Who do you think you are?

Part of my Summer Writing Reset has involved blog clean-up and sorting through posts for topics that I need to revisit. The following is updated from 2012. Also see my post on this topic at Psychology Today. Header photo credit: Ned Potter via CC BY 2.0

Who do you think you are? It seems a simple question, but what if we add some emphasis and a couple of words at the beginning and end: Just who do you think you are, anyway?

“Just this morning I could feel that old ‘imposter syndrome’ lurking. There are so many brilliant people … doing such wonderful things that at times I feel totally overwhelmed by my lack of ability to contribute and feelings that what I can do is not good enough and will never measure up.” ~ Sue Luus

Having had the delight of meeting and spending some time with Sue, I am (but should not be) surprised at her self-doubts. Such fears cannot be glimpsed from the outside. In fact, my experience has been that often the very people who seem to others to be the most self-confident struggle mightily with fears of not measuring up and having “fooled” everyone. When they do admit to their inner demons, friends and co-workers might react with disbelief or even thinly concealed joy that “even she has problems, too.”

What is the Impostor Syndrome? According to Dr. Lee Anne Bell, those experiencing Impostor Syndrome “doubt their competence, downplay or dismiss their abilities, and subscribe to the disabling belief that they are impostors or fakes or frauds” (Lee Anne Bell, “The Gifted Woman as Impostor,” Advanced Development Journal 2, Jan., 1990, p. 55-64).

Here are some further readings for anyone who wants to learn more:

It’s easy to see what is bad about the Impostor Syndrome. At its most tragic, it can lead to unmitigated despair, even suicide. But is there another aspect to this common problem that might be more positive or even offer potential for growth?

In her article “The Gifted Woman as Impostor,” Bell suggests that the Impostor Syndrome may serve as a “critique and alternative vision” of traditional views of solitary success. She writes, “I now see a very positive impulse that underlies women’s discomfort with achievement.” Rather than a call to tattoo our awesomeness on our foreheads for all the world to see, our discomfort might be a nudge to redefine “the meanings of competence, success, and failure as terms that are embedded in connection and mutual support” (p. 63). In other words, the Impostor Syndrome is a symptom telling us that something needs to change. We can ask ourselves not just who we think we are, but who we want to be. Not just whether we want to succeed, but how we want to succeed in a way that is authentic, that has integrity, and that we can live with comfortably.

In a Forbes article from earlier this year, “The Upside of the Impostor Syndrome: Lessons from Women in Tech,” Tara-Nicholle Nelson writes of how feeling like an impostor may be a sign that we are finally aiming high enough, a growing pain that we can embrace rather than resist:

“Know that it’s coming, anticipate it, feel it – even lean into it and sit with it for awhile, instead of fighting it –  it will go away faster that way. But approach your new frontier with a clear plan of action, and then absolutely refuse to be moved, deterred, slowed down or stopped by any Imposter Syndrome symptoms that come.

In fact, do the opposite – build a note into your roadmap that reminds you that Imposter Syndrome symptoms are a signpost that you’re moving in the right direction: into a new, expansive realm of possibility.”

My own experience is informed by all of these views. I definitely can benefit from viewing myself and my work with more objectivity and compassion and placing less emphasis on others’ reactions and opinions (perceived or real). At the same time, I know that I feel the Impostor Syndrome when I engage in social media and other self-promotion strategies that leave me feeling unauthentic. Do I plow ahead anyway in an attempt to crush those self-doubts once and forever? Or do I use the discomfort as a guide to change my approach, to play by my own rules that allow me to feel more “me” and less “not me”? It’s a continual work in progress.

  • What is your experience with feeling an impostor?
  • How do you keep from being paralyzed by self-doubts?
  • Is the Impostor Syndrome ever a sign that you are on the right track or a call for personal change?

This post is part of the Summer Writing Reset blog series, with daily posts Monday through Friday. Subscribe to receive full-length new posts in your inbox or catch them on my Facebook page.

Self-compassion for writers (it’s not what you think)

In a recent Study Hacks blog post, Cal Newport, “a computer science professor who writes about how to perform productive, valuable, and meaningful work in an increasingly distracted digital age,” quotes Kalonymous Kalman Shapira’s advice on learning:

“If you have compassion on yourself, you will learn to budget your hour; every hour will have its own task. You should decide before you begin how much time you want to spend at even mundane matters…Your hours should not be left open, but should be defined by the tasks you set for them. Write out a daily schedule on a piece of paper and don’t deviate from it; then you will reach old age with all your days intact.” [Rabbi Shapira, quoted by Cal Newport]

Read the entire short and accessible post here, and see an example of how Cal plans his day here.

Photo credit: Courtney Dirks https://flic.kr/p/9Lcbki (CC BY 2.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Photo credit: Courtney Dirks (CC BY 2.0)

What struck me about the quotation was the word compassion. We are all busy. We are all easily distracted. Some of our brains have been hijacked by the election season. Finding time not only to write but to have a writing life of purposeful reading, daily practice, long-term goal setting, and regular submissions may feel like anything but a form of self-compassion.

However, if we think of such habits as self-care and kindness toward ourselves by creating a more meaningful life, rather than an obligation imposed from the outside, perhaps they will get easier.

