I’ve been having some conversations this week with other writers and creators about the ever-dreaded impostor syndrome. This is a common thing that creative people (as well as others) go through that makes us constantly feel as if we somehow don’t belong in our respective creative communities and that we’re somehow a fraud and don’t deserve any success that we’ve earned. Pretty much everyone feels that at some point, including the most successful among us.
Neil Gaiman (American Gods, Coraline), who just happens to be one of my favorite authors, shared an interesting anecdote on his blog, about his own experience with impostor syndrome, which involves him meeting one of the most influential men in the world. Neil wrote:
“Some years ago, I was lucky enough invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.
On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name*. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of, “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”
And I said, “Yes. But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.”
And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.”
This actually reminded me of the depiction of Armstrong on the Netflix series The Crown, where Prince Philip is excited to have a conversation with the astronaut, expecting him to have words of wisdom for him. But Philip finds himself disappointed because Armstrong, who is suffering from a cold, basically says the same thing he told Gaiman. Although in reality, the Prince did meet Armstrong (and the former accidentally coughed in the Queen’s face), most of that account is fictional, but it still goes to show, along with Gaiman’s very real anecdote, that everyone feels like an impostor in their field at one time or another.