Experts and Impostors

I'm not an expert on Impostor Syndrome.

I never studied it, I've hardly even read any articles. I have no formal training on the subject aside from the fact that it's something that I have struggled with recently--particularly now that I have published a book.

The fact that I have encountered these feelings post-publication is a little surprising. While I was working, I didn't doubt my knowledge or talent--not enough to label myself with Impostor Syndrome--but I did feel like I needed a book written and published to prove to people that my work was valid. I didn't expect that, after the initial excitement of holding the book in my hands, not only did I not feel the validity that I had been working towards, but I would also be left feeling like an impostor. My remedy for this feeling has been to focus on being as vulnerable and as transparent as I can be in my work (as I mentioned in my previous post), which is why I'm sharing this little anecdote now.

Last weekend I was at Arisia. It was the first time I attended a con as a member and a participant. I had to learn how to quickly switch gears from promoting my work, to attending a panel for fun with my friends, then switching back to network with other authors or creators. 

I had the chance to read with Broad Universe, a feminist speculative writing collective that I am a member of (if you haven't heard of them, definitely check them out, the members all do amazing work). It was my sixth reading in the past year, which is six more readings than I have ever done before (not counting the 45 seconds of poetry I read at a conference when I was 17 years old). I avoided doing readings for a long time, mostly because of a mix of stage fright and anxiety, but I have been pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I have to. Readings are part my job. 

It's getting easier to stand up and read in front of an audience, but I still get nervous as hell. It wasn't just reading to strangers that made me nervous, but reading to the other Broad Universe members. In fact, reading to other writers is probably more intimidating. As I prepped for the event, I kept thinking that their knowledge and expertise would give them the insight to prove how much of a writer I am not.

Photo by Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert

They'll see right through me.

They'll know that I'm a hack.

They'll tell me that I don't really belong here.

I had a vision of them turning to each other and shaking their heads with disapproval, and the audience members would catch on, and somehow the audience at the reading would expand to the whole world--and my career would be stamped out before it hardly had the chance to spark.

My hands were shaking while I read, but when I finished I was relieved and mostly pleased with my performance. I knew that each time I read, I'll get a little less nervous, but thought perhaps I can gain more confidence if I addressed that part of me that felt like I had no business calling myself an author.

As it so happened, they even had an Impostor Syndrome Workshop the next day at the con. 

The workshop, led by Crystal Huff, offered an overview on the phenomenon, as well as some strategies on how to counteract it. In one of her exercises, the entire group was given a handful of blank post-its. On each post-it, we were asked to write a compliment.

One of the prompts was to write a compliment that you wished you had gotten that week. I didn't have the courage to admit what I really wanted--for someone to tell me that I did a good job at the reading, and that I have what it takes to keep calling myself an author--so I found the closest second that didn't have me feeling quite as exposed in a room full of strangers.

Later, we silently exchanged these post-its. I was struck by how much the act of giving and receiving anonymous compliments with strangers--such a simple random act of kindness--genuinely uplifted me, and everyone in the room. Before we returned to our seats, someone rushed over to me, to give me this post-it:

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After the workshop concluded, the giver of this post-it approached me. They told me, "I was at the reading yesterday, and enjoyed your reading so much that I went and bought your book."

I received the compliment that I didn't have the courage to commit to a post-it at the beginning of the workshop, and the validation that I had been searching for. I couldn't express all this to the friendly person who approached me, all I could say was, Thank you, really, it means so much to hear that. But I thought that maybe, by sharing this story, I can hold on to that bright bit of encouragement they offered me, and maybe I can offer it to you, and maybe you will offer it to someone else.

Our little acts of kindness, however random, can make a world of difference.