TTFN. On to sketch out today’s to-do list.

The Discipline of Passion

Resources for writers and other creatives

“I don’t need discipline because I love to write.” ~ Jo Nesbø

The Discipline of Passion, Part I

A good friend sent me a link this week to Marion Dane Bauer’s “While I’m Talking about Aging,” a thoughtful piece about life, death, writing, and the choices we make every day:

“My discipline is the discipline of doing each day what I most love to do, whatever that may be. Sometimes it’s writing. Sometimes it’s a day spent with my daughter and my grandchildren. Sometimes it’s a Pilates session followed by lunch with a friend followed by grocery shopping and preparing another meal for myself and my partner. (I’m one of those who loves grocery shopping and food preparation. It’s only putting the groceries away that annoys.) Sometimes it’s doctor’s appointments, of course, or other unpleasant necessities, but whatever else I’m doing, each morning I rise knowing the writing waits. And I always turn to it with gratitude.” Read more

The Discipline of Passion, Part II

To keep myself motivated during NaNoWriMo, I have been listening to podcasts for and by writers, especially when driving to and from work, and one I particularly enjoyed this week was a Guardian interview with Norwegian author Jo Nesbø. This was his answer to the question of how he keeps himself from getting distracted:

“I’m not disciplined, really. I don’t have any routines, but it’s easy because I love writing. I never saw writing as a job. I saw it as a privilege, to actually spend time writing. I try to keep it that way, and I mean this seriously. Writing is something I do when I have nothing else to do. I never decide that I’m going to get up early in the morning and write from eight to four. If I wake up at eight, I may get up and go to a coffee shop and sit and write for two hours because I want to. Or when I’m traveling I write in trains and planes. It’s as simple as that, I think. I don’t need discipline because I love to write.” Listen to more

While I do need to impose discipline on myself, there is wisdom in his words. The question we can ask ourselves is this: When we have “nothing else to do,” what do we do? If the answer isn’t writing, maybe it should be.

The Discipline of Passion, Part III

Finally, I was struck this week by Magdalena Kay’s “Leave Me Alone,” in which she asks, “How much does a scholar lose in work time when called upon to pitch, advertise, and network herself into a frenzy?” Although she is addressing academics primarily, her ambivalence about the conflicting pull toward writing and push toward networking is familiar to writers from many disciplines and genres:

“The fact is, I’d rather spend time writing, in as much solitude as I can muster, than advertise it. Should I tweet about forthcoming publications? Should scholarly work be advertised on Facebook? I cherish my minuscule group of Facebook friends, and can only imagine them ‘liking’ a publication out of loyalty and pity. When my publishers sent me sheaves of order forms to distribute at conferences, I slunk around hallways like a thief in the night, plunking down a stack in what seemed a good location and then scurrying away. Publicly begging for book sales just felt wrong.” Read more

If we truly enjoy time alone spent writing, isn’t that, at least in part, its own reward? As Kay concludes, maybe “it is time to reaffirm the value of quiet, solitary, unglamorous work, and to recognize its necessity as well as its pleasure.”

 

Do you stop too soon in the creative process?

Recently a young friend on Facebook posted the following quotation, and it has completely changed the way I think about my own creative roadblocks:

The list is simple and not at all scientific, but anyone who has ever struggled through the creative process (which is everyone, at some point or another) knows it is true.

Tiffany Shlain similarly writes of the “Confusion” stage of the creative process:

“Dread. Heart of Darkness. Forest of fire, doubt, fear… [But] as hard as it is — and it is really hard — any project … gets infinitely better after I’ve rumbled with all of my fears.” Read More

My insight is simply this:  Far too often (and this has happened more as I get older), for creative projects both big and small, I stop at steps two, three, or four. My mistake is in thinking that my feelings and doubts at that point must mean that my ideas aren’t worth pursuing, that they are laughable, embarrassing.

But what if everyone has those feelings and doubts in the creative process, and the only difference between those who finish and those who don’t is that they plow through their self-doubts, treating them as perhaps not just a nuisance, but necessary?

The next time we reach step four, we can celebrate rather than quit, because we will know we are almost there.

Photo by thecrazyfilmgirl CC BY 2.0 (white text added)
Photo by thecrazyfilmgirl CC BY 2.0 (white text added)


Whom do you surround yourself with?

“While some people might find my directness and my dry sense of humor to be offensive and intimidating, there are others who find it refreshing and entertaining. The trick is to surround myself with the latter.” ~ Anna, a 30-year-old from Seattle

Two Parrots

I was blown away recently by the wisdom of the above thoughts from a friend, and it made me think about the power of our choice of association.

It’s a choice we don’t often realize we have.

  • Who finds you refreshing and entertaining?
  • Who laughs at your jokes?
  • Who makes you laugh?
  • who appreciates your efforts?
  • Who notices your strengths?
  • Who listens to your worries and fears without judgment?
  • Who encourages your hopes and dreams?
  • Who applauds your efforts?
  • Who enjoys your company and tells you so?
  • Who trusts you enough to be authentic in your presence?
  • Who likes you for who you are rather than who you are capable of being?
  • Who makes you feel better rather than worse about yourself, your life, your world?

The trick is to surround ourselves with them more rather than less often.

Photo credit: Vjeran Lisjak