Impostor Syndrome

Someday, if you achieve great things, a man will show up at the door with a clipboard, ask you some questions and take away the life you’ve built and love, to replace it with the one you dreaded. If you’ve achieved any modicum of success or happiness in your professional life, you almost certainly fear this already.

Here’s Neil Gaiman (one of the world’s great fiction writers) explaining the terror of being “an impostor”:

The whole video’s worth watching, but it’s at 7:00, when Neil starts talking about the “problems of success” that he explores this fear so eloquently.

Incidentally, impostor syndrome is why the attacks of detractors can be so effective. Outsiders might scoff at critics of a Bill Gates, a Pablo Picasso or an Oprah Winfrey, but if they’re anything like Neil, they likely experienced this same fear (and maybe still do), and it’s when their critics gave voice to these fears that they were at their most effective. As every psychologist knows, it’s those attacks that we suspect to be true that cut the deepest.

I’m nowhere near over my own impostor syndrome (if it really is a syndrome and not the real thing – a truly false and undeserved set of accomplishments), but I have found that it’s A) a great motivator and B) that  knowing, not just fearing, but really understanding and embracing my weaknesses and my strengths have made me a little less vulnerable.

p.s. Read Neil’s The Graveyard Book immediately. It’s one of those rare page-turners that manages to be more than it seems.