I have a confession to make: I suffer from impostor syndrome.
I have been in the field of travel writing for around a decade. I’m the author of multiple books and have contributed to even more.
I’ve written hundreds and hundreds—maybe even thousands—of travel articles for some of the most celebrated magazines out there. I support myself from freelance travel writing alone and get flown around the planet on a regular basis. For all intents and purposes, I have reached a reasonable level of “success” in my field.
But impostor syndrome means that I occasionally fall victim to self-doubt. I feel like a phony, like this great travel writer’s life was all an accident. I question my writing abilities and wonder how I ended up in this dream career.
I begin to fear that it will all come crumbling down.
The first mentions of the term “impostor syndrome” can be traced back to the late 1970s when a pair of clinical psychologists remarked a tendency for highly successful people to feel underserving of their achievements—as if their success came through pure luck rather than talent and dedication.
And from my purely empirical observations, I’ve noticed that a lot of writers—travel writers and otherwise—have this affliction.
I’ve also seen plenty of AMAZING new writers cut themselves short because of lack of confidence—whether that manifests itself in uncertainty or straight-up self-deprecation. On the flipside, I’ve also seen people whose writing still needs improvement achieving all sorts of successes based on confidence alone.
I’m telling you this and sharing my own experiences with shaky confidence levels, because I want you to know that it’s both normal to have doubts and that there are ways to combat it.
To help you reach your writing potential, here are a few questions I ask myself when self-doubt creeps in:
Am I making decisions to pitch, submit, or even write from a place of fear?
A big theme for me personally in 2017 has been to strive to make decisions from a place of love and hope, rather than a place of fear, and I implore you to do the same. If you feel nervous about approaching a new editor with a pitch or submission, just ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen. I mean, really, the very worst thing that could possibly happen is that an editor could refuse your story (here are some tips on how to deal with that situation) and say something nasty about it. But to be perfectly reasonable, no editor worth his or her salt would actually write a nasty reply to a story idea or submission. The most realistic worst-case scenario is that the editor won’t reply at all.
Am I doing my best?
Self-help gurus are always reminding people to try to be the best version of themselves, and I couldn’t agree more. It’s unrealistic to try to measure your successes based on the successes of others, because as corny as it may sound, we all have our own set of gifts and circumstances that make us unique. If you’re doing your best and putting all that you can into your writing, you’re already doing better than most.
Am I recognizing learning opportunities?
And I don’t mean signing up for every class and reading every book (though education is certainly invaluable). Rather, I’m referring to approaching situations as opportunities for personal growth. If all your pitches go unanswered, at least you’ve got some practice pitching. If you write a story that’s never published (I’ve got plenty), at least you’ve spent time honing your craft. If you’ve received repeated rejections or negative comments from readers, you’ve been given the chance to thicken your skin (a necessity in this field). Be thankful for the opportunities to grow.