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How to overcome imposter syndrome and believe in your skills

Have you ever been worried your clients or audience will find out you're a total fraud? (Even though you are totally not!) Let's kick this imposter syndrome in the butt!
Imposter Syndrome Anonymous - Group Therapy

If you're anything like me, you probably have a number of worthy achievements under your belt, and yet still you struggle and wonder if you'll ever overcome your imposter syndrome. Well friends, welcome to the club! Let's take a closer look and see if there's a solution ...

'What do you want to be when you grow up?'

When I was a child I knew I wanted to be a writer. It was my dream to be a published author and see my name printed on the spine of a book sitting on the bookshelf amongst other books.

In fact, my mother reminded me that as a child I had solemnly told her that the reason this was so important to me was because if my name was published on a book, it would never be forgotten. I would essentially live forever and people would know my name long after I had died.

I have absolutely no idea why at such a young age any of this had even occurred to me. I was such a shy child, and I never had any desire to be rich or famous. If anything, I didn't like to be in the spotlight, and to this day, I still loathe it.

But somehow I had managed to get it into my head that my name had to be of some importance after I died, and that to write a book was the best way to go about it.

'I am a writer!'

I continued to develop a love of expressing myself with the written word throughout my childhood and into my early twenties. I considered myself to be an 'aspiring writer', until one day after a yoga class, a fellow yogi and I were chatting and he asked me what I did?

On a whim, I blurted out 'I'm a writer!' – and then recoiled in terror. Blushing horribly, I tried to offer an explanation; 'Actually, I'm not really a writer, not yet, but I write the yoga blog for our class.'

What the guy said next had a huge impact on me. It was nothing profound. Kind of obvious, if you think about it ...

'If you write, and you say you're a writer, then you are a writer!' he said. He then proceeded to get me to practice saying it ...

'I'm a writer.' I said. I immediately cringed and felt like a fraud.

The more I said it, the more I liked the sound of it, and the more I began to believe it. I was writing the blog for our yoga class after all, and I was getting paid to do it! 'I am a writer!'

From that point onwards I have called myself a writer. And when I started drawing for a living I started calling myself an artist too. It was never without an underlying feeling of shame and dread that someone would find me out, mind you.

"What kind of writer are you?"

Since that day I have completed a degree in Film and Media and studied Screenwriting at University. I've written scripts and stories. I have pursued a career in freelance writing for more than 10 years and I've had many paid articles published online – some even under my own name. I've also written my own blogs, and indulgently self-published a few project books on a fabulous print-on-demand site called Blurb.

That's a hell of a lot of writing! So why do I still struggle with imposter syndrome? Is there any escape?

"A writer eh? What kind of writer?" "The kind that writes?"

More recently I've come up against a new problem - What kind of writer am I?

I've had the question asked many times. It's not enough to simply say that you're a writer anymore, people want to know exactly what it is that you do. Writers are something of a mystery, and I guess people have an overwhelming desire to put us into a box.

As a professional writer it's very handy to know what kind of writer you are, or at least what writing services you're qualified and willing to offer to potential clients.

Before, it was enough to say that you're a TV or film writer, a bestselling author, a journalist, or a freelance writer. Now it's a completely different story. There are so many different writing career niches and hybrid roles, that you really do need to have a clear idea of what exactly it is that you do.

I've discovered that my professional experience as a freelance writer is mainly in online content writing. This basically means that I'm hired to write different forms of content for the purpose of it being published on other people's blogs and websites.

Is it the kind of writer I want to be? Is it a description that I feel defines me as a 'writer'? Am I living the dream? No, not really, but it's what I'm currently doing.

I've found that since being able to define my skills in this way I'm suffering fewer symptoms of imposter syndrome.

The issue is still very much there, though.

What exactly is imposter syndrome?

I think that in order to get over something you fear you have to understand the thing you fear.

For example, I have a horrible fear of moths because they have big, fat hairy bodies, and absolutely no sense of direction. Are they blind? Are they intoxicated? Do they get their kicks out of dive-bombing me with a one-track mind to get themselves tangled in my curly hair?

