Impostor Syndrome might not be a familiar term, but I’m sure you’ve experienced it. Pretty much all creative people do. It’s those brain-goblins – those little voices in our head which tell us we’re not good enough, that our creativity is fake. That we shouldn’t publish or be proud of our articles, that we don’t have what it takes to write a book, or run amazing games.
Well, here’s three tips for what to do about those dratted goblins!
What is Impostor Syndrome?
Impostor Syndrome, simply put, is the feeling that you are not as competent as other people think you are. People often feel like they are pretending to be better than they are, that they don’t deserve their successes, or they shouldn’t be where they are. It’s common for people with impostor syndrome to attribute any success they do have to outside factors.
The thing is, anxiety about not being “good enough” can be helpful sometimes – it drives creatives to new heights, makes us work harder and better and strive for more. It’s only when it gets out of control, or when its friend Impostor Syndrome steps in, that it becomes destructive, or inhibitive – that is, it stops you from striving for what you want to achieve.
So what can we do about it?
1. Remember that everyone else has Impostor Syndrome too!
In my (totally unqualified, non-medical) opinion, only psychopaths don’t suffer from Impostor Syndrome. I joke, of course, but I am serious in that pretty much every person I’ve met has experienced it. In fact, I’ve worked in music, theatre, teaching, academia, writing and RPGs, and business management – and in every single field, you know what? People – often the best, most skilled people – suffer from brain goblins telling them that they’re not good enough, or they don’t deserve their successes, or to be there in the first place. So know that it’s a totally normal part (if unfortunate) of being creative. I have often found that incredibly comforting – most creatives are just insecure beans with passion for what they do, and a bunch of brain goblins in the back seat.
2. Accept that your brain is trying (very ineptly) to be helpful – and ask it to take a step back.
Anxiety is our lizard brain’s way of telling us something might be dangerous. In the case of Impostor Syndrome, our body is definitely, 100% totally completely certain that we are going to (excuse my Britishness) make a tit of ourselves. It’s just trying to protect us from falling flat on our faces. Unfortunately, your lizard brain is dumb, and not in possession of all the facts. You do know what you’re doing and you do have what it takes. And the stakes aren’t life and death – if something isn’t perfect, well, no big deal. You’re not going to get eaten by a lion because of typos. Your poor little lizard brain is dumb and doesn’t know this. You will need to reassure it that if things go pear-shaped, you’re going to be fine.
A good strategy for this is to thank your brain for caring, but ask it to take a step back. It doesn’t solve anything magically, but it’s a good way to consciously recognize what’s going on, and stop wrestling with it internally. Learning to understand and live alongside your unhelpful lizard brain is a process, but a good first step is recognizing when your brain is trying – and failing – to help you.
3. Name your successes (just to yourself) and track your progress
Obviously, you shouldn’t be running around, shoving your CV in people’s faces! But when the brain goblins get big in your mind, sitting down and writing a list of your successes can be incredibly helpful. That might be anything from a particular piece of work you’re proud of, to a kind comment or a like on an article, to completing a project (like Summer Camp, or Draft 1 of a Novel!) Thinking about how far your work has come so far, and how much you know now, is also a useful trick. Which of your skills are better now than they were a year ago? What have you practiced every week? Focusing on personal growth is a great foil for the brain goblins, and can really help silence them in the back seat.
“No, we’re not there yet,” you can tell those dratted goblins – wherever “there” is. “But we’re on the right road. And we’re going there safely, in the best way we know. Now shut up and look at all the beautiful things I made.” 🙂
You can use World Anvil to track your progress! Using a generic article with the checkbox feature is a great way to do this.
4. Communities are incredibly helpful for impostor syndrome
Back when I was singing, I heard a really useful quote which I return to a lot.
Nothing is ever as good or as bad as we fear it to be.
Just accept that for a moment – it’s kind of zen. The highest highs, and the lowest, lows – everything. It’s not as much as you think. And that’s great, when you think about it. Our brain goblins are magnifying things. So what we need, then, is perspective. And that’s something you get from others, like communities.
Not only will communities give you praise on what’s good, but they’ll also give actually helpful critique on what you can improve. (Compare that to the standard brain-goblin “everything about this is terrible”, if you don’t get what I mean.) Even better, you’ll find every flavor of impostor syndrome sufferer, and lots more tips on how to deal with it!
I strongly recommend checking out the World Anvil Discord and online writing community, which is the friendliest and most supportive on the internet. Many of the writing challenges are non-competitive and will allow you to submit work and progress with your craft without having your impostor syndrome flaring up. And there are plenty of completion challenges too, like Summer Camp and WorldEmber, which will give you a great list of achievements to wave in the brain goblins’ face! Hah – take that, impostor syndrome!
Do you suffer from Impostor Syndrome? What’s your best tip for overcoming it?
And listen to Nekrogoblikon….
Hey that’s my buddy John Goblikon!
I can relate in professional and “creative” life. It’s crazy how we’s does’s this stuff to ourselves (ty[po’s deliberate).
I am totally going through this while trying to finish book 1 of my fantasy series. Definitely not good enough and never as good as others could make is a common thought. It is comforting to know everyone else may have it. Though if we all have it, in theory we don’t have it because it’s just a norm? Maybe I’m thinking too deeply and I’m not good enough for that!