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Feb 03 2011

Impostor Syndrome

So, there’s this thing I’ve been struggling with for a while, now.  Stephanie Zvan left me this comment:

Please do me a favor. Take your Sunset Crater post and another one that you love, and go promote yourself at Ed’s. His pool needs widening, and it’ll be good practice for you. :) 

At Ed’s?  This Ed’s?  Holy impossible missions, Batwoman!

I went there.  I looked at some posts and some comments, and then I fled like a right bloody coward.  I mean, you are talking to the woman who freaked out when the geobloggers claimed me for their own.  I spent days going to ScienceSeeker.org when they called for blog submissions, reading down the list of member blogs every night, trying to picture myself there and failing miserably.  You know why ETEV’s up there now?  It’s because Chris Rowan submitted the All-geo feed, which for some inexplicable reason I am on.  It sure as shit wasn’t because I took my courage in my hand.  Couldn’t find it.  Maybe never would have.

You see, I’m a layperson.   I troubleshoot phones for a living, people.  I’m not in college, and when I was, I was a bloody history major.  I don’t have undergrad or grad student creds, I’m not a scientist, not a professional science writer, and I got my start on the intertoobz as a potty-mouthed political blogger.  So when people consider me part of the science blogging universe, I get this feeling like I’m a miniature pony trying to run in the Kentucky Derby.

Tiny Horse is Tiny

Yes, my darlings, I am suffering from Impostor Syndrome.  Big time.

Couple that with a native dislike of promoting myself to anyone at all for any reason, and you can see why it’s a bit difficult for me to do anything so bold as to saunter over to Ed’s and say, “Oy, I’m leaving links to two of my totally awesome posts.”

What it comes right down to, I think, is that I’ve got this feeling that it’s not for me to judge.  I could strut about believing myself to be the greatest writer evah, I could shout from the rooftops how incredibly awesome I am, but that wouldn’t make it so.  It’s not for me to judge.  It’s up to my readers.  They’re the only ones qualified to judge the worthiness of my words.  And when they deem something of mine worthy of their time and attention, I’m so shocked by it that I just sit paralyzed, wondering “How the fuck did that happen?”  It doesn’t occur to me to then go forth and shout from the rooftops, “Oy – my readers have deemed me a decent read!  Y’all are missing out!”

Then again, if I fall to the ground wailing, “I’m not worthy!” when the geoblogging superstars decide that, despite short legs and a silly-looking forelock, I’m welcome to run with them, that’s rather an insult to them, innit?  When incredible bloggers like Stephanie Zvan tell me I should go strut some stuff, isn’t it a little rude to say, “Um, no”?  What a dilemma!

(Makes me worry about what shall happen should I achieve fame and fortune as an SF writer.  I’m afraid I’ll be hunched down behind the table at book signings suffering from terminal embarrassment.)

And I put this out there not because I’m looking for sympathy and assurance – I’m not that neurotic, and you don’t owe me a damned thing.  I’m spilling my guts because I know I’m not the only one.  I’ve run into plenty of people suffering Impostor Syndrome, and I know it’s desperately difficult to overcome.  I haven’t done it yet.  But the road to recovery begins with listening to your readers.  When I, as a reader, leave a comment telling a blogger that something they’ve written has moved me, I’m not doing it because I’m trying to bolster their self-esteem.  I’m saying it because I mean it.  When I link to something, it’s because I felt it worth linking.  And I have to face facts: you guys are probably saying nice things about my writing for the same reason.

So when Stephanie Zvan tells me to go out and do the impossible, when she says “please do me a favor,” despite the fact I’m a bloody coward when it comes to self-promotion, there’s nothing for it but to sneak over to Ed’s and quietly drop in a line saying, “Stephanie Zvan made me do it.”  Then flee for my life.

And that, for any of you, my darlings, who are suffering the same uncertainty, is what you must do as well.  Trust your readers.  Trust their judgment, even when you can’t bring yourself to believe you are what they say you are.  The readers are the final judge of the writer. 

7 comments

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  1. 1
    Suzanne

    oh can i relate to this dana — i can't believe i'm lucky enough to get to play backstage at firedoglake *and* get to host the late late night music threads. i keep getting told that i'm doing something special over there but i'm just being me and don't see what the fuss is all about.i find it very hard to toot my own horn — maybe it is because i am a girl child and was brought up in that 50's mentality of ladies don't brag or something. of course you are good enough for discover magazine dana — i learn from each and every one of your posts. you have a gift for making the difficult to understand understandable.

  2. 2
    Silver Fox

    For a second one, I'd vote for the ice cave world post.

  3. 3
    Ed Yong

    The most interesting thing about impostor syndrome is that once you start owning up to it, you rapidly find that *everyone* suffers from impostor syndrome. It doesn't get better. You just have to plough through it.

  4. 4
    Sarah

    I agree with Ed, and remembering it does help me cope with it. Most people are too concerned with their own insecurities to form critical opinions of others. Just do it!

  5. 5
    george.w

    By all means, go ahead! An amateur is someone who does something because they love it. That's really the threshold of intense study and insight, isn't it? And who wouldn't rather read the words of a lover than a caseworker?

  6. 6
    Brian Romans

    It all comes down to your writing — it speaks to me, and apparently to many other geoscience blogger types. Which is what makes a community like this so fun, the diversity of people sharing their interest of science and talking about science. Booyah!

  7. 7
    Katharine North

    I agree with Ed; no amount of experience or number of degrees will ever make that feeling go away. You are a good writer and your readers like to let you know that! Trust them, but also, trust yourself.

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