Impostor Syndrome: This is Only a Test


Flickr Creative Commons, Photo Credit: Doran
Flickr Creative Commons, Photo Credit: Doran

I sat down to write this post, and the fire alarm went off.

Not just any fire alarm, but the industrial-strength, megaphone announcement that is North Carolina State University’s emergency broadcast system.

It took a minute for the few overachievers and I who sat in the library at 7:00 a.m. to recover from the initial shock of the window rattling noise.

Then, in an accent native to North Carolina, a man proclaimed:

“This is only a test.”

Relieved, I slid back into the sturdy desk, thankful I didn’t have to schlep myself back into the cold. I had just regained my normal heart rhythm, when on cue, the alarm sounded again.

And again.

Each time, the pre-recorded voice announced:

“This is only a test.”

It began to feel like a metaphor for life. And writing.

Impostor Syndrome

It was hard to write a blog post this week.

Each time I set out to draft something, more important things surfaced: emails,  The Young and the Restless, and of course, fire alarms.

But, why was I delaying?

After the flood of support, comments, and messages from last week’s post on Why Being Fat Was the Best Thing That’s Ever Happened to Me, I was puzzled by my creative paralysis.

You’d think that when I publish a blog post folks connect with, I’d want to keep writing, right?

Facebook comment on last week's weight loss post from a dear friend and mother of three.
Facebook comment on last week’s weight loss post from a dear friend and mother of three.

You’d think that when I have a successful book that folks loved, I’d want to write another, right?

But, I have a pattern.

It’s not a resting-on-your-laurels pattern, it’s a paralysis pattern. It’s Impostor Syndrome.

Impostor syndrome is that sinking feeling you get when something goes well.

If they really knew us, we think. Or, that was just a fluke. It’s the little voice that says, “You didn’t really do that. You just faked it, and you got lucky this time. Next time, they’ll find you out.”

But, Impostor’s Syndrome is dangerous because it leads to all kinds of self-sabotaging behavior: procrastination, self-concern, and inaction.

It’s destructive because it makes the creative work less about the writing, and all about the ego.

I feel like a fraud when I’m concerned about myself. What will they think of me? If I fail they’ll shun me. I don’t know as much as that other guy, I have no right to say anything on the topic. Blah blah blah. The fastest way to get over feeling like a fraud is to genuinely try to help someone else. —Kyle Eschenroeder, Overcome Impostor Syndrome: What to do When You Feel Like a Fraud

After reading Kyle’s article, it hit me. My top blog posts, the ones about weight loss, loving yourself, losing someone from suicide, and vulnerability, have been the posts that (I hope) help someone else.

My writing is strongest when I’m thinking of how other writers’ words have helped me process or move through something—and how I might, in turn, help someone, too.

This past week was proof that showing your truest side counts. Speaking from the heart is what matters most. And, I can’t let my feeling like an impostor get in the way of that. I need to get over myself. I need to write.

One of my favorite pieces of “go get ‘em” writing is from Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love. In it she describes what is now one of her most widely circulated bits of wisdom:

Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. –Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love

My shrinking from my writing doesn’t help me or anyone else. It keeps me from doing the important work.

Realize that when you hold back, you’re robbing the world. If you walk around feeling that you should be someone else or that you don’t deserve to be here, then all your bad vibes rub off on other people. Your stunted expression means that you can’t be there for people who need you. –Kyle Eschenroede, Overcome Impostor Syndrome: What to Do When You Feel Like a Fraud

Face it: none of really know what we’re doing.  And, we don’t need ear-piercing fire alarms to remember that perfection is not an option. What matters most is that we help one another.

If we keep in mind that this is only a test–a dress rehearsal–we might feel freer to try. Be real, mess up, try again, and forget your lines. It’s only a test.

Friends: share a time when you’ve felt like an impostor. How did you cope? How did you move through it? 

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