? So I just try to write and maybe someday I won’t feel like a fake. Although, when our local school principal asked me to come and teach a writing session for 1st graders, that was a thrill and made me feel like a real writer.

    • Kristen, perhaps this will help…you are no fake, because you are the only one qualified to be ‘you’.

      No one can write the stories you do, just as no one can replicate your comments, so thoughtful and heartfelt, to which we look forward here every day.

      You, and your stories, can’t be replaced, and missing them would leave a hole in our collective hearts.

      That’s something an impostor could never claim.

      • Kristen Joy Wilks says:

        Oh Andrew,
        You have such a gift to encourage others. And you hit it right on the head. I wanted to be a certain kind of writer, and it looks like I am actually a different kind of writer than I wanted. More “I love Lucy” than “Gone With The Wind”. But your words give me strength and comfort. Someone has to write those funny and silly stories that make you laugh and spit coffee on the cat. I mean, the cat would get way to comfortable otherwise. Thank you for reminding me, you and everyone are such an encouragement to be. A breath of courage from my computer screen, and priceless.

      • When you write, Kristen, consider that your middle name may be no coincidence.

    • Of course you’re a real writer.
      You don’t get in your car and hope to heck you can drive, right? “If I make it to the grocery store, then I’m a real driver.”

      You write? You’re a writer.

  7. It’s funny how I can look at a very broken down piece of antique furniture for 5 minutes and know just how good it will look when I’m done.
    We bought 2 bird’s eye maple dressers(here she goes again with that story…) for 65$ and they sold at a charity auction for 950$.

    I knew I could fix them. I’ve restored so many pieces, I know my skill level. To be bluntly arrogant, I’m extremely good at what I do.

    Fixes hair. Buffs nails. Blows kisses to the fans.

    And if I wreck it? Hello flame thrower. What dresser? I didn’t have a dresser in my garage. You people are delusional.

    The day after I posted I’d written however many thousand words on my WIP, I could barely look at the thing.

    I think that was Monday.

    WHAT am I doing? My poor sweet agent! I am AWFUL!! I couldn’t write a recipe for ice! This is dreck!
    WAHHHHH!!!

    I won’t ever get mocked on Facebook for my horrible writing!!

    Cue Edna Mode. And the famous slap.

    I was at a writer thingie in October and pinched myself because…I was there.

    I was there, because God gave me a gift. And God doesn’t give out empty boxes.

  8. What reminds me of the truth that I’m a writer? You, Rachelle, and the other agents, who write such encouraging and motivating posts. Thank you.

  9. I’ve spent lots of my life feeling like an imposter. When I finaled in my first writing contest? I was certain it was a pity final. Now, I can look back and realize those things don’t exist. 🙂 I keep waiting for someone to see how much I’m lacking and point it out to the world.

    The things I keep coming back to though, is that God put it on my heart to begin writing. He’s given me stories to write that only I can write. He knows who will one day read them and what He wants to do through them. I can’t see that far.

    But I can see this moment, what God is giving me to do in the now. I’m beginning to see who He’s making me to be. Since I seek to live my life in obedience to Him, to His promptings, I can trust that I’m not posing, or an imposter. Now to remember this the next the Imposter Syndrome tries to infringe on truth.

  10. Anna Read says:

    Thanks for this post, what a great reminder! I definitely feel like this a lot. I’m really new to writing and I often feel like the road between where I am now and being “any good” is way too long and difficult to navigate–I’ll never get there!

    To answer one of your questions, Rachelle, I get the whole impostor syndrome thing when I get critiques back on some of my better stuff and realize that even that is a far cry from being “good”.

    But I guess, like so many of you have mentioned, if God wants this to go anywhere, it will. I just need to keep writing, and hopefully one day I’ll get better!

    • Anna, take hope. I just read the most amazing novel. And I bet you anything, that sweet writer got criticized over this and that. But I melted like putty from her words. 🙂 Does putty actually melt? 🙂

      • Anna Read says:

        Thanks! I’m sure everyone gets criticized…I just have a hard time with wholly negative feedback, I guess!

        And I’m not sure if putty melts or is already melt-y, but I understand exactly what you’re saying! 🙂 What book was it, if I may ask?

  11. Tara Johnson says:

    I battle Imposter Syndrome often and it usually rears its ugly head when I’ve fallen into the trap of comparing my work to someone else’s—a sure recipe for discouragement. The ugly voices then start to take over. When I can’t just brush the feeling off, I open my Bible, talk to God and remind myself of what He’s done in the past and what He has promised to do in the future. Looking back over my walk with God, I see His fingerprints are everywhere. I remind myself of what I KNOW and don’t try to operate on how I FEEL.

