Am I a Writer or Impostor?
March 29, 2016 § 41 Comments
By Diane Lowman,
Can I call myself a writer? I have a dozen published pieces. I am constipated with essays that back up in my head and want to come out onto the page. My stream of consciousness – when it takes a break from thinking about my kids, or what to eat, or how I really want to lose five pounds – churns narrative constantly. In my head I’m a writer; I’m just reluctant to say it out loud. Perhaps it’s the distinction between the verb and the noun. I write. I am a writer. The former is unequivocally true. The latter conjures Hemingway or Shakespeare, and I lack the arrogance to put myself in that stratosphere.
I recall that when I was just a homemaker and mother – by which I mean CEO, COO, and CFO of an empire and its inhabitants – people would glaze over or arch a sympathetic eyebrow when I told them what I did. Or, in their minds, what I didn’t do. My BA in Economics, MBA, and PhD in Holistic Nutrition (oh, and black belt in Tae Kwon Do, Reiki Mastership, and Yoga Teacher Certification) afforded me no street cred. I had no title.
Now that my boys are young men, I am no longer primarily a caregiver, although I will give them care eternally. When people ask what I do, and I answer, “I teach yoga,” or “I tutor Spanish,” they seem relieved and pleased to have something more concrete and tangible to hang their approval on. “Oh! That’s great!”
I feel justified in verbalizing those vocations, perhaps because I go somewhere and get paid to do them. And although I’m always flattered and genuinely surprised when an editor chooses to publish my work, and even more amazed when people actually read it, I still feel fraudulent saying: “I’m a writer.” Everyone who takes pen, crayon, or lipstick to paper is a writer. What form of validation would grant me permission to own the moniker without feeling like a faker? A handsome paycheck? A piece in the New Yorker?
According to the American Psychological Association, in the 1970’s, Imes and Clance described those suffering from “impostor phenomenon” as “high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success.” I won’t go down the rabbit hole of denial about whether or not I’m a “high achiever,” but I unequivocally identify with the “unable” part of the phrase.
I will practice saying, “I am a writer” out loud. Maybe in front of a mirror, like Al Franken’s SNL character Stewart Smalley: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”
Maybe the next time we meet, I will shake your hand, and say, “Hi. My name is Diane, and I am a writer.”