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Posts Tagged ‘impostor syndrome’

This weekend at ConFusion I found myself crying in a public bathroom.

Now, if you have never cried in a public bathroom before, there’s some stuff you should know. You’d think from the way characters cry in bathrooms in novels and on TV that this is a decent option. But it is actually fraught with difficulty!

First of all, is the bathroom empty? Because if it’s not, you have to cry very, very quietly. Or you might be interrupted mid-cry. Luckily I didn’t have this problem. It was late enough that no one else was there, and I made my way to the big handicapped stall at the back and locked the door. But then came another issue. Where was I supposed to sit? I didn’t want to sit on the floor (ick) or on the toilet seat that had no lid (ick), so I ended up leaning against the wall. And then all that’s available for tear-catching is low-grade toilet paper, and there’s glasses to keep track of, and I kept thinking about the fact I was wearing mascara, and was it running down my face in long black streaks, and if so, would I be able to remove all evidence of it with rough paper towels before going back out into public?

Also, everything just seems worse when you’re crying about it in a public bathroom. Because in the back of your head is the awareness that you’re so upset you couldn’t keep your shit together long enough to decamp to a more private location. And that just sucks.

Photo Credit: madamepsychosis via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: madamepsychosis via Compfight cc

So, why was I in that bathroom in the first place?

Well. Someone said some not-very-nice things to me. Some personally judgmental things. And I let it get to me. I tried to recover, but these not-very-nice things hit me on a tender spot, and I was exhausted from traveling all day, and I hadn’t seen it coming, and and and…. I let it get to me. I cared when there was absolutely no reason to do so.

This also sucks.

Then my brain saw an opportunity to take my emotionally vulnerable state as an excuse to stage a fun little field trip into the Land of Impostor Syndrome. “Why are you even here?” I asked myself. “You’ve been working so hard at being a writer, and all people know you as is the person who knows everyone. You don’t belong here.”

Other people who have gone on this mind trip will not be surprised to learn that shortly thereafter I was on the phone with a friend back home (yay time zones!) insisting that I was failing at everything that was important to me in my life. EVERYTHING. FAILURE. DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL. YES I CAN BE DRAMATIC, I’M A WRITER, WHAT DID YOU EXPECT?

I hate telling you about this. I want you to think that I’m always together, that even when life is hard, I always bounce back instantly with my silver lining generator and my recap of lessons I have learned. That as I write a novel, and then revise it, and then write another novel, and meanwhile collect a lot of rejections, I am always just fine.

But this simply isn’t true. No one is together one hundred percent of the time. No one. If they say they are, they are lying. If they look like they are, you don’t know them well enough yet.

And reaching for things that are difficult to achieve–going full-out–is really fucking difficult, emotionally speaking. Not settling for what you know you could have, and instead pushing for what you want to have? Can be completely brutal because success is not a guarantee. It’s not even always particularly likely. Trying to make art out of absolutely nothing, and knowing you’ll be heaped with criticism for even trying? Artists are insane. People with ambitions are insane. We are all freaking insane.

And into this turmoil creeps impostor syndrome. It slips into our behavior in both subtle and embarrassingly apparent ways. It makes it harder to put our full effort behind something. It blinds us to opportunities. We worry that if we talk about it, it could damage our careers. It could make people think they shouldn’t bet on us. It makes us afraid.

Well, forget that. I’m supposed to be working on caring less about what people think? Fine. I had rampant impostor syndrome this weekend. I had to take more alone time than I usually do, and I needed to talk about it with friends, and I needed a few pep talks, and I still feel a little shaky, and my brain is being less kind than usual. I also participated on all my panels as planned, and visited with my friends, and talked business.

I am speaking about my experience with impostor syndrome because it is something that is true, and those are the things most worth talking about. I know that like me, many of my readers are reaching for the stars instead of settling for a sure thing. As a result, many of us face impostor syndrome repeatedly. And having this experience does not mean we are any less capable or reliable or skilled. It’s just part of the territory of having vision and doing big and splendid things.

This weekend I ended up crying in a bathroom. Today I sat down and wrote. Tomorrow I will sit down and write some more. This is what matters: to stare our doubts in the face and acknowledge them and then, in spite of them, choose to go for it with everything we have.

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This weekend I’ll be attending Legendary ConFusion in Detroit. I am so excited! This is my third year at this convention, and I always have a lovely time.

I’m also going to be a panelist this year, for a few reasons:

1. I remembered to sign up. And I knew I was going far enough ahead that I could sign up.

2. This is a great time for me to get panelist experience because the stakes for me right now are fairly low. I’ve been a panelist (actually, a moderator) at FogCon a few times, but I figured it would be good to give it a try somewhere besides my home con. Plus, the idea makes me a little nervous. I don’t feel very qualified, which means I’m probably experiencing impostor syndrome.  So I absolutely have to challenge myself and do it.

3. I really care about gender parity on panels, so I felt I should volunteer to increase the pool of female panelists. And if my schedule is any indication, ConFusion is doing a great job including female panelists this year, which is super awesome.

If you are going to be at ConFusion this year, or if you’re just curious, here is my schedule: (FIVE panels.  I’m going to talking a lot this weekend!)

