Pen Pal Project
Pen Pal Project: The First Letter
So here we are: pen pals. I’m delighted. I have so much to tell you.
Today is my birthday. I look younger than my age, people tell me, although generally not people who have seen my belly button. Belly buttons are remarkably revealing. Mine looks all of forty-three.
I am cautiously resigned to turning forty-three. This is an improvement, since I actively hated turning thirty-nine, forty, forty-one and forty-two. By rights, this birthday should have me kicking and screaming, since I find myself, unexpectedly and for the first time in my adult life, without a nest (I am surrounded by packing boxes) or a mate (my husband has flown).
But something quite magical has happened this past year: I’ve become a writer. It is no small thing. I’ve always wanted to be one. It turns out that if you want to be a writer, you have to write. Once I figured that part out, amazing things began to happen, until I found myself with a bestselling book in Canada and a two-book deal in the U.S. A magical ride, with one small bump: I now have to write a second book, and second books are hard.
Second books are hard because of imposter syndrome. I know so many women who harbor the belief that they are one misstep away from catastrophe and humiliation, as if they got the invitation to the Success Banquet by accident and will, at any moment, be discovered and removed. They don’t feel that they belong at the table. They don’t think they’ve earned it. And consequently, they can’t imagine that they might be able to repeat the achievement that got them in the door in the first place.
Why do you think that is?
This demon of self-doubt is remarkably powerful. We are so quick to own our failures. We are so nimble at identifying all the ways in which other people are more successful than we are. But we see through a flawed lens. I remember sitting at a parent council meeting once, and the woman next to me said: “I saw your son eating homemade pizza pitas at lunch yesterday. How do you do it?” And I said: “He was eating cold, leftover delivery pizza.” Isn’t that astonishing? Her lens of self-criticism showed her a perfect lunch that wasn’t even there.
Imposter syndrome is, of course, the province of the successful, of the high-achievers, of the perfectionists. That’s the irony. The demon speaks our language. If we were unsuccessful, we wouldn’t have to worry about being revealed as frauds.
Have you read Amy Poehler’s book, Yes Please? You should. It is so bracingly honest. (Honesty is a topic I’ll return to in another letter, why it is that we spend so much energy lying to ourselves and to other people about who we are and what we want.) She talks about how she copes with her demon this way: “When the demon starts to slither my way and say bad shit about me I turn around and say, ‘Hey. Cool it. Amy is my friend. Don’t talk about her like that.’ Sticking up for ourselves in the same way we would one of our friends is a hard but satisfying thing to do. Sometimes it works.” How great is that? I’m going to try it.
Did I ever tell you that I write from an outline? Every scene is plotted and planned before I begin. Unfortunately, or perhaps not, this is a major way in which life differs from fiction. There’s no outline to follow, and you can’t see the plot twists coming. I think it’s going to be an interesting year.
Here’s what Reva had to say in reply (about celebration, imposter syndrome, and having a new pen pal): http://www.revaseth.com/penpalproject/think-need-celebrate/