Coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes, imposter syndrome is a concept usually experienced by high-achieving members of society who are unable to internalize their accomplishments and are fearful of being exposed as a “fraud.”
I had never heard of imposter syndrome until I came across a blog post by Neil Gaiman — author of American Gods, the extensive Sandman comic, and many others — where he was describing his experience with this syndrome. I found it interesting but thought no more of it until recently, whilst reading Stephen King’s Bazaar of Bad Dreams; he mentioned in a preface to a short story that he too had trouble with imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome appears to be particularly prevalent in writers. Upon some research, there are several articles online detailing tips and advice for those dealing with this issue and how to get through it. The syndrome is something I personally resonate with, not just in the aspect of writing. I don’t consider myself generally high-achieving or smart, but I do believe that I have it in me and that with hard work or circumstance I am able to excel beyond the average. However, growing up, throughout middle school and the first two years of high school, it was almost a given, permanent fixture in my personality that I was clever and good at school — so there were high expectations for me.
Getting good grades during those years never gave me any pride. I wasn’t having to work hard or push myself to meet the expectations set for me. With this came a growing sense of detachment from my achievements, along with the fear that if people were to test me properly, or beyond what we were being given, they would indeed find out that I was not high-achieving in the least and was very much an average girl. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with being average at school; but, in retrospect, the fear and expectations fit perfectly into the mold of imposter syndrome.
I’m not a great writer. I consider my work of mediocre quality, and to be told by an English teacher that your prose or your poetry is really worthy of praise is daunting. One of my high school teachers informed my father in a parent-teacher meeting that I had issues with “owning” my work. I would write well but not believe in the strength of my work no matter what I was told. Again, classic imposter syndrome.
Being eighteen has its struggles, and one of them is being surrounded by people my age also struggling — young adults trying to navigate the choppy waters of life, love, and laughter. Some of my friends have called me wise or good at giving advice or have complimented my helpfulness. This may be the biggest trigger of imposter syndrome I’ve felt to date. No matter how frequently I reiterate that we’re all the same age and that I do not know any better than them, no matter how often I end a conversation with a rejection of thanks because I haven’t been helpful at all, I am shushed into a fear of being put on a pedestal that I do not deserve to stand on.
Imposter syndrome is a label for these feelings that I experience that may make them sound more serious than they are, and it may be wiser to discard such a label than create a big deal about it; nevertheless, I believe there may be some of you out there who can relate. Almost everyone suffers from imposter syndrome at some point in varying degrees of severity. Rest assured, I am working on taking pride in my work, words, and actions, and I urge everyone to do the same. This fear is one that can be conquered with a little belief in self-worth and some trust in the opinions of others.