Stop Labeling Yourself an Imposter

Ever since the 1978 study by Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, creatives (and many others) have been labeling themselves as having “imposter phenomenon” or “imposter syndrome.” I even blogged about it. Caught up in the relief of “someone understands,” I embraced the label. But I now understand how damaging the label is and I urge you to stop labeling yourself an imposter. 

cartoon-style image of a wolf in sheep's clothing approaching a sheep symbolic of why you should stop labeling yourself an imposter

What is Imposter Syndrome?

According to Merriam-Webster, imposter syndrome is “a psychological condition that is characterized by persistent doubt concerning one’s abilities or accomplishments accompanied by the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of one’s ongoing success.”

Many, many celebrities have confessed to having imposter syndrome.

What is Wrong with the Label?

What image or thought comes to mind when you think about the word imposter? A wolf in sheep’s clothing? Cases where fraudulent identities were used to swindle someone?

The word imposter puts the blame on you. It says you are not genuine. You are defective, an imposter, a fraud. Even the “confession” of having imposter syndrome implies it’s something wrong, even criminal.

There is no room in that label for normal doubt or for historical, cultural, familial, or systemic context. 

At worst, the label implies you are pathological, a criminal. It says you are flawed and need to be fixed. The label says it’s wrong to be unsure, to doubt your abilities, to feel uncomfortable.

It doesn’t acknowledge that microaggressions and discrimination against gender and race, the lack of role models, and the lack of validation play a huge role in destroying your self-confidence.

What is Self-Doubt?

Photo of a woman in black sitting crosslegged on a red sofa against a red background with a neon sign above her head that reads "feelings." Self-doubt is a normal feeling so stop labeling yourself an imposter

Self-doubt is

a lack of faith in oneself a feeling of doubt or uncertainty about one’s abilities, actions, etc.


How does the phrase, “lack of faith in oneself” make you feel? I’ll bet it doesn’t make you feel like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Doubt or uncertainty about one’s abilities, actions, etc. is an uncomfortable feeling. It can be extremely uncomfortable. No wonder we want to label it somehow.

Self-Doubt is Normal

Being anxious about a new skill or new situation is normal. Second guessing and mild discomfort are normal. Being the “new kid on the block” is stressful. And it’s okay to feel that stress.

Confidence doesn’t equal competence.

Think about it. You tell yourself you are not competent because you have little or no confidence. Let me say it again: confidence doesn’t equal competence. 

Traditionally in the business world, a novice gets a job and a mentor, a professional who is competent and confident. The novice is anxious and doubts his abilities, but he gets guidance and education from the mentor. The mentor models that anxiety is normal and is competent despite that discomfort. As the novice’s skills build, the mentor validates his abilities. Over time, the novice grows more and more competent and is further validated by the mentor and peers. The novice’s anxiety and doubts recede. They don’t disappear, but he has accepted that he is now competent has confidence in his learned skills.

 As a creative, you probably did not get that. If you are self-taught, you definitely did not get that mentoring and modeling. 

If you don’t have a mentor, be your own mentor. You’ve taught yourself a skill. Give yourself credit!! Not everyone can be self-taught. You have done it your own way. No one else can do what you can. Good job!

Why Self-Doubt is a Good Sign

If self-doubt plagues you, it could mean you’re taking risks. You’ve stepped out of your comfort zone. And that is a good thing. Congratulations. You are growing and trying something new. 

You failed once (or more than once), so you are doubting yourself and your ability to do this thing you’re attempting. Congratulate yourself. We humans learn by trying and failing. Remember Edison and keep going. Self-doubt is just one step along the way to success.

It keeps you humble. Without self-doubt, you would become arrogant, overconfident, and reckless. Those feelings would lead to failure. And a pretty unlikeable personality. Embrace your self-doubt. It helps you keep things in perspective. Acknowledge your competence, even your excellence, but stay humble. Know that excellence is fleeting. Keep striving to learn more, to step outside your comfort zone.

Stop Labeling Yourself an Imposter

Image of the saying "you can do it" on white paper, with a white framed on a white background with white flowers in a silver pot beside it. Stop labeling yourself an imposter, you can do it.

Take the word imposter out of your vocabulary. Learn to recognize self-doubt and call it what it is. Normal.

Change your self-talk. Don’t accept other people’s labels. Make a realistic assessment of yourself and your abilities. Be your own best mentor. 

Having difficulty getting past the self-doubt? There are suggestions on how to do that all over the internet, including in my post, “Are You Saying No to Success?”

