the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills. (dictionary.com)
I’m standing outside of a classroom. I’m an English major, I tell myself, I can handle a writing class, this is what I do. But it’s not the writing that’s psyching me out, no, it’s the knowledge that everyone else in this class will also be English majors, I won’t have the upper hand anymore. The persistent little voice tells me, everyone will notice you have no clue what you’re doing.
How do I decipher legitimate concerns from unsubstantiated fears of failure?
Well, let’s take a look at where these insecurities are coming from. There’s a story I always tell when asked why I decided to become an English major–my origin story as a writer, if you will.
In the ninth grade, my English teacher was the type to play favorites. She made it very clear that she was not fond of me in gentle, subtle ways like smacking me in the side of the head with a book as she walked by or making me feel stupid when I couldn’t answer a question. The story I love to tell is an example of the latter: the fated instance of the terrible paper.
Imagine with me if you will: you’re 14 years old at a brand new school, you’ve just turned in a paper that you were up all night working on, maybe you were tired and didn’t get a chance to re-read it–either way, it’s not your best work and you know it. Now imagine the horror as the teacher who notoriously hates you announces that she’d like to read your paper aloud as an example.
No, she’s not asking for permission, she’s announcing what she’s going to do.
Let’s just say she wasn’t reading aloud to sing my praises. From then on, I was convinced writing just wasn’t for me. It wasn’t until years later that I was persuaded otherwise.
Of course this was a small tragedy, something I forgave easily, but it seems no matter how much peace I make with it it still worms its way into my mind, resurfacing every time I start to doubt myself. What if she was right? What if I’m kidding myself and I’ll never make it as a writer?
This is an example of imposter syndrome. Questioning my validity. Questioning the validity of my successes. Is it luck? Chance? Or, something that I’ve earned?
The good news is, every time I find myself questioning my merit, the answer is always the same; of course she wasn’t right! And the only way I’ll ever know if I can make it as a writer is to try.
My senior year of high school, I began my first dual credit college class, English 101, with a professor who was determined to get me to apply myself. He told me he could tell I wasn’t applying myself in my writing, but that I had natural talent. This one comment of encouragement is what ultimately led to my decision to become an English major, because if I had even an ounce of natural talent, I was going to use it to prove that I could make it.
As someone who’s been trapped in negativity for a long portion of her life I can tell you one thing for sure: one of the best ways to kill negativity is to starve it. Even if you don’t necessarily believe yourself, tell yourself you’re going to make it in the world, eventually you might just start to believe it.
I came to this realization through my own personal struggles, I was stuck in a deadly loop. My thought patterns were so negative that I was sending myself spiraling into dramatic depressive episodes for no reason, and I was stuck in this loop for way too long.
It wasn’t until I made the decision to start looking in the mirror every morning before school and saying something positive about myself, or my situation/goals that I started to see a difference in the way I was thinking about things. All of a sudden it was a lot easier to replace “what if fail?” With “but what if I succeed?”
Positivity still isn’t always my first thought, but the first thought isn’t always what’s important, it’s whether or not you decide to replace that negative thought that determines if your thought process will change.
If you have a specific reason that’s making you feel like you’ll never make it, or like you don’t deserve to, think about how you can prove them wrong. (And if you don’t have a reason, prove yourself wrong!)
It’s like Proverbs says; Death and life are in the power of the tongue.
Don’t let feelings of inadequacy hold you back, we still have miles to go!