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Constantly self-doubting yourself? You're not alone

Annisa Ihsani
Annisa Ihsani

Writer, book nerd, and mother of one.

Jakarta  /  Thu, April 28, 2016  /  09:40 am
Constantly self-doubting yourself? You're not alone

The impostor syndrome is described as a phenomenon where a person is unable to internalize his or her success. (Shutterstock/-)

Right after I successfully defended my bachelor thesis, guilt swept over me.
 
There were three examiners and I had fooled them all. “I've gotten away with it again this time,” I thought. They must not have read my thesis carefully, otherwise they would have find out I was a fraud.
 
It wasn't the first time I felt like that. During my internship, whenever I got an A for a class, when I landed my first job, when I received a scholarship; it felt like my achievements were due to luck instead of my ability.
 
The teachers always happened to ask only questions that I knew the answers to. I was afraid that people would find out I wasn't as smart as I seemed to be, they would see me for who I really was: a fraud.
 
So I worked hard to prove myself; but any kind of achievement led to more guilt. If I was just lucky last time, why should it be different this time?
 
It was exhausting, but I never told anyone for fear of being seen as a humblebrag.
 
The turning point came when I saw a friend's Facebook status, describing the exact same feeling I had been having for years. She was a scholarship awardee and was doing a PhD—someone I never thought would have any kind of self-doubt. Yet there it was, and from there I learned it was called an impostor syndrome.
 
It was a huge relief to know that I'm not alone in this. The impostor syndrome is described as a phenomenon where a person is unable to internalize his or her success.
 
Attributing accomplishments to luck? Check. Fearing others would find out I was a fraud? Check. It is not an uncommon experience, and happens more to women.
 
“The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you are getting away with something and that at any moment now they will discover you. It's Impostor Syndrome, something my wife Amanda christened ‘The Fraud Police’.” —Neil Gaiman
 
In my case, it helps a lot to know that what I'm feeling has a name. Whenever I start to doubt myself—what are you doing here? What did you do to deserve this? —I can tell myself it's the impostor syndrome speaking.
 
It doesn't always work, but sometimes it does. And when my thesis supervisor said he enjoyed reading my master’s thesis, instead of anxiously thinking he must not have read it carefully, I was able to take his compliment and move on.
 
I became less anxious of being “found out” when I started writing my first novel. It wasn't because I was super confident in my writing, but more because I had no previous accomplishments in writing fiction. I had to start from zero, so there's nothing to feel guilty about.
 
The impostor syndrome is a thing that inflicts perfectionists. But perfectionism doesn't work when writing a novel.

 I'd never finish my novel if I try to perfect every sentence. And I think letting go of perfectionism helps me overcome the impostor syndrome.
 
I still have self-doubt from time to time, of course. To be honest, I don't think this syndrome will ever go away entirely.
 
In that case, I guess I’ll have to fake it 'till I make it.

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Annisa Ihsani is a writer, book nerd, and mother of one. She is the author of middle-grade novel "Teka-Teki Terakhir" (Gramedia Pustaka Utama, 2014).

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