‘Whoever has a functional knowledge of a language and knows a hundred words can write stories. It is n
o big deal. Anybody can become an author.’
These are the words echoing in my head now as I prepare to release my sixth book. They were said to me by a close acquaintance nearly twenty years ago when I revealed to him that I loved to write, and I was aspiring to be an author.
I found his response to my creative urge callous and hurtful. The seeds of self-doubt it sowed in the wannabe writer in me gradually took devious forms and became deep-seated. In the years after that, although I wrote a lot and evolved much as a writer, I remained very skeptical of my talents. Despite finding a voice of my own and winning the hearts of readers, I was circumspect about my skills.
At some point, despite the subtle layers I had added to my craft, I fell victim to a debilitating ‘imposter syndrome’. Was I a good writer indeed or was I pretending to be one? Did my writing genuinely affect people or was I creating a false aura around myself? Was I a writer of merit or just a narcissistic idiot?
Back then, when I started out, writing was a haloed activity and very few people took it up seriously. The avenues were limited and not many people ventured out as boldly as I did. However, with the advent of social media platforms, the writing scene exploded magically. There was no dearth of good writers and I saw how my acquaintance’s words were coming true. Almost anyone could create a decent, or even a delectable piece of writing.
I saw my imposter syndrome reinforcing itself in the changing environment and suddenly all my creative flair stood on the brink of extinction.
I had a choice—to endure or perish as a writer. If I allowed myself to succumb, I was certain I would. If I had to survive, then I had to have a concrete plan.
Every attempt at self-preservation takes a whole lot of resolve. In my case, it involved busting limiting self-beliefs and falsehoods that people had drilled into my soft head at various times. It meant devising my own paths and maneuvering safely out of the warrens of diffidence.
If any of what I am stating here resonates with you in your own individual spheres, if you have ever felt you aren’t deserving of the distinctions others have conferred upon you, if even your best performance seems like a parody to you, then pay heed. What follows is a five-point prescription that I wrote for myself when the scourge of ‘imposter syndrome’ threatened to invalidate my years of literary endeavours.
For starters, if you can say with conviction that you have striven hard to reach your milestones, then claim it legitimately. Your title and worth have been hard-earned, and you must wear them on your sleeve. Accept compliments and praise that come your way with elan. Know that not all praise is flattery. With time and experience, you will know to separate chaff from grain.
One thing I understood very early in my journey was that to be worthwhile, I must be an eternal learner. It has kept me open to new ideas and given me avenues to improve when I could have easily settled into creative smugness. Allowing ourselves space to grow means conceding we aren’t the ultimate. It is a trait that will serve us well in our personal and professional lives.
Another factor that often puts us off track are unhealthy comparisons with those who are more skillful and successful than us. By that, I mean measuring us against them in a way that makes us feel infra dig. When you compare, make sure the comparison is only helping you to learn and not making you feel inferior. Your talents are unique to you and hone them with any tool you can lay your hands on.
Above all, when the frustrations of ‘being an unworthy imposter’ begin to rankle, turn them into an opportunity to push the pedals harder. Let your dissatisfaction be the cause of a growth spurt in your life. Find the fire in your frustrations. There is no such thing as fake competency. We are either competent or we are not. What makes us distinct from others is recognizing where we truly belong—in a league of our own.