Is Your Impostor Syndrome Holding You Back?

Impostor syndrome. I have it. I’ve learned to live with it. But it’s taken me a long time to accomplish what I have, professionally, because sometimes I still let myself believe I’m not even good enough to try.

I’ve turned down at least a handful of opportunities as a health expert because I legitimately didn’t think I was the kind of person that publication was looking for. So in July 2017, when a popular health website approached me asking for help fact-checking nutrition content, I almost said no.

Almost.

The first time someone referred to me as an “authority,” I had to read over that line five times. Three years out of undergrad, six months out of grad school, I still felt the same way I did when I first started writing about health — inexperienced, unqualified, and undeserving of anything other than an unpaid writing internship.

But I agreed to do the work anyway. I figured if they didn’t like my comments, they’d pay me once and never offer me more work. Something weird happened, though. They trusted me. They took my opinions and suggestions seriously. They thanked (and paid) me for my work.

And then they asked me to do it again.

Because, though my brain tried to tell me otherwise, someone who has been writing about nutrition for five years — and has degrees in a subject, and is trained in interpreting science jargon — is actually kind of qualified to do these kinds of things.

Impostor syndrome will trick you into thinking you don’t even deserve the kind of experience you need to advance your career. If you aren’t careful, it will stunt your professional growth. It will manipulate you into climbing inside a box, closing and sealing the box, and never daring to venture outside of it ever again.

The deeper you dream — and the harder you work — the more impostor syndrome will try to hold you in place. Because it doesn’t want to let you believe you can do big things. Like write a best-selling book, or host an award-winning blog, or write for a well-known magazine.

So how do you deal? How do you “overcome” this?

Well … you don’t. Impostor syndrome has no cure. You can’t just wake up one morning and decide you’re going to embrace your expertise and rule the world. It will probably always feel like you’re pretending or living a lie. But you aren’t. And deep, deep down, logically, you know that.

There is a voice inside your head saying you aren’t worthy of praise, or recognition, or even pride. If you hear that voice when you sit down at your laptop to write something new, write through it. Write over it. You cannot delete it, but you shouldn’t let it leave you frozen in time.

Don’t let this stop you from doing what you’re good at or what you love. Because that voice in your head telling you that you don’t deserve praise for working hard? It’s wrong. When someone comes to you asking for help, it’s likely because they trust you and believe you have something worthwhile to offer. If they didn’t believe that, they wouldn’t ask. They’d find someone more qualified.

If you’re sitting here right now, and you don’t believe you can write this, edit this, draw this, film this, take this idea and turn it into something magnificent — do it anyway. You might fail. It happens. But there’s no guarantee of success if you don’t try. Do what you know you’re good at, and do it well. Because whether you believe it or not, you can and will do good work. People want you to do it. Don’t stop. Don’t give up.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


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