Impostor syndrome

November 13, 2014

Some creatives suffer from Impostor Syndrome. It’s a very real problem, and it’s always fascinated me, because I have no trouble with it at all.

Neil Gaiman, in the commencement speech which I reference frequently, said:

The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something, and that any moment now they will discover you. It’s Imposter Syndrome, something my wife Amanda christened the Fraud Police.

In my case, I was convinced that there would be a knock on the door, and a man with a clipboard (I don’t know why he carried a clipboard, in my head, but he did) would be there, to tell me it was all over, and they had caught up with me, and now I would have to go and get a real job, one that didn’t consist of making things up and writing them down, and reading books I wanted to read. And then I would go away quietly and get the kind of job where you don’t have to make things up any more.

It’s different for me. I prefer to act the impostor. If I had taken the “proper” route to becoming an author, I probably wouldn’t be set to publish a book right now, because there are a thousand hoops I would have had to jump through. Instead, I ignored them all.

Act as if is something I learned from my older brother, and there’s comfort in it. When you act the impostor, it doesn’t matter who you are—all that matters is what you do. It’s all an act, it’s all a scam, and the trick is not in deserving it, but in keeping it going for as long as possible. You don’t need to get the credentials to do what you want to love. You just do it.

A world of black and white is scary to me. I’d rather dance in the grays. I’d rather have the flexibility to do what I want to do, rather than jump through hoops to “deserve it”. We’re all getting away with something, no matter what kind of success we have. Shaming ourselves for not deserving it is madness.

If the man with the clipboard ever comes to my door, I’ll flip him the bird, run away, and try again. Because the impostor is never totally beat—there’s only the next game.

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By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.


  1. Reply


    Aha, you’re the Trinity Seven Arata of the writing world… skipping the unnecessary steps. If only the Harem came along with it…

    1. Reply


      Ahaha, to a degree, to a degree, though that’s only part of what I’m talking about here. As I said on my latest Trinity Seven post:

      Liese prefers to skip the process and get straight to the results … part of me likes that kind of thinking, and part doesn’t. You don’t have to take the journey everyone else says you do, but you do miss out on somethings when you try to skip the journey altogether.

      I still believe in taking the journey. The journey is valuable—I’ve enjoyed the one I’ve taken so far, and I intend to continue enjoying it going forward.

      I don’t believe I have to take the same journey as others, though. I don’t subscribe to the idea that there’s a “proper” way. I will laugh in their faces, take shortcuts, lie (tell stories), steal (ideas), and I will make my way to the finish line in my own way.

      Here though, think of me more like Michiru from Grisaia, except without the trauma. She consciously decided to become someone she was not, and in time that became who she was. Act as if. The only difference is that I’m at home with being an impostor. That means I can be whoever I want to be, if I bend myself toward that purpose, and that’s a wonderful thing.

  2. Reply


    Liese is not Arata, and their difference is clear (other than the whole killer rack evil girl mage thing). He willingly chose the (traditional?) school system, where Liese rebelled completely.

    I think the idea of taking/not taking journey when trying to achieve a similar goal is a bit abstract, as your statement assumes a lot of perceptions. Transactional analysis helps points out a lot of these different perceptive states.

    You don’t have to take the journey everyone else says you do,

    A) Your own perception of what you must do
    B) Your perception of what others think
    C) What others actually think you must do (not even getting into the different groups)
    D) What others believe you think is true

    All of these assumptions and perceptions can be different. The journey you think others want you to take is quite possibly not what they believe.

    More importantly is also a changing world…

    The correct path taken in the path is valid only for the past. Trying to mimic it exactly is a fool’s journey. So effectively,

    “I don’t believe I have to take the same journey as others”

    No one takes the same journey, ever. Just as no one steps in the same river twice.

    Once the element of time is recognized, another idea that applies: Adapt and correctly respond to ever changing conditions– because nothing will be the same.

    “I don’t subscribe to the idea that there’s a “proper” way.”
    Neither did the all the classic greek heros. Trickster gods and Trickster heroes. They didn’t brute force everything– no they were cunning and clever, convincing others to shoulder the burden, or steal for them.

    Embrace the Imposter? It is fun to wear the mask, isn’t it? I believe Joeseph Campbell used Carl Jung’s idea of a mana personality. Something that becomes a seperate from yourself, but now others are addressing that mana figure ‘the priest, ‘the imposter’, the perceived you, rather than you.

    At some point there is no acting, no trying, “Do or do not, there is no try”. You’re just doing it, and the mask is a crutch and a tool.

    1. Reply


      You misunderstand. Someone who “acts as if” isn’t using a crutch (necessarily), though it is a tool. They are merely choosing a different way to act. They are choosing who they want to be, rather than sticking with the default person they stumbled into by nature and providence. Then they’re acting as that person until they become that person. Nothing more.

      1. Reply


        “They are choosing who they want to be, rather than sticking with the default person they stumbled into by nature and providence.”

        I’m probably totally incorrect here but thought that statement was amusing. Isn’t someone who would want to “choose” who they want to be still a product of nature and providence as you put it. So in turn did they not just stumble into being the person that wanted to choose who they are, based on nature and providence lol.

        I’m probably taking this out of context but it was still interesting to me! 🙂

        1. Stilts

          Ahaha, you’re not wrong. Our choices of who we would become are as much based on who we are as anything else. The important thing is the choice though, at least in this case. Still funny though, you’re right : )

  3. Reply


    It’s not just a problem for creative people. I was watching this and thought of this post.

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