By: Taylor Gaines
You’re a fraud. You don’t deserve it. You’re not good enough.
These are things I tell myself all the time. Whenever I get something published or someone tells me that something I wrote is good, I basically feel like I’m just pulling one over on everyone. I don’t have any talent. I’m just trying to write about things I enjoy and tell good stories.
I wrote a short story once for a class that I was in. We were each required to read each other’s stories before coming to class so we could comment on them and give feedback. The third story I wrote for the class got an overwhelmingly positive reaction from my classmates. No one said it was perfect or anything, but everyone seemed to really enjoy reading it, and many people told me it was one of their favorites of the entire semester.
As someone who has often convinced himself he is no good, this surprised me. What I found was that allowing yourself to truly have fun writing something enabled the audience to have fun reading it. I’m not over my impostor syndrome, but it’s progress.
It’s easy to feel like you don’t deserve to be in a certain position or situation. Maybe you don’t think you’re smart enough to join the debate team or talented enough to write a movie or cool enough to deserve the friends you have. You might feel like an impostor in many different situations.
The experts call this “impostor syndrome.” Basically, it’s a mental hurdle that people frequently experience when they are doing okay but don’t feel they deserve to be in that position. Even famous and objectively successful people often feel like frauds.
“I have written eleven 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, author, poet, Pulitzer Prize nominee
“The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!'”
–Tina Fey, comedian, writer, Emmy award winner
“No matter what we’ve done, there comes a point where you think, ‘How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?'”
–Tom Hanks, actor, Academy Award winner
In our own way, we all tend to credit something or someone else with our success. We might contribute any good things that come our way to luck or another person’s doing. We know that we are far from perfect, so we find ourselves crediting others for the things that we do well.
The reality is you should have a good mix of “lucky to be here” and “I did this” in your approach. But if you are particularly struggling to understand why you deserve any success or accolades, you need to get past impostor syndrome first. Let’s look at a couple pieces of advice that have helped me deal with it. Hopefully they will help you out a little bit, too.
Don’t Let Your Failures Get to You
You may have heard this before, but I think in the uber-competitive world we currently live in where every thought and action is supposed to be devoted to achieving a goal that’s, like, 30 years down the road, it’s worth repeating: It’s okay to fail.
Great baseball players fail 70 percent of the time. Most start-ups go out of business. Important political and business leaders make costly mistakes. Insert whatever cliché you want to, but they’re all true. No one is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes. Even incredibly successful people don’t do everything right all the time. The key is using your failures to get better. If screwing something up really bothers you, you will work to keep it from happening again.
Take account of your failures and your successes. They are both meaningful. Study what you did right as much as you do the things you did wrong. Keep working, and you’ll get better and better.
Nobody Knows What They’re Doing
As I said, even successful people fail. If you’re a fraud for screwing up, then so are they. In other words, if everyone is a fraud, is anyone really? Take this quote from baseball writer and podcaster Jonah Keri (who, by the way, is a very good baseball writer):
“I feel like there are five talented writers in the world, and everybody else just hacks away at it every day and gets a little better.”
Many unquantifiable skills or talents like writing can feel this way. Like you’re just hacking away at an invisible block of ice, wondering if it’s going to take another week to break it apart or another ten years. Like there is no way you can ever make music as well as your favorite artist. Like there is no way you can ever make a movie as well as your favorite director.
Whatever your creative pursuit might be, it’s easy to feel like you will never be good enough at it. But you can’t really know until you let yourself try. As I’ve said before, the key to learning to do something you love is to study the way that other people do it and to practice it yourself. A lot.
No One Else Is You
All of this is no guarantee that you’ll become rich and famous or that you’ll fulfill all of your wildest dreams. That’s not what impostor syndrome is really about. It’s about feeling like you are worthy of being in a room with a “successful” person, that you have experiences worth hearing about, that you have something valuable to contribute to the world.
No one else has lived your life. If you can shake free of impostor syndrome and allow yourself to try doing the things that you love, you will have meaningful experiences that make you different from everyone else, that make you you. And knowing that will help you find your way in the world, one way or another.
I’m not saying I’ve defeated impostor syndrome, because I still think about it all the time. I don’t know that I’m any good at this writing thing. I don’t know that I have a particularly strong voice. I don’t know if I’ll be able to stand out from the crowd.
But by allowing myself to enjoy success, realizing that nobody really knows what they’re doing, and understanding that I have a life that no one else has lived, I just might be able to convince myself that I can be as confident in what I do as anyone else.
For now, I’m just hacking away, trying to get a little bit better, one word at a time.
For more tips, check out our “Young Adult’s Guide to Confidence,” which you can purchase here. Enter the code “FREESHIP” for free shipping on any order.
Let us know in the comments below if you have struggled with impostor syndrome and how you are fighting through it.