More On This Topic

The Harvard Business Review article, “Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome”, focuses on women in business jobs but is a thorough and important discussion.

Rich Karlgaard has written a helpful article called “Self-Doubt can Help You Bloom…

Still concerned that your anxiety is bad or out-of-control? Learn about the difference between normal anxiety and an anxiety disorder. If you feel anxious in every situation and overwhelmed all the time, please seek professional help. 

Stop labeling yourself an imposter today. Tell us why you are not an imposter below.

Image Credits

First Image by pangloy from Pixabay

Second Photo by Brock Wegner on Unsplash

Final Image by Tumisu from Pixabay 

Taking A Risk

A nib of a Parker-Duofold-Pinstripe International fountain pen, © Parker Pens, CC
A nib of a Parker-Duofold-Pinstripe International fountain pen, © Parker Pens, CC

My online friend, Asrai Devin, wrote a post last week about a contestrunning on Men with Pens: The Best Online Writing Contest. Two people will win a place as a student in the May edition of the Damn Fine Words writing course. (Retail value $1,599.) We’re taking a risk. How about you?

All you have to do to win is to write a blog post about why writing is important to you and your business. Why becoming a better writer could literally change your life. How not feeling confident in your writing has affected you, and what it would mean to you to have that obstacle swept away. And of course, link to Damn Fine Words, and post a comment on Men with Pens.

If you aren’t familiar with the Men with Pens website and blog, it offers web design and copywriting for businesses. James Chartrand is the pen name of the owner of the Men with Pens and the Damn Fine Words websites. Damn Fine Words is a 10-week training course for business owners. According to the website, it’s a combination business and writing course. Could I use that? Oh, my, yes. My husband and I own several small online businesses and neither of us has a lick of business training.

But, oh my gosh, what a conundrum! Asrai wants to win that contest so badly. She’s a friend, so I want her to win. But, I hope she’ll understand, we’re both writers. I want to win it, too. So, I’m going to risk it and enter the contest hoping that both of us win.

Drum roll, please. Here is my entry —

Why is writing important to me?
Writing helped me find myself. I was lost in the wrong marriage, the wrong career, the wrong life. Ironically, my first husband (now ex-) took me to my first science fiction convention where I heard writers talk about writing. It stirred something in me. I took a chance and enrolled in a correspondence writing class. That began a quest for the words to express myself. I read every how-to-write book I could get my hands on. They recommended writing exercises: Express how you feel when you are angry, or frightened, or happy. So I wrote.

It was through recording my feelings in my journals that I began to understand that I had a dissociative memory disorder. If things got unpleasant, I buried the memory. Writing became a safe way to explore the memories I’d locked away. Exploring my memories I found my true self and was able to say no, to move on, to find a way to live better. And who was this new person I found? A writer. 🙂

I discovered a desire, a compulsion, to write fiction. Books had been my safe places. Through books , I had learned about different types of people and how right choices affected one verses wrong choices and the effects they had. These things helped me make choices. I wanted, no, I want my writing to touch people the way that the books I read touched me.

At the first writers conference, I ever attended we were given an assignment to describe life without writing. I wrote: “I suppose I could survive without ever writing again, but I’d rather live than survive.” Now, many years later, that is still how I feel. If I’m not involved in a writing project, I’m just surviving.

How has not being confident in my writing affected me and what would it mean to have that obstacle swept away?
Confidence in my writing ebbs and flows. When I am not confident in my writing, I fight for every word written. I become a master at one-more-thing-to-do in order to avoid writing. That starts a downward spiral. Less confidence translates into wishy-washy words that don’t sell fiction or products. Words I’m embarrassed to show anyone. My production goes down even further. When I’m not writing, I get less confident in every other aspect of my life. A less confident me is less pleasant to be around, just ask my DH if you don’t believe me!

To feel more confident in my writing would help me put wings on my words. I’d be more productive. And my words would work for us by selling more products. More sales equals more income. I’d be able to quit the day job and be an active, productive, full-time writer.

Why is writing important to my business?
I want my fiction to be read, to be enjoyed. My business, though it’s part-time now, is to write fiction, to write copy that sells my fiction, and to help my husband write copy that sells his products for his online businesses. I’ve got to succeed at these businesses. They are our retirement plan. Our only retirement plan. And retirement age is knocking on my door.

Would winning this contest change my life?
You betcha! Learning more about business, copywriting, and blogging can only help. You see, I don’t want to retire from anything but the day job because I can’t stop writing. I want to LIVE.

And now, you know of some of my flaws and my dreams.

Are you taking a risk to live your dream?