 

What you might want to be reading RIGHT NOW

Saladin Ahmed (M), Amy Sundberg, Merrie Haskell, Patrick Tomlinson, Gretchen Ash

11am Saturday – Erie

Writers are almost always avid readers, and being in the business sometimes allows more insight into new and exciting authors, series, or just ideas that different people are playing with. If you’ve looked around and wondered what’s good that’s out now and in the near future, this panel may give you a new slew of books to track down.

Who Would Win: YA

Sarah Zettel, Aimee Carter, Amy Sundberg, Courtney Moulton

12pm Saturday – Southfield

Beyond Katniss versus Katsa and Alanna versus Tris–let’s also talk Elisa’s council versus Bitterblue’s council, Tris’s Factions versus Cassia’s Society, Moulton’s Fallen versus Taylor’s chimaera, and whatever else our panelists and the audience can devise.

What does rejection Mean?

Elizabeth Shack, Mike Carey, Amy Sundberg, Nancy Fulda, C. C. Finlay

5pm Saturday – Rotunda

Rejections are a part of the business when writing, but few of us understand what a rejection is – beyond the soul crushing part. We discuss what a professional rejection is and isn’t, and try to help shed light on both the why? and the what now?

How do I find the right fit when looking for an Agent?

Amy Sundberg, Lucy A. Snyder, Aimee Carter, Christian Klaver

7pm Saturday – Ontario

What do you look for? Should you ever consider changing agents or is there a situation where one should find more than one? What are some warning signs or things to avoid?

I, Symbiote

Amy Sundberg, Wesley Chu, Sarah Gibbons, Doselle Young

10am Sunday – Erie

AI, alien entities, ghosts, and hallucination can all result in  narratives with two minds in one body. What about this appeals to us, and what might that say in an era when we are approaching this level of technology?

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On Tuesday I read a blog post in which a female blogger made a list of people in her acquaintance she’d put in charge of governing society if she was a monarch. All the people on her list were male. When called on this fact in the comments, she mentioned one woman she knew who she felt was “awesome,” but then proceeded to say she’d listed people she knew who were “wicked smart” and that offhand, she couldn’t think of any other women she’d put in that category.

Typing that just now makes me want to yell and scream and possibly hurt my foot by kicking something unexpectedly hard.

As a woman who is “wicked smart,” let me explain something to those of you who haven’t thought about such things. High-IQ women often do not present in the same way as high-IQ men. That doesn’t mean they’re not just as smart; they just behave differently, in ways that are not typically identified with high intelligence.

For starters, smart women often work very hard to fit in. We blend. We spend a lot of time listening to other people talk. We don’t always put ourselves forward, even when we have expertise or insight about a certain topic. We are not as likely to offer or even form opinions, since we are supposed to be nice and agreeable. We are not as likely to argue. We deliberately choose topics of conversation that don’t show off our intelligence, partly because being an intelligent woman is somewhat fraught in our society and partly because if we want to have a real conversation instead of expound, it often works better to choose a topic in which intelligence doesn’t matter as much. We do much of this unconsciously because it tends to get us better social results, ie people like us more.

Women in general are also not encouraged to be as ambitious as men. We get more flak about being ambitious. People patronize us and tell us we have delusions of grandeur. In many professional arenas, we have to adopt masculine behaviors in order to realize our ambitions, not to mention deal with sexism. We also have to do better than men at the same positions in order to be recognized. And then people will minimize our accomplishments and say catty things about our appearances and personalities. Not to mention, women who want to have kids know they’ll end up with more of the work involved, even if they have full-time careers as well. So high-IQ men are often very “successful;” they might be wealthy or have a fast-track career or a top-notch reputation in academia. High-IQ women don’t always have any of these things because we either chose not to follow ambition in the classic sense or because we felt we should not.

Finally, our society privileges the sciences over the humanities and the arts, and factual knowledge over both raw intelligence (which is more about speed and ability to learn, understand, and synthesize) and emotional/social intelligence. And yet, women are less likely to go into the sciences, less likely to offer up their knowledge in conversation, and more likely to be encouraged to focus on emotional intelligence. And for those of us who have focused  on synthesis as opposed to factual memorization, our talents are often entirely overlooked.

The secret land of intelligent women?

My husband and I are a great example of this. By both our assessments, we are more or less equally intelligent. He has a PhD in physics, an important job at Google, and impressive amounts of knowledge on a variety of intellectual subjects. I’ve spent most my time pursuing music and writing and focusing on personal growth and interpersonal issues. It is not uncommon for people to tell me my husband is one of the most intelligent people they’ve ever met. No one ever tells him the same thing about me. He presents himself very differently in social situations, has many of the expected achievements, and studied string theory instead of music, so this doesn’t come as a big surprise.

I didn’t want to talk about this subject because we as a society seem to have a deep discomfort with intelligent women, and talking about it leaves an opening to be personally attacked or categorized as stuck up. I can hear it now: “She’s not as intelligent as she thinks she is, and her husband is just playing up to her big ego.” Admitting to intelligence, at least here in the United States, is not the best way for a woman to gain friends and influence people. And ironically, gifted people tend to be more sensitive, more likely to be perfectionists, and more likely to hold themselves to impossibly high standards…all while suffering from impostor syndrome. But I’m so tired of the misconceptions that abound, and I don’t hear enough women speaking out on this subject, so I felt I had to say something.

There are plenty of very smart women in the world. You might just not realize who they are. So the next time you are listing off smart people you know, think again and consider whether you can add some women to your list.

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