Sunday, January 17, 2021

ARTICLE: Gumby and the Flying Saucer: Dealing with Imposter Syndrome

(This article was originally published in The Footy Almanac in March 2020.  You can read the original article here:

“What am I doing here?” I wonder as I slink into the University library just after noon.  It’s a Tuesday, and the designated quiet zone is sparsely populated by students.  I move past a girl’s laptop and catch a glimpse of her screen: a diagram of the respiratory system.

James Patrik: Dealing with Imposter Syndrome

“At least she’s doing something productive with her time”, I chide myself as I sit down nearby and open up the TV script that I’ve been working on for the last six months.  “Other people have jobs. They do things that matter” I internally berate myself as I summon my focus.  You see, I’ve been trying to act like a writer.  A proper writer I mean – one who writes every day and sets achievable goals.  My theory is that by acting like one, I’ll one day actually be one.  If only it were that simple.  No matter how much I accomplish – self-doubt is never far away.

Imposter Syndrome is my constant companion.  If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s the psychological condition of thinking oneself a fraud.  It means I’m convinced that it’s only a matter of time before I (and the more talented writers I hang around with) realise I haven’t the faintest idea what I’m doing.  I’m just “winging it”, having lied my way into the company of people of good character and considerable ability.  Annoyingly, all this angst and self-doubt occurs in the face of objective evidence that I can (at the very least) string a few words together coherently.

I’ve never really aspired to any specific vocation – let alone writing, but strangely, I’ve always written.  Nervously.  Secretively and out of sight.  Ever since that day in second grade when my teacher tore up a story I had written, sending the pieces of shredded paper cascading over my seven-year old head.

Why would a primary school teacher do such a thing?  I had dared defy her, ignoring the mind-numbing brief of composing an account of ‘what I had done on the weekend’.  Instead, I elected to regale the class with a tale concerning a flying saucer I’d seen.  The craft landed in my back yard.  I watched, slack jawed, as a figure emerged from one side of its hull.  Tall and green with a lopsided head, the mysterious traveler bore a joyful countenance.  Upon closer inspection, I realised that the green man was someone I had seen before – on television.  It was Gumby – plasticine adventurer of choice for children (and adults) of a certain age!

“That wasn’t the assigned task” said Mrs. Merchant, after I read it aloud to the class (who, incidentally, responded with rapturous applause).  A dinosaur from a bygone era (and a stickler for the rules) Mrs. Merchant tore up my story to punish me for disobeying her, forever consigning it to one of the forgotten rooms in my mind.

I’ve always tried to ignore the opinions of people who try and chip away at my confidence, and so, even as a child, I was angry that she’d destroyed something precious.  Statistically speaking, she has to be long gone.  But Mrs. Merchant is still very much alive and well in my subconscious – always ready to cast a shadow over my modest accomplishments and extinguishing any glowing embers of self-belief I may still be nurturing.

It so happens I’m in good company.  Imposter Syndrome is the same condition that afflicted Maya Angelou – one of the pre-eminent writers of the last century.  An author whose distinctive voice was so celebrated that someday, humans living in space will read her most famous work  I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Alas, apparently, no amount of adulation or professional success could ever quell the fire of her own self-doubt.

As I sip my coffee – still trying to summon inspiration – I wonder the very same thing.  What level of achievement will finally enable me to believe in myself as a writer?  Will it ever happen?  What if my nascent screenplay comes to life one day – breathed into existence by actors and producers?  Will I finally be able to call myself a writer and believe it?

Probably not.

Be that as it may, I’ve come to recognise self-doubt as a barrier to inspiration and an enemy of imagination.  It comes to me in the form of a ghost of a teacher who simply didn’t care for Gumby.  Some days I’m able to overcome her specter, other days not so much.  It’s a constant battle, and one that I imagine all sorts of creative types wrestle with daily.

Of course, to offer an amusing anecdote, I’ve focused on a teacher from my past who valued conformity over creativity.  Thankfully, they weren’t all like that.  One in particular, a man named Joe Herran.  In high school, he taught me the eloquence of the English language, he nurtured my talents by pushing me to be better and to reach for more creative, original ideas.

It takes bravery to extend a middle finger to your detractors and, dare I say it, write from the heart.  So, if you happen to see my name appear in the opening credits to a TV sitcom at some point over the next few years – know that it means I’ve conquered my self-doubt long enough to produce some half decent work.  And know that I wrote it because of – and in spite of – my teachers at school.

No comments:

Post a Comment

SHORT STORY: The House Always Wins