Coping with Impostor Syndrome

Someone emailed me the other day and shared a challenge they are trying to work through:

“I think my main creative challenge is shutting out all the noise and the other things I can do and just WRITE.”

They went on to describe how their time is spent caring for their kids, for relatives who need assistance, and how they have some major events going on in their life at the moment.

In the middle of all of this, they said, “I need to preserve time and energy to grow myself and make a good go of writing. This is something I’ve always wanted to do but fear, responsibility, and being scared of “how” held me back.”

Today I want to share the advice I emailed her, and expand up it. Because I find that fear is indeed the biggest thing holding many people back from writing or creating.

Focus on Experiences Not Milestones

Today is the 1-year anniversary of publishing my first book, Be the Gateway. As I think back on the last twelve months, I don’t remember some magical “launch day.” Instead I look at the consistent effort to ensure that this book reaches people. Meaning: my fear is not in writing or publishing, but rather, my fear is not being able to help writers and artists.

My book’s success is not about sales figures or reviews, though both of those things are nice. My success is measured entirely on whether or not my work has truly helped someone. If it has opened up their potential and helped them create more and ensure that their writing or art reaches those who will love it.

Focus more on whether your work has brightened someone’s day, not if your follower count on social media has gone up.

Your success is not a metric. It is the experience you create in the world. The nice thing about that is that you have the capacity to create success every day through tiny actions of connecting your work to others. Focus more on those small actions than you do the huge scary milestones.

When I think back about my experience with Be the Gateway, what I remember are the words of others. Those who have reached out with questions or comments about the books. I remember how this book made them feel. Maya Angelou said it better than I ever could:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Get Support

Find a collaborator or support group of some sort. I can’t underscore how critical this is: if you want to be a writer or artist, you need colleagues. This can look like many things:

  • A one-on-one collaboration with someone else who does work similar to you.
  • Joining an already-established group.
  • Attending a class, workshop, retreat, or conference of some sort.
  • Creating a habit of reaching out and meeting others who create the kind of work you admire.

Personally, I have done (and continue to do) all of these things. If you think you don’t need support, you are lying to yourself. We all need support to achieve our creative goals.

This is what it looks like for me:

  • I have a private mastermind with the amazing book coach Jennie Nash. Each week we talk and dig into our biggest goals and challenges.
  • I have hired people to be on my team at WeGrowMedia to collaborate on ideas and to keep me accountable.
  • I create a podcast where I constantly meet new writers and artists and dig deep into their creative processes. It’s astounding how many of these connections have turned into colleagues and friendships.
  • I run a small festival each year called the Madison Storytellers Festival, where I collaborate with dozens of other creators, including those who have become a part of my own brain trust. These are people I can text at any time if I need advice or assistance

But perhaps the biggest thing I do is run the Creative Shift Mastermind.
In the 8 years I have run WeGrowMedia, by far the most powerful thing I have created is an accountability group where writers and artists forge powerful connections with each other. We focus on getting total clarity in our creative work, establishing new habits, creating a plan to connect it all to an audience, and to hold each other accountable. (the next group starts April 1 — join us!)

Kill Impostors Syndrome. Replace it with Celebration

Many writers and artists I speak too suffer from some form of impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome is the belief that you haven’t earned your achievements, and will be found out as a fraud.

The most surprising thing I have learned about impostor syndrome is that it doesn’t go away with success. In fact, it can become amplified by success. It comes up in little whispers that turn achievement into fear. It sounds like this, as a little whisper in your head:

“Sure you wrote a bestselling book, but that’s just because you got lucky. You are never going to have the same success with your second book, then everyone will see that your first book was a fluke. No one will ever want to publish you again.”

Wildly successful people such as Dani Shapiro and Amanda Palmer talk about dealing with impostor syndrome. Amanada actually calls it “the fraud police.” I highly recommend their books:

Once you can accept that impostor syndrome can happen to anyone, it is easier to ensure it doesn’t take you off track. I want to encourage you to replace it with this: celebration.

Each week, celebrate what you do create. Even if you only grab 10 minutes of writing time and didn’t like what you wrote — recognize and celebrate what you did. This can be a simple list, but it shouldn’t be a simple feeing. The creative life is made up of tiny steps leading to a larger goal. Recognize those steps, and celebrate them. (With chocolate, if possible.)

Be More Like Yourself

In my latest podcast, I interview psychologist Ellen Hendriksen, who helps millions calm their anxiety and be their authentic selves. In our chat, we dig into topics that writers and artists constantly struggle with, including:

  • Impostors Syndrome
  • Permission to create
  • Comparison to others
  • Seeking validation
  • Sharing your work publicly
  • Collaboration
  • Entrepreneurship

We talk about her new book, How to Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, which Susan Cain calls “a groundbreaking roadmap to finally being your true, authentic self.”

You can listen to our entire conversation on my blog or check out the episode on iTunes.

I’ll end with my absolute favorite thing I have ever found on the internet, this video: “Fitting In,” by Ze Frank.

Thanks.
-Dan

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