It's easy to make up scary stories when we don't really know what's going on. Moths don't have it in for me. I'm just afraid of being a target.

We know imposter syndrome is based around a fear, but what is this fear grounded in?

If you're a writer, or an artist, or a musician – or anyone who is just trying to achieve something for yourself, and you suffer from imposter syndrome, you probably, on some level, doubt your own abilities.

I know that I do. Despite the fact that I've had many happy clients singing my praises, I still can't quite bring myself to believe that my work is worthy of it – They must be mistaken. I have bewitched them, and I must get away before the spell wears off and they realise I have no talent or skill after all.

If you don't believe that you deserve your well-earned praise, it goes without saying that you will forever doubt your ability to please the next client.

Another mistake that we writers may make is to compare our success to the success of our peers. Or to measure our success rate on how much money we are making in comparison to other writers we admire. Let's face it, poverty is rarely seen as a sign of success. As writers or freelancers, we know all about living life on the bread-line.

Take me as an example, (at the time of writing this post) I'm currently in between jobs and actively seeking to move away from my freelancing into a full-time employed position. That's a roundabout way of saying that I'm unemployed. So when someone asks me 'What do you do?' and I say, 'Oh, I'm a writer' – well... is that true?

It is, but I'm not currently working as a writer, so I'm not making any money from my writing right now – Major imposter syndrome alert! Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest. I'm feeling it even as I write this blog post.

The answer to your imposter syndrome problems...

I wouldn't want you to have read all the way through my blog post only to come to the end and not find an answer to your burning question - How can I overcome imposter syndrome? I do have some thoughts on this.

I think we have to remember that people don't know us. They only know what they see and what they hear. If you can show them your work and you can describe to them what it is that you can do, then you have essentially given them everything they need to make their own decision about you.

In order to overcome your own imposter syndrome though, you have to make your own decision about yourself.

  • Are you going to continue to live in fear of being found out as a fraud?

  • Do you want to continue to believe that you're a fraud?

  • What are you going to do to change your thought processes and develop confidence in yourself and your abilities?

This is what I did. (The following infographic addresses writers, but it can refer to you too, even if you are something else.)

Defeat Writer's Imposter Syndrome

  1. I gave myself a title that I felt was true to what I do, and I put it into a sentence - 'I am a professional freelance writer and blogger specialising in online content.' It's simple and to the point. I understand it, and so do the people I tell.

  2. I defined what I do. My title says a lot about what I do, but it also gives me space to elaborate - 'Clients hire me to write articles, blog posts, and website content.'

  3. I recognise my limitations. I'm able to give potential clients a good idea of what I can and can't do for them - 'I have some basic knowledge of SEO.' (I lack confidence in this area and I'm still gaining experience – but I do have enough familiarity to mention it to a prospective client. l'd never claim to be an SEO expert though, my imposter syndrome would go through the roof!)

  4. I created a portfolio of work that I am proud of. A portfolio is a constant work-in-progress, and that's what I love about it. It can grow and change with you on your journey as a writer. I use Google Drive to organise my writing samples, and I make sure that I can be confident about everything that I include. This makes it so much easier to take myself seriously when I'm applying for jobs. I feel more prepared and less like I'm relying on luck to present myself and my skills effectively.

  5. I started a writer's blog. Yep, you're reading it! I feel like I'm the most confident, and experiencing the least imposter syndrome, when I am being true to myself. This blog is a place where I can practice my craft in a really authentic way. I think it's important to carve yourself out a little online space in which you can express yourself on your journey, learn more about yourself and what you are interested in, connect with people who like what you do, and just grow as a writer.

Thank you for taking the time to read to the end!

I hope that you've enjoyed reading this post, and that you've taken something away from it that you can use in a positive way.

My blog is brand new, and I really appreciate your support. So subscribe for updates and share your favourite posts. Leave a comment – tell me about your imposter syndrome.

Until next time... keep telling yourself and everyone around you who you are and what you do!

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