  12. Marie DaiRe says:

    This topic is so ironic. Yesterday I probably spent pretty much the majority of my time feeling,thinking, and telling myself just such words. But I think as writer’s, we tend to get down on ourselves, especially during a mind elapse, or what some may call, writers block…however, I appreciate you, and thank you for such great post…and for sharing them with us…

  13. The screensaver on my laptop reminds me and keeps me on track every time I open it. Written over a beautiful photo in my own scratchy handwriting is: Hey Writer! What are ya doing today?
    It also makes me feel guilty about puttering around on Facebook..HaHa!

  14. Steve Novak says:

    I think those who are the best at what they do feel like this at times, and the second best are over confident and do not. Thank you for sharing.

    I go through this, but then re-read what I’ve written and realize (or think) that it is pretty darn good. Sure, it needs work, but trying to think critically and honestly I’d say it is good. Feedback from others tells me I’m on the right track and not wasting paper.

    In my non-writing work I get the same feeling, but then I review my accomplishments and it goes away. Doubt is good. It means you are examining yourself and are striving to do better.

  15. Ahh, this comment is key to me: “I don’t need to waste energy thinking it’s too hard or I can’t do it.” How often have time spent in comparison or downright discouragement kept me from what could have been productive moments? If God calls, then he equips. Thank goodness for that!

  16. One bit of proof that I an not an impostor is that there’s a real, live book produced by a real live publisher that has my name on it.

    And I have a copy, and it’s sitting right next to the…uh, the Jack Russell…uh, Rufus?

    Please put it down? Please? Uh, no…look, dinner is on the wa…

    Well, I have a picture of the book, anyway.

  17. I believe while attempting any artistic/creative endeavor we all have moments of uneasiness thinking we should be selling insurance instead of trying to follow our passions. And as one who’s only been writing a few years, I’ve felt it many times. But then, out of the blue, something miraculous happens: you receive an uplifting comment on a blog, a five star review on Amazon, some positive words of encouragement from another author/editor who’s an idolized source and you refocus. It’s great, and tells you that everything’s working. But most of all, it let’s you know that we’re all in this together, that God is watching telling us he never places a desire in your heart without giving you the talent and resources to make it happen.

    I think that every writer, artist, etc. has moments of despair. But the one who’s approval we need the most stares back in the mirror. And if they’re happy and confident, the rest will fall into place.

    Thanks for writing such a great article!

  18. Oh wow! I was just thinking some of those thoughts!! Selected to be on writing panels (moderator on one)at Colorado Springs Science Fiction Convention an I’m thinking “Who am I to give advice?” It’s so easy to down play our accomplishments and to accept the reason we’ve been given opportunities is because we’ve work hard to achieve it.
    I didn’t see it as being an imposter, but that’s exactly the feeling. 🙂

  19. Angie Quantrell says:

    I am so glad it has a name – Imposter Syndrome. I am not alone. I am stricken with the symptoms at least once a day! It is with the guidance of the Lord and the love and support of my husband that I can face each new day with a fresh start.

  20. Linda Koch says:

    I like that honest post Rachel. When I began a career as an Area Sales Manager many years ago,I often felt that Imposter Syndrome. So often in the beginning, I had to mentally pretend to be that leader, until I could really become it. Now retired and beginning my writing career, I find myself doing the same thing all over again, wondering why I think I can be a great writer of middle grade novels. Part of me knows that I have the potential and good story ideas, but as I work to develop this new skill, I’m still pretending until I can make it happen.

  21. LD Masterson says:

    An imposter? Oh, definitely. First there was “I’m not a writer, I’ve never been published.” Then I had a couple short stories published and it became, “I’m not a writer, I’ve never had a book published.”

    We’ll have to see what comes next.

  22. Sondra Kraak says:

    Is there a reverse of this syndrome? That when we look at others we place them on a pedestal and think, “I could never be as good as that.” Or we look at others and think, “They don’t know what they’re doing.” I think it’s valuable to realize that both perspectives can exist within us–the urge to put others down to put ourselves up, or the urge to idolize others. We all have unique gifts and experiences that play into our callings. A blessing of the body of Christ is that we get to encourage others and submit to their giftings as well as be the encourager and offer our giftings. The enemy of our souls wants us to wallow in impostor syndrome, comparison syndrome, etc. But thanks be to God who gives us victory in Christ!

  23. Julie Garmon says:

    Goosebumps! Love this post!

    Thank you~