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Creative Briefs #3: Imposter

Written By William Reagan | Mar 28, 2018

Haley stared at her monitor, disappointed that the Word doc was still blank. No wonder, as the closest she’d gotten to typing was to put her hands on home row and silently curse her inability to conjure a simple six-word headline. Unless she counted the one line she’d typed and deleted multiple times — something that’s about this long-ish — just in case her colleagues were silently noting the lack of clacking from her keyboard.

She worried they might be looking for evidence to support their suspicion that she was terrible at her job, a glorified admin who had inexplicably duped the company into hiring her as a copywriter. Haley had the same suspicion herself, more often than she cared to admit, so why wouldn’t her team of smart, competent people come to the same conclusion? Stringing together six words shouldn’t be a herculean task for someone whose job description is literally “string together words.” But today she couldn’t do it, and the nagging voice in the back of her head wouldn’t shut up about it.

That voice was what the social scientists called imposter syndrome, the mistaken belief that one’s success was a fluke, the coincidental result of luck, fortuitous timing, or a misunderstanding of their abilities. The articles she’d read insisted that the voice in her head was a liar, that many creatives suffered a similar anxiety, and that incompetent people never suffered from the condition. Maybe, but what if it wasn’t a mistaken belief? What if she actually had been lucky, had benefited from perfect timing, and really didn’t have the talent that others expected of her? What if the trendy diagnosis was a convenient diversion from the facts?

True, there was some evidence that her self-doubt was rooted in something other than facts. Her company continued to pay her to do the job, and considering the complex corporate steeplechase the Marketing team had to go through to get even a minor MR issued, it’s unlikely they’d keep shelling out salary for someone who wasn’t doing the job. Plus, they’d offered her a salary bump to leave her last job, and she’d since gotten an increase. They must see some value in her skills.

No boss had ever said, “Haley needs to take some basic writing courses at the local community college.” But…

But everywhere she’d worked, there was someone on the team whose continued employment seemed disconnected from their capabilities: a web designer hired because her dad, the CFO, insisted she’d be great at Marketing because she’d always loved to draw; a social media manager who was firmly instructed to limit his time on Facebook and Twitter; a project manager whose scope kept shrinking until she spent most of her time booking travel for trade shows. None of these people were told they couldn’t be trusted to do real work. The voice in her head insisted that it was entirely possible that she was that person on her current team.

The logical part of her brain could cite consistently positive performance reviews, most of which were hour-long lovefests that devolved into trading quotations from The Wire or Mad Men. Any items included under “Room for Improvement” were minor breaches of corporate protocol, likely included so that the review would look balanced enough to stand up to an HR audit. No boss had ever said, “Haley needs to take some basic writing courses at the local community college.”

But maybe she’d had the good fortune of working for a series of spineless supervisors whose aversion to confrontation was stronger than their intolerance of trite and tedious copywriting. Maybe the paperwork required to release her was more than they wanted to endure. Maybe some of them had unspoken crushes and the prospect of a post-happy hour dalliance was worth enduring pedestrian copy. Or maybe they felt sorry for her, certain that if they pulled the plug on her employment she’d be reduced to working the register at a fast-food joint. The voice in her head insisted that one of these scenarios must be true. If she wasn’t a fraud, why couldn’t she complete this six-word task? Someone with actual talent would surely have finished the project hours ago.

Whatever the case, the fact remained: she had to knock out a headline. Several headlines, so Lois would have a few layout options to work with. As certain as she was that she would hate whatever she wrote anyway, why couldn’t she just commit to something crappy and be done with it? A call to action starring an urgent verb and a compelling adjective. It was as simple as that, and her inability to do it further reinforced the feeling that she was a fraud. She studied the expanse of blankness for another minute, then pulled up Skype:

   Lo, placeholder headline for the postcard:
   Something that’s about this long-ish.

Lois quickly typed her reply.

   Cool. Should that be an en-dash or an em-dash?  

Haley smiled. Whatever their reasons, she was glad they’d made the obviously poor business decision to keep her around.

She clicked back to the Word doc and tried to think of an urgent verb.

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