According to the American Psychological Association website (apa.org), the commonly called “imposter syndrome” occurs among folks “who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.”
Before I realized there were better words to describe it, I just knew it as a nagging thought at the back of my mind. “Is this the day they figure out I don’t know what I’m doing?” was a common refrain as I headed off to work. It was the low-grade panic I felt when someone would say, “I have a question,” and I was sure that would be the day. Being able to answer the question would bring a huge feeling of relief, but somehow it didn’t help to quiet the fear the next time. They had simply asked an easy question. I also had no idea other folks felt the same way.
Since learning I am not alone in my misgivings, I have discovered there are resources available to help folks overcome those feelings. One suggestion was to seek additional training in the areas that I feel less competent. That led me to register, on a whim, for the Writers’ Day workshop (a part of the Virginia Highlands Festival) a few years ago.
I enjoyed it enough to go back each year since then. During discussion with other attendees, I learned of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop that’s held every other year in Dayton, Ohio. “You need to sign up when registration opens, because it always sells out!” they admonished. I was intrigued, so I typed it into Google.
The workshop was named after and is held in honor of the famous humor writer, Erma Bombeck. She graduated from the University of Dayton, and that’s where the weekend workshop is held. I was even more intrigued. A full two-and-a-half-day workshop, spending time with folks who write and learning from professional writers? Sign me up!
The next workshop was supposed to be held in spring of 2020 and had already sold out. I entered my email address so they would include me in their mass email announcing the next conference. It was scheduled for spring of 2022, and I was too busy to be away that long. But because of COVID, they offered a virtual option as well as their in-person conference, so I signed up for it instead.
When COVID reared its ugly head again in January, the workshop folks decided to postpone the conference to October. As the time drew closer, they sent emails announcing that virtual registrants could upgrade and attend in person. October, when the leaves should be in full show mode, would be a good time to go, I told myself. I looked again at the list of presenters. Cathy Guisewite, who created and drew the comic strip “Cathy” would be there! Laraine Newman of Saturday Night Live fame would give a talk. Adriana Trigiani, who wrote “Big Stone Gap” and several other books about Appalachian folks would be there! Before I could change my mind, I upgraded my registration and booked my hotel room.
Besides hearing about story plotting and surprise ending construction, BookTok and AuthorTok, and the world of self-publishing and Amazon, I also learned that a lot of folks – especially middle-aged women – grapple with imposter syndrome. A lot of the conference attendees were there because they would like to write, but they don’t know if they can. Luckily that is the resounding message of the conference.
When Erma Bombeck was a student at the University of Dayton, one of her instructors handed one of her papers back to her in the hallway and said three magical words to her. “You can write,” he said. In doing so, he gave the world a voice from the household. Erma taught us how to laugh at the mundane while letting us know we aren’t alone. She showed us that all families have issues and struggles and help us find some humor in it.
I have no way of knowing if there was another Erma Bombeck finding her way and her voice at the conference. I do know that I heard some famous, successful people say that they have that voice in their heads, too – the one that we need to speak over and change the refrain to “I know I can do this.” I’m trying to listen.