Impostor Syndrome

Writing is a huge part of my life. I draw inspiration from all around me for fiction and nonfiction ideas. Since my time is no longer occupied by assigned readings for class, I have more time to read what I choose. It’s all in the name of becoming a stronger writer, to show myself that with dedication I can create worthy pieces.

One goal I have is, by the end of the year, to submit a short story or an essay to a literary magazine. Quite frankly, it terrifies me. It scares me because I’m worried my work isn’t good enough to be published. I’m scared they’ll see too many flaws to even justify continuing to read past the first page.

Ah, impostor syndrome. The stranger that was always walking with me but that I could never name.

According to Dr. Pauline Clance, one of the women who coined the term, it is feeling like one’s success “has been due to some mysterious fluke or luck or great effort.” It’s feeling like you’re not good enough, that all the praise and awards you’ve received were mistaken. What’s interesting is that of the times I’ve heard impostor syndrome mentioned, I’ve mostly heard it from the mouths of women. This isn’t to say that men also don’t experience it, but it is to say that, in my eyes, women are more aware that they struggle with these feelings. I imagine women who enter higher education, receive high accolades, high positions in the workforce, and so on, have to deal with being questioned by others around them who are not convinced by their intelligence or work ethic. Women are constantly having to prove themselves worthy.

In high school, when I had the free time to write novels, I openly shared my works with my friends. They enjoyed reading them, were devastated by them. It felt good to see them moved by my writing. Then I entered college. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment in which I began to feel the cold water of sub-parity filling my lungs, but it did. At the same time, I worked hard on my writing, on studying the techniques of infamous authors and their infamous stories, and on discovering my own style. I applied to the literary prose concentration at my university, a boulder of pessimism settling into my gut. Impostor syndrome told me I wasn’t good enough to get in. When I was accepted, I was both surprised and relieved.

There was a guy in my program. He was tall and soft-spoken and was deeply enamored with James Joyce. I was amazed at how he was able to weave adjectives and nouns together to make the simple complex and interesting. My graduating class was full of excellent, strong writers and every time I read their stories I felt that boulder again, the one that whispered into my brain and said “maybe you’re not as good as you think.”

Fourth year came around. I had to complete some major requirements and was anticipating writing a 40+ page thesis in the spring semester. One of the requirements of the literary prose concentration is to take 2 topics classes, basically specific literature classes. The first was about the fantastic, and the second we studied the construction of the short novel. I remember in the first topics class, a guy and I were waiting outside of the classroom. We hadn’t talked much before, but whenever we did our interactions were friendly. We were discussing the writing exercises we had to turn in. He was frustrated with some of the work other classmates turned in and then: “I dunno, but personally I think you’re one of the best writers in the class.”

Don’t get me wrong. I was happy to hear such kind words from him, but the awkward in me jumped out and I was flustered because was that true? Was I really that good?

A week or so after graduation, I shared my thesis project with a close friend from high school. He read it and afterwards, while talking about it with him, he said my writing reminded him of Toni Morrison. Needless to say I was shook. The Toni Morrison? Me? My writing? Who? When? Where? How, sway?

I’ve done research on literary magazines and bookmarked the ones that I think best fits my writing, judging from other pieces they’ve published. Every now and then I browse through them, wondering if ever one day my name will be on one of these sites. But again, it’s a scary feat putting my work out into the world for people to read. I’m afraid that the impostor will be right.

My closest homie is going to grad school soon for film. She’s applied to several art contests, viewings, and journals, and has had tremendous outcomes. In June, a film of hers was recently held in the SF MOMA; you can check out her works here. What I admire most about her is her confidence in herself. It comes naturally to her, the ability to look herself in the mirror and be convinced that she is worthy of her praise.

In line with sending a piece of mine out for publication, another goal I’ve had was to start taking the steps towards self-confidence. With half of the year gone, however, I can’t say I’ve made much progress. Maybe my friends and family can see it more clearly than I can. A shining moment was writing my thesis and knowing it in my heart that it was good. But I want these moments to last. I want the confidence to last.

Another friend of mine, whom I lovingly call The Tallest, came to New York for a day before he went up to Maine for vacation. After a trip to the Museum of Natural History, we went to a pizza spot in which I spent 90% of our time there venting about post-graduation stresses. He has a way of reassuring me that I’m too much in my head sometimes and that things will be okay, even if it takes time. We left and as we were crossing the street, heading for the train, he told me, “I just had a flash of you at like 30. You were still yourself, just a more confident version.” (Note: I can’t claim verbatim on that statement, but it’s the gist of the message).

That’s become my little glimmer of hope. As daunting as time is–the sheer vastness and expansion of it is some days overwhelming, some days a blessing–it’s really all I have to keep me going. Sure, it’s not guaranteed because nothing in life is guaranteed, but there’s something hopeful about waking up each morning and knowing that it’s new, every time.

So while I haven’t made lasting progress on my confidence thus far, while I still struggle with impostor syndrome, tomorrow is upon us and thus, a new chance to try.

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