Impostors Unite!

Writing an article is a ten-step process: 1. agonize over what to write 2.  start writing 3. agonize over writing 4. finish writing 5. agonize over editing 6. Fact check 7. edit 8. agonize over submitting 9. submit 10. agonize that what’s been submitted is garbage and hope not to be discovered as an impostor. Step 6 doesn’t have much agonizing because it’s the one that proves I don’t know what I’m talking about. There are some other steps in there too. I do some research at some point and there might be some good ideas occasionally but most of the process is agonizing, like Wonder Woman, that someone will find out that my real name is Diana. Except for the part where Diana was an Amazon Princess and I’m just a marginally interesting Ph.D. with delusions of grandeur and a coffee-stained mouse pad.

So my superhero persona is the middling writer “Wordsmith” which was a moniker made up by a friend of mine and not of my own invention. I mention this because it’s really pathetic if you have to make up your own secret identity. My best-known superpowers are reading the dictionary for fun and finding mistakes in my own manuscripts after publication. Note to self: Peter Tosh, not Bob Marley, sang “Legalize It.” This note will make sense when (if) my article comes out. I should have spent more time on step 6.

Grad students, and especially Ph.D. candidates, are familiar with this ten-step process. It even has a name: It’s called impostor syndrome. Well, I’ve been a “doctor” for two years now and I’m here to tell you the syndrome is chronic, and not in the good way celebrated by Jamaican reggae music. I thought my diploma would cure my syndrome but it persists. Symptoms include restlessness and loss of sleep; persistent low grade anxiety, which becomes more pronounced around due dates; sarcasm; procrastination; and, of course, outright fear. Also, excessive coffee consumption. I have to pee.

As a long time sufferer of impostor syndrome I have found some coping mechanisms for living with this debilitating illness. (I kid, but it can actually be a paralyzing condition for some.) First, I’ve accepted the fact that I may never recover so I can’t wait until I “feel better” to start writing. Anne Lamott’s advice about sh!tty first drafts is good to keep in mind. She’s been struggling with the disease longer than I have. Second, tell your brain to shut the hell up. This can be difficult since it’s your brain that needs to tell your brain to do something. But, if one brain can name itself brain, another brain can tell itself to shush. That’s a sh!tty sentence but it’s more than I had written a minute ago. I’m going with it. We’ll see if it survives step 7.

So, despite the assurances I received from my betters back in my grad school days, my impostor syndrome has not cleared up. I expect that I will be forever treating my illness with coffee and cynicism. I guess whenever I put words on a page without clicking delete and then let people read my composition that it is in minor remission. Even then, I’m in agony.

If you, like me, suffer from impostor syndrome, take heart: It may never go away but you can still live a full and productive life. Remember, when life hands you lemons, life is a d!ck so write something snarky about life and its crappy lemons. You could also make lemonade but that seems like an awful lot of work to me.

In summation, that brain sentence survived step 7. Don’t ask about the sentences that didn’t. I have to pee again.