(Let’s have a conversation about Imposter Syndrome. For my fellow writers in the #writingcommunity – please share if you are so inclined. Funny, at first I didn’t want to share this piece because Imposter Syndrome – that’s how I knew I had to.)
It is the nightmarish beast in the dark corners of your psyche. Lurking in silence until alerted by the sweet scent of creativity and expression. It doesn’t feed on flesh or fear – it is fed only by the spark of ideas and thoughts in the recesses of your very human mind.
It is malevolent, merciless, and manipulative. The scent it so craves intensifies with your imagination, and so too does the hunger. You sit down to write the words, unaware of the signal your brain is sending out.
A story in your mind aches to be told. Characters and worlds expand in a never-ending fractal of imagination. For a moment, you are child-like and free. The story takes hold, and you set to writing. Words pour out as your imagination dives deeper into your subconscious. And with each word, the beast grows. Muscles swell, needle-sharp claws slide forward, skin stretches and rips. Lips curl to reveal the fangs.
You can’t see it, but it’s coming for you. Crawling down the wall from the shadowed corner, not so fast as to prevent you from putting down the prose, but not so slow as to go unnoticed. The scent of your imagination is irresistible, and the beast’s hunger insatiable.
Its jaws widen as it closes in, and that’s when a flurry of thoughts enter your conscious mind:
“Ugh. This is awful.”
“I’m not good enough.”
“People are going to think I’m terrible.”
“Literally everyone is better.”
“I have no idea what I’m doing.”
“I should just trash this and start over.”
“I can’t show this to anyone …”
And the beast has taken hold.
Imposter syndrome is that beast, and most any artist knows it well enough to recognize the doubt it spreads as it consumes your creativity. It holds you back and has you censoring yourself. Worse, imposter syndrome prevents you from engaging in any creative pursuit for fear that you are not good enough by some arbitrary standard.
I’m not going to tell you to ignore the beast. I’m not going to tell you to forget about it, or offer some platitude like, “Everyone suffers from imposter syndrome!”
You’ve heard it all before. Physicians, Nurses and Surgeons are among some of the most notable sufferers of imposter syndrome. As well as some of the most accomplished people in their respective fields. Imagine being on an operating table, anesthesia seconds away from putting you out, and your surgeon begins lamenting that he’s not good enough and any moment everyone’s going to discover that he is a fraud.
Thanks for that confidence boost, pal. Please don’t leave surgical tools in my chest cavity when you stitch me up.
It’s truth though. There is no sating the beast. When you engage your creative mind, it catches the scent, grows, and hunts. There is no escape. There is no safety. There is no hiding. It will catch up to you.
What I want you to do is something simple – acknowledge it.
Give it a name. Give it a face. Call it Mister Fluffypants if that helps. In fact, for the rest of this piece, I’m not going to call it Imposter Syndrome. I’m going to call it Mister Fluffypants.
Pet it. Scratch it’s ears. Give it one of those weird haircuts like you would a poodle. Own it, because it isn’t going anywhere, and the only thing you do by constantly fighting it is make it larger, hungrier, and more imposing.
So let’s reframe the entire thing to start.
How do you get past Mister Fluffypants? Well, you’ve already started by simply recognizing the fact that it is in your mind as a permanent resident, part of who you are, and there is no eviction. The next step is giving it a stupid name and a stupid haircut. Introduce it to your friends. “Yeah, I was writing, and then Mister Fluffypants started making me think stupid thoughts, but I finished the scene and I’m pretty happy with it.”
Everyone has their version of that awful creature, for sure. And understanding why Mister Fluffypants is a part of you is understanding that you have an ego and a sense of self-awareness that is keeping you in check. You see, that fuzzy thing is sending a message. It’s saying, “Hey now, watch it, you aren’t perfect and you have a lot of work to do.”
Mister Fluffypants is just trying to help, but it lacks civility and tact. Imagine writing something, deciding it’s the greatest piece ever written, and publishing it as such? That’s some narcissistic nonsense right there, and Mister Fluffypants ain’t havin’ it.
Nobody is going to get you to overcome the feeling this beast unleashes in your psyche. Some of the most incredible artists in the world think they are trash (musicians and authors in particular!). If you have a sense of self-awareness, you will have those moments too, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create, and enjoy what you are creating.
Do you need to better your craft? Probably. Everyone can improve in some way, after all. The pure fact that you recognize it shines a light on Mister Fluffypants and serves as proof. Proof that he protects you from annihilating your reputation with a nine-thousand megaton Ego-Bomb.
So, embrace it. You are human. You are creative. The world needs to experience your thoughts and your imagination. Now more than ever, we need words and we need art from new and independent voices. We are all starved for originality in a boring-ass world awash in re-runs and re-tellings.
Take that amazing kaleidoscopic vision in your head and unleash it. Tear open that creative mind like the starved souls of humanity depend on it. Shape it. Own it. Shove it into the world even if you’re scared.
You will always feed Mister Fluffypants. He is the companion that balances you, not something to be terrified of. He can’t hold back the creativity that is in your head and in your heart. Sure, he may get a little grumpy and sulk from time to time, but so does my fat-ass cat when I cut back on his food. And you know what? He’s still my companion, and we’re still fond of one another, even if he gets hangry.
Grab Mister Fluffypants by the scruff. Scratch his ears. Rub his belly. Understand that he’s going to eat from time to time and then give him a stupid haircut and express what you must. Your words and your creativity will resonate with others.
You will find your tribe!
Mister Fluffypants will be there every step of the way, so create and enjoy the ride.