Monday, March 14, 2011

I'm Not as Special as You Think I Am

Do you suffer from imposter syndrome? I think most people do at some point in their lives. If when you hear someone singing your praises for something you’ve done and you don’t feel worthy of their praise then you are suffering from imposter syndrome. It really isn’t as dangerous as it sounds and it can take many forms. One place I’ve seen it is when a person gets up to speak before a large group of people. Afterward, people tell them what a great speech it was and talk about how they wouldn’t have the nerve to get up in front of that many people. The speaker dismisses it as nothing. Another place we see it is among authors. A publishing company offers them a large contract and they feel like someone made a mistake. Or after the author self-publishes a work, people actually enjoy reading the book. The author tells himself that they are just being nice.

I believe that imposter syndrome is a result of us having an ideal of what success looks like that doesn’t match what success feels like when we achieve it. We think we’ll feel special when it happens, but in reality, when we achieve success it feels normal. No one is truly an instant success, so by the time they are asked to be the keynote speaker they have given so many lesser speeches that the keynote speech doesn’t feel different. It is no better than any other speech they have given, so they assume people are praising them because it is a keynote speech rather than because it was particularly good.

The successful traditionally published author with a big contract doesn’t see his book as a particularly fine piece of work because he has gradually improved over the years. If other people think it is worth millions then they must be mistaken.

The self-published author sees the junk produced by other self-published authors and believes there is a stigma attached to his own work. If people are praising his work, then they must be lying because all self-published work is bad.

Imposter syndrome isn’t likely to kill you, but it does make it hard to enjoy your successes. When people praise you work, say thank you and move on. Don’t look for success to validate you or make you feel special.

How have you suffered from imposter syndrome?