I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ —Maya Angelou
You’ve heard of impostor syndrome, yes? Perhaps even hid behind the concept with a knowing oh yes, that’s me. I don’t really know what I’m doing, and if I put myself out there, they’ll discover that I really don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m a fake. It’s safer to hide out over here and do nothing…
Ugh. That’s painful.
It seems that far too many of us often find ourselves stuck in our writing, or more specifically, stuck in the habit of not putting our work out into the world because of this phenomenon called the impostor syndrome.
Does this sound familiar? Have you been hiding behind there, m’dear? In this article,
I’m happy to share with you some ‘trade secrets’ that’ll help you break through that uncomfortable place. And as we dive in, please know this:
- it’s far more rewarding to share our work than not
- more exciting to dive in and get messy, than play small
- far more interesting to release imperfect work into the world, than sit at home, hiding
- more joyful to tap into the Universal Intelligence of storytelling (writers are, after all, storytellers, yes?) than to sit in the corner playing coulda woulda shoulda with yourself.
An easy excuse
In my work with creative beings for the past 25 years, I’ve seen how impostor syndrome (such a strong word! Syndrome!? Sheesh!) is an easy excuse to hide behind when we’re out in the World, at networking meetings, neighborhood potlucks and family gatherings. Oh, I’d love to be writing and publishing a ___________ (news article, blog, novel, fantasy fiction piece, art criticism, theater review) but, I don’t know. I’m just not there, yet. I need to get better. I feel like such an impostor!
And, if you’re unlucky, the few folks with whom you dare share your intimate, shameful secret may nod reassuringly, telling you how they understand, they’ve been there too, the creative life is a hard road, just keep trying, and, by the way… does anyone know if there’s any shrimp left?
I say ‘unlucky’ because in these rare moments of having a captive audience with whom we can commiserate, what we don’t need is anyone reinforcing our limitations, cementing in and agreeing with what we negatively, and dare I say, falsely, believe about ourselves. We don’t need more people to agree with us about our perceived limitations, right? And most certainly, m’dear, you don’t need YOU agreeing with you about this topic.
What to try
Instead, try this: The next time you see/hear/feel or become aware of this ‘less than’ ‘syndrome’ (ugh! Can we please call it something else? Sensation? Situation? Concern?) then say out loud, “well, that’s interesting.”
This simple phrase helps us to immediately notice the ‘story’ that we’ve been telling ourselves, giving us a chance to reconsider… Hmmm, I notice that just now, when I wanted to submit something to the Writer’s Guild, I started to feel anxious and immediately told myself I wasn’t good enough to write it, scolded myself into waiting til next year, wanted to hide under the covers… well, that’s interesting. This easy phrase helps you put a stop to the automatic self-defeating pattern. Then follow it with a kind and loving thought to replace it: What I have to say is worthy of being read. This matters to me, and it’s OK if it’s not absolutely perfect.
This two-step, simple process is like a good ol’ fashioned dose of baking soda that neutralizes the fire. It’s a kinder, more graceful approach of noticing and then quieting the monkey mind that’s keeping us small, hidden behind a lie.
No more compare and despair
When I told my husband, Eli, about the theme of this blog, he shared his belief that part of the reason we keep ourselves from putting ourselves out there is the all-too-common, toxic idea of ‘compare and despair.’ Seeing what others have written, published, received awards for, made gazillions of dollars from, which can easily trigger an easy decline into that dreaded… who am I, anyway? What do I have to offer? They’ve already said it way better than I and there’s nothing left to say.
Even the esteemed and beloved Maya Angelou, quoted above, suffered similar beliefs and self-proclaimed limitations. And, yet, she wrote. She put herself out there, shared her ideas, loves, poems, plays and movies with us—and we’re all better for having her creative works be part of the World.
Quick story: Many years ago at a writer’s workshop in San Diego, the presenter spoke of how often she’s been asked about her work being out in the World, and that perhaps there’s no room for others to write of their own perspectives on similar subject matter. What I tell them, she said, is ‘Honey, you gotta write your own stories!’ And the audience broke into thunderous applause. So much truth in those seven words, yes? We can attend all the workshops, hire the best coaches, hide behind “syndromes” and seek reassurance at the family picnic that our playing small is OK, yet… at the end of the day, honey, you gotta write your own stories— syndromes be damned.
So, I lovingly encourage you to follow your heart, get messy, listen to your intuitive guidance and learn to play with your muse. What you have to say has your unique perspective, and there are hungry readers out there who need to read YOUR words, in the way YOU write them, so your words can finally be heard. If those nasty impostor voices come nagging at you at night, or at any other time, remind yourself that what YOU have to say is valuable and precious. And the world is ready to hear it, and read it. Can I get an Amen here?
Joseph Bennett lives and writes in San Miguel de Allende, México with his husband, Eli Hans. Together, they offer transformative online ‘Mastering Your Mindset’ coaching programs and in-person retreats for writers and other creative beings. To date, Joseph has joyfully and imperfectly published 5 books; Trust with a capital T was released August 2023. He co-hosts the monthly podcast Are You Waiting for Permission? with the delightful Meridith Grundei. Connect with Joseph for private coaching consultations at josephbennett.org or sanmiguelretreats.com for your next wondrous retreat.