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  • Writer's pictureS. E. Shinault

5 Tips for Combating Imposter Syndrome

Updated: Jun 2, 2023

Picture this: you're typing out a scene for your latest work-in-progress. Things are moving along swimmingly when, out of nowhere, that thought hits you like a freight train.

"What if no one likes this?"

"What if I'm actually no good at this writing thing?"

"Why can't I write more like this person?"

"Ugh... I should just quit! There's no point if I can't be perfect!"

If these or similar thoughts have stormed through your brain at one point or another, then you were a victim of the dreaded Imposter Syndrome. It can affect people from all walks of life, but I hear of it most often running rampant amongst creatives, like writers.

Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud". It's often experienced by high achievers who feel that their success is undeserved or that they are not as capable as others perceive them to be. Symptoms include feelings of inadequacy, fear of failure, difficulty accepting praise, and an excessive striving for perfection. It's important to recognize that these feelings are not an accurate reflection of reality, but rather a result of doubt and fear. Taking steps to combat impostor syndrome can help individuals to overcome these feelings and build self-confidence.

Below are a few tips I hope will help you along the way.

Tip #1 - Acknowledge Your Feelings

Acknowledging things can be scary. It can seem like admitting defeat. But the fact of the matter is when we don't acknowledge imposter syndrome as it strikes—if we don't look it in the eye when it throws the first punch—then we'll be defenseless against it. It'll beat us to the ground until we feel like giving up. So, recognize that imposter syndrome is a feeling you are experiencing and accept it. Only then can you strategize your counter-attack!

Tip #2 - Celebrate Your Successes

While there's nothing wrong with being humble, this is one instance where it won't do you any favors. As a relatively meek person myself, I know from experience how hard it can be to accept praise from others—or heaven forbid, give myself a pat on the back. So often, I'll be genuinely excited to get good feedback, only for that nagging voice to rear its ugly head.

"Yeah, but I could have done better..."

"I don't deserve this..."

This will get you nowhere but discouraged. Now, I do think it's okay to recognize our weak points. We learn from our failures, after all. But we can't keep allowing the fear of failure to live in our heads rent-free. It's going to trash the place and then leave us feeling overwhelmed as we try to pick up the pieces.

So, take the time to acknowledge your wins, big or small. Remind yourself of your achievements, and you might be surprised to look back and see how far you've come.

Tip #3 - Talk To Someone

This one can be tough. Not only can it be difficult to find someone who understands, but it's even harder to open up about something so personal. To talk to someone about our fears and flaws is to be vulnerable, and it can even deepen that sense of failure if we're not deliberate about the conversation.

But, at the same time, talking it out is a great way to distance yourself from imposter syndrome and allow you to see things more objectively. Try reaching out to a friend, family member, or mentor for help. There are even plenty of great writing-related groups on social media. You'd be surprised how encouraging most of the people in these groups are, and how many of them can relate to the issues you're facing. Talking can help you get out of your own head and put things into perspective.

Tip #4 - Focus On The Present

Don’t get too caught up in comparing yourself to others. Instead, hone in on the present moment and the progress you've made so far.

“I can't give you a sure-fire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time.” ― Herbert Bayard Swope

While you can certainly learn a lot from other writers that you admire, comparing your first draft to their finished project will only result in more discouragement. It's helpful to remember that every successful writer, artist, or entrepreneur had to start somewhere. No one steps into their craft as a master. There's beauty in the learning.

Tip #5 - Set Realistic Goals

There's nothing quite as disheartening as setting a goal and then not meeting it. Often it can be through no fault of our own. Life gets busy and unexpected circumstances can sometimes steal our attention away from our goals. But there are other times when we get a little too ambitious with our goal setting. When that happens, we set ourselves up for failure.

The next time you catch yourself getting carried away, setting lofty goals for yourself, try this:

Break it down into smaller steps. Give your overall goal sub-goals to go along with it. This will help you stay motivated as you tick things off the list, and it will build your confidence as you continue to make progress. For example, instead of saying, "I'm going to finish my novel by the end of this year," instead try, "I'm going to write at least 2,000 words a week." Or maybe, "I'll write 300 words a day."

You may look at that and think, "That makes me look like an under-achiever." But when you factor in all the things like work, family, and other daily obligations taking up our time, it's a pretty solid start. It doesn't have be this all-or-nothing mentality that so many of us have been conditioned to follow.

Spoiler alert: It's a trap!

If you get nothing else from this tip, I hope you get this—Some words are better than no words.

It's not easy, but it's worth it.

Remember what I said about the fear of failure living rent-free in our heads? Well, it's time to kick it to the curb. Identify and challenge those negative thinking patterns, and soon you'll be developing a sense of self-compassion, focusing on successes rather than failures.

Everyone's process looks different. There's no cookie-cutter method or one-size-fits-all when it comes to writing or any other creative endeavor. We may backslide at times, and that's okay. Dust yourself off and try again. Offer yourself some grace, and maybe a break if you need it.

Can I tell you something? I wrote this blog post as much for myself as I did for everyone else.

The secret's out now. Guess I've no choice but to start throwing punches back.

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