FOR THE HELL OF IT – ON IMPOSTER SYNDROME
BY JOHNNY HELLER
A friend told me, not long ago, that she was suffering from imposter syndrome. I, being naturally obtuse and ill-informed, asked her what she was talking about.
She said that she got some very good reviews for her latest audiobook and many Huzzahs on social media. And that, while she was very happy, she felt, inside, that she didn’t deserve the praise and that all that praise made her think she would never do as well on any other project.
This is one example of the oft-mentioned frequently felt Imposter Syndrome.
Before the name “imposter syndrome,” we just called it the blues. Or maybe we named it insecurity, shyness, a feeling of being Ill at ease.
I had never heard of it until friends and FaceBook friends (who are like real friends but you have absolutely no clue about them at all and only know that their opinion of you and your posts are really really important – like, probably, the most important thing in your life) mentioned being in the midst of it.
At first I thought – “You’re an imposter? But you look exactly like you. Are you impersonating someone?” But, as in most things, I was wrong. It’s not impersonating anyone. It’s feeling that even though you have success, you really don’t belong and one day, very likely today, someone is going to call you out for the failure that you truly are.
That’s just awful. What a horrible way to feel. I have to admit, that I have never felt this. I have worked my butt off – you can look, I have no butt – to be whatever it is that I am now. I have worked hard to be a fine actor and a creative force and a good coach and a relatively decent person. (I say “relatively” because in comparison to the Jivaro Indians of the Amazon rain forest, who are cannibals and head shrinkers, I am pretty damn nice.)
When I get accolades for a fine performance, I have never thought that I didn’t deserve the praise. I didn’t set out looking for praise but if I did a good job, it’s not in me to pretend I didn’t. I hope and try to do a good job on every job I do. Sometimes, people notice. Sometimes, they don’t. It doesn’t matter to me as long as my client – the author and the publisher- know that I did a good job. And I know they think that because they hire me again.
I think a lot of our imposter syndrome stuff comes because we live in a world where everything we do gets praised – even if it’s mundane. “Did you go to school today? Good job!” “You showed up for work today! Wonderful! It’s good that you are doing the thing I am paying you to do! Good job!” “You paid your rent! Good! You know what? You can stay as long as you keep paying the rate we agreed on! Good job!”
Many of us got awards for attending school when we were kids. Why? That was our job. Where else were we going to learn fictitious American history?
I think, and I admit to not being a licensed therapist, although I am a licensed driver and I did go to therapy, that we have grown up with so much praise and acceptance for mundane stupid quotidian things (go look up quotidian -it’s a fantastic word and I am afraid that if we don’t use it more, it will be removed from the dictionary), that we don’t understand how to handle or accept praise for things we do that are actually praiseworthy. If we get a party for just showing up, how do we manage it when we not only show up but truly excel at something?
In the audiobook world, we sometimes get praised for our performances. We might get an Earphone or a SOVAS or an AUDIE or an Independent Audiobook Award or a Joey (I am really pushing Jo Anna to start handing out awards!). Soon we might have a PANA Award. And you might win one of these. And you might smile, and you will post it and you will be gushed over, and people will buy you drinks – not Paul Ruben or even Paul Woodson probably, but other people will. And a little voice in your head will be telling you that you don’t deserve any of this. The voice, who we will call for the purposes of this article, Sean Pratt, will say: “Hi! I’m Sean Pratt. This award is a sham. This praise is a joke. You aren’t really any good. You are, at best, lucky…lucky for now anyway…”
When this happens, you have to stop whatever you are doing and say: “Shut up Sean Pratt! You just shut up, you Ginger bastid!” In fact, let’s say it together. Just take a moment and say it with me: “Shut up Sean Pratt! You just shut up, you Ginger bastid!”
Doesn’t that feel better?
You don’t even have to name your voice Sean Pratt. There may be other names that work better for you – Joe Hempel, Sarah Puckett, Jenn Lee or Bill Lord are all fine names that could work just as well as Sean Pratt. Sean Pratt works for me because Sean actually frequently calls me late at night just to tell me that I am not really very good. He texts me stuff like: “You’re not all that. You’re not even half of that. You’re a talentless little hobbit.” And I just let it roll off my back because I know it’s just jealousy. He’s clearly envious of my ability not to spend too much money at Adventure Parks because I am not tall enough for most of the rides, while he, on the other hand, is often mistaken for an actual ride.
But I digress.
Here’s the main thing. When you put in the work, when you get the training and put that training to work and have success – that is all you! You do not hand out awards to yourself. You do not heap praise on yourself. You do not control the reviews of your work. What you do is continually set your performance bar higher and higher. It brings you more work and more clients willing to trust you to tell their stories. If you get praised, wonderful. You do not control that! You only control your work, your performance, your craft.
We are confusing recognition with results. They are not the same. If someone posts that they are booked until 2033, great! Let them say that. You take all the work they just told everyone they don’t have time to do.
I cannot cure Imposter Syndrome. I can only tell you that if you are doing your job correctly, there is no imposter. There is only you. And that the only person who counts is you. When the publisher hires you, it’s because you are, to them, the very best choice to tell the story. Isn’t that what you set out to do?
Then where is the imposter?
I grant you that this is a serious issue and if you feel depressed, sad, unable to cope – I am not the answer for that. PLEASE – seek help from a qualified therapist -NOT a social media know-it-all who tells you what to be concerned about and how to show that concern in a way palatable to them. Screw that. Get some help. Get out of your head and out of your way and own your wonderfulness. This is a hard job. Take the time to stop, look at how far you’ve come and give yourself an “attaboy!” Own it. It’s yours.