On Tangerines and Being an Imposter

Ok, so the tangerines bit in the title isn’t true. Sorry. I was standing in the kitchen making a pot of green tea and trying to figure out what the hell I was going to write about this morning, and I saw a bowl of tangerines. Actually, they weren’t even tangerines—they were mandarin oranges, so I lied about that, too. I have nothing to say about any citrus fruit (except that I really should eat the rest of the mandarin oranges, as they’ve been sitting there for a while. They’re probably starting to get mushy, and I hate wasting food).


citrus fruit
See?  I didn’t lie about there being a bowl of some kind of citrus fruit.

So I was a liar about the tangerines.  I see we are starting off fantastically with this post.  Truth is (or is it the truth?), I’m kind of winging it this morning. Once I get something in mind to write about, I get going and can’t stop. I’ll be laughing to myself (unless I’m writing about something that has made me angry, and then my wife is startled by mutters of, “That asshole!” and “She won’t be elected again once the two people who read my blog start calling her office and making some noise!”

Ok, so two is an overstatement.

When you get in that flow, writing is fun and happens without your really meaning for it to. What results is a product of doing something you enjoy. What’s strange is when you find yourself in a situation where you’re getting paid to do that thing you enjoy. A couple of months ago, Carl Richards wrote an excellent New York Times article entitled “Learning to Deal With Impostor Syndrome”. (Hey—“impostor” is not spelled with an “-er” at the end of it, my spell check angrily insisted. You learn something new every damn day, don’t you?) 

Until I read Richards’ article, I had never consciously labeled the crippling fear I had of submitting my writing to someone and asking to get paid for it. (Cue discouraging interior monologue.) If you’re good at something and enjoy doing it, how is that work that deserves pay? And also—there are a zillion other writers out there; many of them as good or much better. Why do I deserve to do this or be paid for it? 

I wrote my feelings off to a litany of other things (including low self-esteem and never being allowed to eat ice cream when I was a kid*) and never thought much more about it. But then a friend posted this article and just like that, my insecurity had a name: “Imposter Syndrome.” (This was kind of like recently when I discovered that the fear of throwing up is an actual, DSM-IV phobia.  It’s called “emetophobia,” for those who, like me, are like, “What? Just because I have an anxiety attack when I get nauseous, I’m not crazy? I mean, I am crazy, but I’m a valid, NAMED kind of crazy? Yay!”) 

“Imposter syndrome” makes me think of the villain in a Scooby Doo cartoon having his mask ripped off to the gang’s exclamation of, “That’s not the Loch Ness Monster; it’s Old Mr. McGee!” I guess it kind of feels that way—that despite someone paying for and actually enjoying what you’ve written, they’re going to see behind your mask and shout, “Hey! You’re not a real writer! You’re not a funny blogger like Jenny Lawson, an entertaining journalist like Emily Yoffe or a fantastic storyteller like Anne Rice! Pretender!  You’re just you!  Give me my money back!” 

I’ve been doing freelance work of late, doing all sorts of writing and proofreading for various people. With each writing gig, I wait for the other shoe to fall. “You want me to write this? This isn’t hard and I’ll enjoy doing it. Surely, this is all a farce and the person hiring me will turn out to be my wife posing as someone who messaged me with a much-needed writing assignment.” (“But you were struggling and I just wanted to boost your self-esteem!” she’d say.) 

But the assignments keep coming, as does the positive feedback. I guess (impostor that I am) I’ll just have to pretend to be someone who is confident and cocky in a Trump-esque fashion. “I write fantastic op-eds!  My articles are high-quality!  My op-eds solve world peace! Everyone else’s writing is weak and lacks stamina!”

*The ice cream thing is a lie, as well.  I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and while Christmas and birthday parties were banned, delicious, delicious ice cream was not.  

EDIT:  My iPhone dictionary insists that “imposter” spelled with an “-er” is just fine, thank you very much.  Apparently, it and my Mac need to have a heart-to-heart…er…hard drive to hard drive?  I’m leaving the title of this post spelled the way it currently is—just to cover all bases.