When I was in my twenties, I hiked to the top of Half Dome, Yosemite’s famous mountain. I set off down the trail with my cousins and sisters at 6:00 a. m., feeling the uncertainty of starting something I wasn’t sure I could finish. As we encountered other hikers on the trail, I started to feel self-conscious.
Everyone else looked the part, with their water filters and hiking boots and brand-name gear. Even my sisters looked sporty in their athletic shorts and cute tank tops. Me? I looked like a novice in my old tennis shoes and fashion shirt. I’d packed too much into my red college backpack—a rookie mistake—and my shoulders were already starting to hurt. While the other hikers looked fit and energetic, I felt my few extra pounds jiggling as I climbed some stone stairs. I was scared enough of the climb without worrying what others thought of me.
Intimidation, inadequacy, fear, embarrassment—all those emotions built up the higher we climbed. I’m an imposter, pretending that I can do this.
I think writers are especially prone to “Imposter Syndrome.” How long did it take you to say, “I am a writer”? (Here’s a hint—you don’t have to be published.) Instead, we hem and haw with self-deprecating remarks to compensate for our insecurities. As a recovering perfectionist myself, I often lacked confidence unless I felt perfectly prepared or qualified (still do sometimes). We hide behind low expectations to reduce the risk of rejection, to cover our feelings of inadequacy. To climb out of that hole, I’ve had to “fake it ‘til I make it.” Faking it doesn’t mean I portray myself as someone I’m not, or say I have skills I don’t have. It means I fake a confidence I don’t feel, until I start to believe in myself. That publisher’s rejection letter may still come, but if I am committed to practicing confidence, my identity and call to write won’t be thrown off course.
Here are five strategies to overcome Imposter Syndrome:
1. Say, “I am a writer,” aloud to yourself, and when the opportunity arises, to someone else.
2. Make a list of the things you’re good at. Don’t be humble. If you’re having trouble, ask someone who knows you well.
3. Practice your elevator pitch. If you were in an elevator with someone for 30-60 seconds, could you summarize your latest writing project in an engaging way? Does your passion show through?
4. Practice how to talk about your weaknesses or lack of experience in a way that is tactful, yet teachable. Rather than just straight out saying, “I don’t know what I’m doing,” or “I’m not very good at that,” use positive phrases like, “I’m growing in this area,” or, “I am learning more about this.” How can you highlight your strengths, or the things you do know, in conversation?
5. Find a writer or editor to be your cheerleader. We all need someone who believes in us when we don’t believe in ourselves, and someone who can encourage us when rejection comes.
My cousin Katie was that person when I hiked Half Dome. As we sat at the base of the dome, paralyzed by the height of the final climb up the sheer face of the mountain, she spurred us to action. “We can do this! We did not come this far just to quit now. Let’s go!”
When I crested that giant rock, taking in the perspective that only a mountaintop view can provide, it didn’t matter that I’d never done it before or that I wore the wrong clothes. What mattered was that I had proved to myself my own abilities. I had tried and I had done it! Next time, I could be confident in that.