Roundup of Resources on Impostor Syndrome

Day 129

One of the items on my blog list is to finish and submit a nonfiction book proposal. It's on there as a writing goal, but it happens that the two books I have simmering at the moment are both about museums. One, which is very much on the back burner, is narrative nonfiction (you could call it a memoir if you want) about being a tour guide, written for the curious public like my blog is. It's fully drafted but I wrote it during National Novel Writing Month -- yes, I was a NaNo "Rebel" -- so it needs a lot of work. The other is for museum professionals, and I've done a good bit of research and even lived a bit of the research in various jobs, and I'm partway through writing a book proposal. Except for memoir-style and a few other genres, most nonfiction publishers want the proposal well before the manuscript, so I'm on the right track. 

I intended to write a post about the proposal process, but do you know what? The hardest part of the process, for me, is not being scared off of it. Writing about why this book matters and why people will want to read it is hard, but no harder than writing a cover letter for a job application or a personal statement for a school application, and I've done that before. Creating an outline of the book, which really means making lots of small but important decisions about the book's structure, is also hard, but it's the kind of challenge I love, one of the reasons I do this kind of writing to begin with. But believing that I am actually ready to do this is hard in a different way. I know I am actually qualified to write on the topics I'm writing on, and that this is the right stage for me to be at right now. The trick is silencing, or working with, my inner critic. In honor of that struggle, I want to share some of my favorite resources about silencing the inner voices that say "you're not good enough, you're not ready," and about one of the main sources of that voice, impostor syndrome.

Simply put, impostor syndrome is when you think you aren't good enough (at a job, or for some other position of authority or success) but there's no real evidence that says anything's wrong. Many people describe it as feeling like a fraud and thinking they'll somehow be found out, because, they think, everyone else is competent and they're just faking it. This article summarizes the psychological research on this phenomenon -- while it's recently come into popular jargon and could sound like pop psychology, there is a studied background to it as well as lots of anecdata. Maya Angelou is often quoted as saying, "I have written 11 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.’” This book review from Huffington Post explains why women and minorities are particularly susceptible to this kind of thinking, and has useful insights.
Me as a teenager. A white girl with braces in an oversized t-shirt, leaning toward the camera.
How old I feel when the
self-doubt hits.

Most people's advice on getting over impostor syndrome is just acknowledging that many people also feel like they're faking it, and it's okay. I find that helpful, but only to a degree. This article on The Muse has a few good tips that the others don't, such as taking new risks and retraining your thought processes, and this presentation by Crystal Huff also shares a number of good strategies. This post on advice blog Captain Awkward tells a reader, "you are a beginner, not a failure," which I think is a great mantra, especially for someone who feels they have messed up. My impostor syndrome usually takes the form of thinking that I'm not ready to do what I'm doing, that I need the training wheels back on, so the problem is that I think I'm a beginner when I'm not necessarily. 

One of my favorite resources partly on this topic is Howard S. Becker's book Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article. The book gives advice not limited to social science, and discusses a variety of topics related to academic writing such as using jargon only when necessary, structuring an argument, and getting comfortable with revising your work. It also addresses impostor syndrome as something that's kind of a natural part of the maturation process from student to professional -- inevitable, but important to overcome. While there are certainly important implications to the way that impostor syndrome happens more in women and minorities, it's nice to also be reminded that in some ways, impostor syndrome is a form of growing pains. I'm a tiny bit evangelical about this book -- once I bought several copies on sale and distributed it to friends who were working on dissertations -- in part because I think there's something for everyone here, even though there were large parts I didn't find applicable to myself.

Lastly, I love the blog Ask A Manager. I was only introduced to it recently, and it's become one of my favorite blogs. Allison Green answers advice questions about workplace etiquette and norms as well as challenging workplace dilemmas. Much of what she writes is really about interpersonal dilemmas, and so it's applicable to all kinds of jobs and outside of work. In this post, Green gives solid advice about dealing with feeling like you don't belong when you're new at a job, and the comments are genuinely helpful, too. 

I hope this roundup of resources was helpful! Now it's time for me to get back to outlining my book.