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Woman Standing on Dock
Woman Standing on Docks

You don't have to be perfect to be successful!

"When are you planning to submit that novel to an agent?" I asked my friend Allie. 
 
She shrugged noncommittally, "I'm still revising. I just want it to be perfect."
 
She's written a novel a year for nearly a decade, but she's never made any effort to get published. She tells me that she writes "for fun," but I know from passing conversations that she'd like to see her books in print. She doesn't consider herself a "real writer" because, in her mind, some folks are born with a quill in hand, penning eloquent prose before they're walking. She has to work at it.
 
People who struggle with impostorism have a perception problem. They don't see their own fears and doubts and efforts reflected in the personas of their heroes. On some rational level, Allie knows that John Steinbeck and Amy Tan and Stephen King all honed their craft through trial and error in the same way that she has been doing for years. Logically, she knows that they suffered writer's block, that they all feared at least once in their lives never having another idea, that they all made typos. 
 
However, on a more functional level, she views them as having sprung to life with the makings of greatness already intact, like Aphrodite being borne on the waves already grown and glorious.
 
This isn't entirely unjust. We all do spring to life with the makings of greatness intact, but we all also have to work to bring that greatness to fruition. Allie isn't afraid of hard work, but she is afraid that her hard work will be judged lacking in merit. That's a common symptom of impostor syndrome. 
 
Allie's novel will never be perfect because Allie isn't perfect. In fact, by continuously revising it, she may be making matters worse, like picking at a scab. But the endless process of double- and triple-checking every word and sentence serves a sinister purpose. It delays judgment. Allie believes once the novel is submitted, someone will definitely answer her question: "Am I a real writer?" She fears that answer, and so she is avoiding it.
 
Here's another funny thing about impostorism. Allie writes at least three hours a day. She goes to writing workshops. She attends to every word with painstaking detail. But all of the work that she puts into her writing confirms in her mind that she is not a real writer. Because a real writer would sit down and words would flow from her pen without any effort. 
 
Impostorism has that effect on people. They perceive others as perfect and themselves as less than. All of their efforts to excel, only remind them that others don't have to make the same efforts, but that's simply false logic.
 
Picture someone in your desired field who seems the model of professionalism: the perfect chef, the perfect sale representative, the perfect therapist, the perfect teacher. 
 
First, remind yourself that that person is not perfect. They're good, maybe even the best, but they're not perfect.
 
Next, remind yourself that they only achieved their skills and knowledge through hard work and practice. Through effort, just like you.
 
Finally, remind yourself that delaying judgment also delays gratification. Using perfection as an excuse to avoid taking a healthy risk will leave you unsatisfied and unfulfilled. 
 
You're not perfect, but that's okay. You don't have to be perfect to be successful. 
 
Dr. Eileen Wynne, PhD
 
References:

Alexander, J., & Sakulku, J. (2011). The Impostor Phenomenon. International Journal of Behavioral Science, 6, 73-92.

Weir, K. (2013). Feel like a fraud? GradPsych, 11, 24-27.
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