I am an author.
I am an author.
I am an author.
It doesn’t matter which word I emphasize. It feels awkward. Fake. Or at least bit of a stretch. Maybe even lying. But it isn’t. Not really. I mean I’m not a full-time writer, and my blog doesn’t have a huge following. And I didn’t write an entire book. I just wrote two chapters of “More Than Serving Tea”.
When I say, “I am an author” I feel like a fraud. I feel like someone will figure out that being a co-author actually means “not an author”. I am afraid that my book doesn’t really count. Or worse, that what I wrote doesn’t count.
It gets so bad my editor, Al Hsu, who also is an author, has corrected me on more than one occasion, reminding me that my name is on record with the Library of Congress or something like that.
But (un)fortunately, I’m not alone. That unique version of self-doubt has a name – the impostor syndrome. Sheryl Sandberg writes about it in “Lean In”, chapter two: Sit at the Table, recalling a speech given by Dr. Peggy McIntosh from the Wellesley Centers for Women. In the speech, McIntosh explains many women feel fraudulent when praised or recognized for their achievements. Note, that it isn’t even praise or recognition for our potential that causes us women to feel like frauds. Even when we are recognized for our done deeds we feel like frauds. Forget ambition. How can a fake excel at anything?
Well that sucks.
I’m hoping there is a generational & cultural shift with my daughter’s and sons’ generation. They are perhaps too young to be the whiny, self-absorbed millennials who have been told they are special (please note attempt at sarcasm and hyperbole but rooted in a wee bit of truth), but I have been cautious and intentional with my hovering, praise, affirmation, umbilical cord-cutting, and recognition of their accomplishments and connecting that to not only their potential but to who God has created them to be, connecting the doing with their being.
Sandberg writes “the real issue was not that I felt like a fraud, but that I could feel something deeply and profoundly and be completely wrong.” (p. 32) For the up and coming generations the mistake might be that they feel deeply and profoundly capable of succeeding in whatever they want and be completely wrong because they have grown up being praised for every benchmark and awarded for showing up. I don’t have that problem.
My immigrant parents did not make it a habit of praising me because:
- They didn’t want me growing up believing my accomplishments defined me or made me better than anyone else.
- They didn’t want me to think I was the center of the universe because I wasn’t. The family was.
- Showing up was the bare minimum, not special.
- They didn’t want others to think they thought too highly of their own parenting or of the success of their child.
- They spoke “Asian” where an indirect compliment like “Your teacher likes you.” could be translated into “You did a great job on that project, and the teacher recognized your effort and mastery of the material. I’m proud of you.”
- They were busy surviving.
It wasn’t until I was well into my adulthood I recognized my parents were and are proud, but for those of us who fought to just fit in and be “American” the impostor syndrome, I believe, is not only connected to our accomplishments but to a deeper sense of not belonging, of being unwelcome and rejected despite our accomplishments. We feel like frauds to the core as we straddle two cultures and sometimes two languages and while we try to lean in and sit at the table we are also figuring out how to respond to people who ask us where we are from or tell us to go back to where we came from. And our fear of being “found out” as a fraud carries with it the weight of being identified as “the other” and jeopardizing the chances of all the other “others”. If someone like Sandberg has to bring her A+ game, where does that leave me? That is the part of the impostor syndrome Sandberg, as a White woman, doesn’t have to address. Am I disappointed that she doesn’t? Yes, but no more disappointed than when all the male authors I’ve read have ignored the gender and culture issue.
But these posts aren’t about getting stuck but about taking what I found a helpful book and getting dialogue started and sharing thoughts and advice. Sandberg gives a few pieces of advice I want us to think about.
- “It sometimes helps to fake it” (p. 33). At face value, my Sunday School lessons kick in and scream “NOOOOOO!” As a Christian I am supposed to be honest and trustworthy not fake. Isn’t feeling like a fake part of the problem anyway? But I don’t think that is what Sandberg is talking about. She is talking about not relying solely on our feelings, which are important and valid but not always the complete truth of a situation. It’s like being married for 20+ years. There are many moments when I am not in love with Peter, but I have to choose through my actions with help of a mighty God to love. (And I know Peter has to do the same for me.) Perhaps Queen Esther’s decision to approach the King despite not having been called into his presence is another parallel. Did she walk in feeling completely confident? No, but she did it with as much as she could muster. As an Asian American woman who has grown up learning to swallow my suffering, there is a redemptive side to that task as I have learned that sometimes swallowing or pushing aside the fear, insecurities, and pain actually gives space for God to move in.
- “There is no perfect fit when you’re looking for the next big thing to do” (p. 35). There is a danger in Christian culture to believe that God’s will is like a needle in a haystack or we are marionettes that God is puppeteering. We wait to find the perfect college, to get the perfect degree, to get the perfect job, to meet and marry the perfect spouse, to have perfect children at the perfect time with a perfect birth story, to live the perfect life. I’m pretty sure that Jesus was the only perfect person in the Bible. Everyone else’s story is messed up – adulterers, murderers, liars, cheaters. Many of the people we read about in scripture were not perfect fits – King David, Queen Esther, Rahab, and many others were chosen for roles they didn’t fit into and chose to take action despite who they were, what they had done, where they were. As an Asian American girl, I grew up mistakenly believing I had to be perfect in order to succeed, and there was a lot of fear in making the wrong choice. But as an Asian American woman I know that my ability to navigate cross-culturally is a strength that makes an imperfect fit exactly what I’ve learned to enter into.
- “No one accomplishes anything alone.” (p. 38). One of the best parts of writing “More Than Serving Tea” was that it was a group effort. We all had our own chapters and assignments. We all hit our own writing walls. But we saw this as something special. Not all achievements are a group project, but Sandberg’s statement rings true. It was not good for Adam to be alone, and Adam and Eve were not created alone for God said, “Let us make human being in our image, in our likeness…” (Genesis 1: 26, TNIV). From the start we were created for community in community. As an Asian American I resonate with that deeply. My Western upbringing was about pulling myself up by my bootstraps, but reality has shown me that when I am humble enough to ask for help, wise enough to accept it, and brave enough to share space, influence, and power with others the craziest things are possible.
So, my dear readers, do you struggle with feeling like a fraud? Is there a phrase like “I am an author” that makes you feel like a fake? What has helped you overcome the impostor syndrome?