This month, I put myself on the line. I dusted off the play that I wrote two years ago and started sending it to theatres and new play festivals around the country. Some of these programs are known for discovering brilliant playwrights that go on to fame, fortune, and accolades. And each time I hit send on a submission, I felt a little pang. Way back in the dark recesses of my soul, a little voice said, “They’re going to know you’re a fraud, you know.”
I’m told that this is a common fear. It even has a fancy name coined by a pair of psychologists in the late-70s: Imposter Syndrome. It is especially common among high achievers — celebrities, athletes, CEOs, and writers at the top of their games. Even the great poet Maya Angelou once admitted, “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.'”
Still, knowing that I’m in good company doesn’t make the feeling go away. In my cover letters that accompany my play, I explain my background and achievements as a short story writer and playwright, but what if my publications are just dumb luck?
I grew up in the generation drowning in praise. A played several years of soccer as a kid and came home at the end of each season with progressively larger trophies. For years, those trophies played into a mistaken belief that I was actually good at soccer. It didn’t dawn on me until high school that they were participation trophies. So, you can’t blame me for being skeptical of my prowess as a writer. If I was a charlatan, would I realize it?
And yet, that isn’t what worries me the most. If I can attribute my successes on the Imposter Syndrome, what’s stopping me from blaming it for my failures? What if someday I get a rejection and chalk it up to not being a real writer instead of learning from it and going back to rewrites?
So, I’m training myself to believe that I am the real deal in victory and defeat. If a story gets published, it’s because I worked hard and made it the best I could. If I get rejected, it isn’t for lack of talent. And when I send a play out into the big, cold world of modern American drama, I’m still working on having the confidence to claim that I am the genuine article.
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