The Science Behind Why You Feel Like You Suck at Writing Today
Is anyone else struggling on Medium these days?
I see signs of it in articles from Top Writers I admire. I also hear mention of it in writers’ groups.
Still, there lives within me the lingering doubt: is everybody suffering a downturn on Medium or is it just me that has started sucking wind?
Recently, while researching “why I suck on Medium,” I rediscovered a syndrome that’s spreading faster than COVID-19.
It’s known as Imposter Syndrome.
First off, what is Imposter Syndrome?
“The exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.” — Albert Einstein
Imposter syndrome, simply defined, is when someone accomplished doesn’t believe they deserve to be accomplished.
Often, achieving individuals feel like a fraud and a fake. They worry about being found out. They suffer anxiety imagining the moment that the truth will be revealed.
Imposter syndrome can affect any of us. It’s not something unique to the Einsteins and Maya Angelous of the world (both of whom suffered from it).
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’” — Maya Angelou
Anytime we start something new, there’s a voice inside that says “You’re a poser. You are not worthy. You could not possibly be qualified to do whatever you are aiming to do.”
And, how many of us reading this, find ourselves suddenly in uncharted territory?
All of us.
We’re all starting a level in the game of life, which means we’re all likely victims of Imposter Syndrome.
Thankfully, there are ways to treat Imposter Syndrome.
How to vaccinate yourself against Imposter Syndrome
You can’t, sorry.
You can, however, do a few things to help minimize its effects.
1. Talk about it
“Many people suffering from imposter syndrome are afraid that if they ask about their performance, their fears will be confirmed.” — Elizabeth Cox, TED-Ed: What is imposter syndrome and how can you combat it?
We are biologically hardwired to belong in tribes and we naturally fear rejection. This keeps us from voicing concerns or fears, especially about ourselves or our performance.
As with COVID-19, many of us don’t recognize the early symptoms. Since it’s impossible to get into someone else’s head to know what they are thinking, many of us push forward assuming we are the only ones struggling.
In this dangerous state of mind, we’re more susceptible to self-doubt and self-deprecation. We close inward and easily give up on ambitions that seemed possible only a few weeks ago.
Talking about it, or in this case, writing about it is the first step in holding your ground in what can easily become a self-defeating tailspin.
2. Focus on what you are learning
“Cultivate a learning mindset. From this perspective, your… mistakes are seen as an inevitable part of the learning process rather than… evidence of your underlying failings.” — Andy Molinsky, HBR: Everyone Suffers from Impostor Syndrome — Here’s How to Handle It
Going through a world-altering pandemic is schooling us all. We’re learning how to be more responsible citizens, how to come together in times of extreme difficulty, how not to take simple things for granted.
Make a list of things that you’ve learned so far and you will find that you not only rediscover your learning mindset, but you’ll probably also find a few good articles in the making.
And, for those of you new to Medium (welcome!), recognize that being new can actually be a superpower. As Natalie Portman (a Harvard grad herself), mentioned in a Harvard commencement address: “Your inexperience is an asset, and will allow you to think in original and unconventional ways. Accept your lack of knowledge and use it as your asset.”
3. Hold firm to ambition
“ When you refuse to let your doubts dictate your choices, you open new doors of opportunity.” — Margie Warrell, Forbes: How To Overcome Impostor Syndrome
Speaking from personal experience, it’s been hard to keep up my energy lately. I’ve got big writing goals for the coming months but this pandemic seems to be throwing them all into the shredder.
Finding ways to regain momentum, even if that’s writing only a little every day (the world will survive with a 2-minute read), will help you stay focused on why you started out on Medium in the first place.
Don’t be afraid to fail. In fact, just assume it’s going to happen. Instead of being paralyzed by events outside of your control and dying a slow death, set out to fail spectacularly.
You’ve got little to nothing to lose right now and most likely, you’ll be surprised at your accomplishments.
Don’t let science get the best of you
Just as reversing the effects of COVID-19 is in the world’s best interest, so it is with the Imposter Syndrome. The bright side of fighting Imposter Syndrome is that its effects can be seen almost immediately.
Writing today, facing fears of failure, remind me of a terrifying adventure I took at age nineteen.
Leaving friends and family behind, I committed to being a missionary in Nothern Italy for a period of two years. It was without a doubt, one of the most difficult and rewarding periods of my life.
I remember an especially difficult stretch where I was succumbing to feelings of self-doubt. I was positive I was failing in my responsibilities to God and mankind, even though things seemed to be going well.
One day, I received a letter from home. It was from my mother and it contained two sheets of paper. On one sheet was a brief note and a reminder that she loved me.
One the second was a quote, sized to fill the entire 8.5 X 11 sheet:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” — Marianne Williamson
It was just what I needed to read at the moment. It was a reminder that I had an important role to play in life’s magnificent journey.
We all have a role to play today. I have a role and you have a role. Playing as best we can right now is all we need to keep the world alive.
So suck wind if you have to, but don’t quit the game!