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I am reading Patrick Rothfuss’ “The Wise Man’s Fear”. It is amazing. And I have just fallen in love with one of his characters, which is rare for me these days. I love stories, but I know them too well. It takes a lot for me to really get totally drawn in. It has been a while since a character made me grin and clap my hands and laugh out loud, like I’m all smitten.

But Vashet did. Like this (very mild spoilers, but nothing you probably won’t see coming if you read the book):

“I know you all place great stock in the Lethani, but I don’t really understand it. I’ve  just found a way to fake it.”
Vashet smiled indulgently. “There is no pretending to understand the Lethani,” she said confidently. “It is like swimming. It is obvious to anyone watching if you really know the way of it.”
“A person can pretend to swim too,” I pointed out. “I’ve simply been moving my arms and walking on the bottom of the river.”
She gave me a curious look. “Very well then. How have you managed to fool us?”
I explained Spinning Leaf to her. How I had learned to tip my thoughts into a light, empty, floating place where the answers to their questions came easily.
“So you have stolen the answers from yourself,” she said with mock seriousness. “You have cleverly fooled us by pulling the answers from your own mind.”

And just like that she calls him out on his Impostor Syndrome. We all know this right? Especially those of us engaged in creative pursuits? We all know this feeling deep in our belly that we’re just faking it, that we have everyone fooled. I’m not a real writer, and one day they will know! (Whoever “they” are!)

I have gone through several incarnations of this. I thought I’d feel like a Real Writer when I had Real Fans. Then I got Real fans, and I thought, oh no! It’ll happen when I am published! Then I got published, and I thought, no it only counts if I get awards! Then I won an award and I thought, no no, it’ll be real when someone ELSE selects my work. Then that happened. Do I get paid for my writing? Yes. Not as much as I’d like to, true, but people BUY MY WORK. Sometimes the exact same work that is available for free.

So why do I still not feel like a Real Writer? My new yardstick is apparently being able to live on my writing. But not, you know, boring drudge work. No, that doesn’t count. No, no, it has to be my fiction.

I still think I am moving my arms and walking on the bottom. I still think I am cheating. But like Kvothe, I am selling my talents short, I think. And all of you nodding along, agreeing with all my descriptions of imposter syndrome, I think you are too!

It happens in academia a lot too. I have three degrees. THREE. And yet I still sort of feel like a bit of a fraud telling people I’ve been an academic. If I were a Real Academic, I’d have a doctorate, right? Newsflash! I know people with PhDs who STILL feel like frauds.

I think a lot of the time people, especially smart, talented people, think their achievements don’t count if they came easy. I got an A on that exam, but it’s not cause I studied, I must just be cheating and lucky. Not like, actually you’re smart and you understand the concepts. We feel like we’re cheating because other people work harder than us. Or we’re cheating because we haven’t reached some sort of constantly shifting target in our heads that will mean We’ve Arrived.

“So you have stolen the answers from yourself,” she said with mock seriousness. “You have cleverly fooled us by pulling the answers from your own mind.”

Yup. That is pretty much how I feel all the time. I love her for just cutting right through it. Those answers are there because YOUR KNOWLEDGE IS REAL. I am not making this stuff up. And chances are, neither are you.

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