I’ve been inspired to write this blog after a few discussions online in various editing groups over the last few weeks. It’s come to my attention that something is rife among my editing colleagues – and it doesn’t seem to care if you’ve been editing for three days or thirty years. It can strike in an instant, turning an otherwise cheerful day into something far more depressing. At its worst, it can make you reconsider your life choices and contemplate running away to join the circus.
Editing? Why the heck did I think I could do that? I’m useless at it and sooner or later, everyone is going to find out and I’m going to be embarrassed. Why am I so useless? I don’t even know if I can finish this piece of work. Maybe I should just go back to the client and refund their money. This was a big mistake.
That up there? That’s imposter syndrome. It’s feeling that you aren’t good at what you do and are somehow fooling everyone. You panic that you’re going to be found out any day now. In my experience, it’s particularly common in high-achieving and intelligent women. I’m sure men also suffer from it, but it seems to strike its hardest among female editorial professionals, and it can be crippling.
Lack of confidence is a huge issue for many people when they start out editing – or even when they have been doing it for years. I’ve been editing for ten years, and I’m still crippled with self-doubt sometimes, wondering if I’m actually any good at this and hoping no one finds me out and broadcasts my lack of talent to the world. Objectively, I recognise that imposter syndrome is more about my own insecurities and lack of confidence than being rubbish at my job – and I can talk a good talk when other people are struck by it – but it’s hard to be objective when the self-doubt monster is knocking at your door and won’t give up.
A healthy dose of self-doubt is normal, I think. I’m always slightly suspicious of those who have 100% confidence in their abilities (although perhaps that’s my imposter syndrome talking again!). Take Britain’s Got Talent, for example. The people who seem to perform worst on that show are the ones who breeze in without an ounce of doubt, completely confident in their awesome singing abilities… and then they open their mouths and send me and the rest of the country running for the remote control. It’s the performers who are nervous and have a dollop of self-doubt that actually go out there and put on the best show. I like to think that a healthy amount of doubt keeps me on my toes: it keeps me pushing to learn more and striving to improve. Without the knowledge that I could be better and could do better, then I don’t have any incentive to improve.
Where it gets bad, though, is when imposter syndrome makes you feel worthless about yourself and your abilities. It always amazes me when I see editors who I think of as being so professional, and talented, and intelligent admitting that they suffer from imposter syndrome, or some days are so crippled with self-doubt, they consider jacking the editing life in and finding something else to do. I’m not sure why it’s such an issue but it makes me sad that so many of my talented peers battle with this on a daily basis.
There’s no miracle cure. If there was, I would be first in line, waving fistfuls of cash to get my hands on the magic potion that would end my woes. There are, however, things you can do to send imposter syndrome packing when it strikes.
One of my favourites is an idea I first saw in an editing Facebook group and subsequently here. Behold! My Win Jar!
What’s a Win Jar? Well, it’s basically just a collection of all the nice things clients have said as well as my own achievements. Every so often, I print a new batch out in brightly coloured fonts and pop them into my Win Jar. When I’m having a bad day and doubting my ability, I open up my jar and read some of the comments inside. It’s amazing what a boost it can be to remember the kind words a client said, or a time when you wrangled a really gnarly sentence into submission. And you’ll be amazed by how quickly it becomes full – I’ve had to prune mine a few times, and that’s a great feeling in itself.
Aside from a Win Jar, you might be able to pinpoint a particular area where your imposter syndrome is at its worst. Sometimes, taking a course or doing some specific reading or research in that particular area can be enough to temper the monster down enough to continue with your day.
Get online and talk to other editors about it. We all understand and we will all sympathise, and some of us will give you some tough love that’ll sort you right out and put you back on the straight and narrow. Building up a strong network of peers is so important when you’re a solo worker. Family and friends are great, but sometimes you need the support and advice from someone who knows exactly how you’re feeling and has been there themselves. It’s also just great for validation that other people struggle sometimes and you aren’t alone.
And remember: although I may not know you, dear reader, the likelihood is that you are intelligent, you are talented, you are hard-working. You deserve to be confident in your own abilities and to be proud of what you do. It’s a sad fact of life that negative comments often affect us more than positive ones, but it’s in our hands to stop that from happening. There will always be negative comments; you can’t escape them in life. Some people take pleasure in hunting out others and bringing them down with negative and meanly worded comments, but we can choose how much weight we give those.
At the risk of going off on a tangent, The Guardian just released some really scary figures about abusive comments on its website that show female writers are much more likely to receive troll-like comments online. Certainly I know of some fellow editors who have suffered from this unpleasant phenomenon. But posting unpleasant things from behind the safety of a computer screen reveals more about the poster than you.
So hold your head high, believe the positive comments you receive, and most of all, be kind to yourself. Allow yourself a few minutes of moping if something doesn’t work out, or you make a silly mistake, and then dust yourself off and get back to what you do best – editing.
(Oh and eat cake. Lots of cake. That’s a must.)