What to Do When You Feel Like an Imposter
How to silence your inner (and outer) critics whenever they attack
The other day I was totally absorbed in my task at work.
I couldn’t tell you who was in the room with me (or if anyone was). My focus and the chorus of industrial wall fans helped with my hypnosis. It was just me and the work — nothing else mattered.
Then I heard the sound of rustling plastic.
A few of my coworkers stood behind me and surveyed the situation.
“Frank, you better move.”
I looked up to see a pallet of potato chips falling off the shelf. The mass rolled like a tumbleweed ball onto the pallet in front of me, pushing boxes of crackers, paper towels, and meat sauce into my work space.
I Didn’t Even Flinch
I could have been hurt if I’d been standing a bit closer. I probably wouldn’t have died, but if the contents on the pallet had been 40 pound cases of cans, who knows?
I didn’t flinch because I didn’t care.
I was creatively stalled, feeling like an imposter. For me to disappear wouldn’t have made any difference at all, right?
When you feel like an imposter, you start hearing voices in your head. Here’s what they said in mine:
“Who do you think you are to call yourself a writer? I mean, come on. Anyone can now. All you have to do is write some stuff and hit publish and your words are in print. Does that mean you’re a real writer?”
“What makes you so qualified on this subject? Do you know more than everyone else? Really? What makes you think anyone cares what you have to say?”
“Everything I write is crap. I might as well just poop my words into the toilet. There’s nothing new or good about what I have to say, and nobody on Earth will care about one more post, one more book, and one more opinion.”
If you accept these statements at face value, you’ll convince yourself that you really are an imposter.
That’s a shame.
It’s time to fight back.
We like to watch crime shows at my house.
One thing the investigators do is refuse to take things at face value. If they did, every suspect would get away with murder. “I wasn’t there. I don’t even know the victim. Never saw her before.”
Skepticism keeps the detective looking for the truth until she finds it, no matter how long it takes. It’s what drives the lawyer to press back and ask, “See this ball cap? It’s yours. We found it next to the body. How do you suppose that got there?”
When your imposter voice accuses you, act like your own defense attorney. Turn the tables. “Oh yeah? I’m an imposter? What proof do you have?”
If you counter with doubt every time your imposter voice speaks, then you’ll start doubting your own doubts. You’ll refuse to be a victim of your own inner critic. Sure, maybe you’re not perfect. But neither is the most informed authority in the universe. If what you say has value, you have as much right to say it as anyone.
Besides, no one else will say it exactly the way you will. And that way might be just what one (or more) of your readers needs. Will you deny them that opportunity?
Don’t stay quiet just because you have doubts.
Sometimes your wisdom can scare you.
“If I publish this, someone might get upset.”
But it might set someone else free. It might be just the kick in the butt they need to change their lives.
Think about that.
If you’ve written for a while, chances are your words have touched people. When someone tells you that your words made a difference, you can rise from the deepest depths of despair.
Sure, you won’t thrill every reader. But you will please some.
Do it for them.
Who knows? One of them might share your post with 100 more friends.
Find a few friends who will be honest with you.
You don’t need anyone to confirm you suck.
You don’t want someone to gush over you with worthless, empty praise.
You want the truth.
“Yes, your words have value. But you could say it better. Here’s how. Or maybe you could take this slant. People might find that angle more interesting.”
You want constructive feedback.
What do I mean by “constructive”?
Constructive feedback is actionable. You can do something with it. And you can do it right now. It can be a small step or it can be a major paradigm shift. Either way, you’re better than you were before when you implement it.
The best advice comes with hope that things can be better.
Find a few friends who will lift you up in tangible and useful ways. Then you’ll reach higher than you ever thought you could.
When someone criticizes you, evaluate it objectively.
You’ll have to step outside your ego to do this.
Read it like it was written to someone else. Is this a rant written by someone who’s mad? Are they tearing you down for any legitimate reason? Or is there a golden nugget stuck in that pile of dirt?
If you get one negative comment, you might just ignore it.
If you get several, evaluate them for anything useful. Reject what isn’t.
Here’s something else to consider.
All art has critics. It’s just part of the game. Consider criticism a disguised compliment. Someone paid enough attention to your work to complain about it.
In this world of countless distractions, that is a noteworthy accomplishment.