Almost everyone deals with self-doubt. Amy Cuddy interviewed Neil Gaiman in her bestselling book "Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges". She has a Ph.D. in social psychology focusing on how stereotypes predict patterns of discrimination.
Neil is the mega-successful bestselling author of children's books, fantasy and science fiction novels, comic books, and short stories, that have been adapted into films, television, and video games.
The knock on the door of self-doubt
For the first ten years as an author, he had self-doubt and felt like a fraud. He shares a fantasy in Amy's book that repeatedly played in his head. It started with a knock on his door from someone in a suit:
“Are you Neil Gaiman?” “And I would say yes. “Well, it says here that you are a writer, and that you don’t have to get up in the morning at any particular time, that you just write each day as much as you want.” And I’d go, “That’s right.” “And that you enjoy writing. And it says here that all the books you want—they are just sent to you and that you don’t have to buy them.” ... “And that people like what you do and they give you money for just writing things down.” And I’d say yes. And he’d say, “Well, I’m afraid we are on to you. We’ve caught up with you. And I’m afraid you are now going to have to go out and get a proper job.”
At which point in my fantasy my heart would always sink, and I’d go, “Okay,” and I’d go and buy a cheap suit and I’d start applying to real jobs. Because once they’ve caught up with you, you can’t argue with this: they’ve caught up with you.”
The cruel irony of success
Amy believes a cruel irony accompanies success. Like Neil, the more we succeed and accomplish, the worse we may feel because of self-doubt. She writes:
"We can't reconcile a lofty version of ourselves with our secret knowledge that we don't deserve it. Worldly success introduces us to others who will hold us to a standard we can’t possibly meet, thus revealing our true weak, incompetent selves.”
Each new accomplishment makes imposter syndrome feel worse because the gap widens between our basic view and the lofty standard that society expects.
Work on self-doubt, one obstacle at a time
Neil tells the story of how his recurring fantasy ended in Amy's book.
“I was writing a book called American Gods, and it was a big ‘imposter-syndrome’ book because I wanted to write this giant book about America, but I’m English – And I wanted to talk about these, ya know, just gods and religions and ways of seeing the world. But I finished American Gods and it took me about 18 months of writing, and I was very pleased with myself. And I ran into [my friend] Gene, and I said (bear in mind, this is my third or fourth novel) ‘I finished my first draft of my book American Gods and I think I’ve figured out how to write a novel.’”
“And Gene looked at me with infinite pity and wisdom in his eyes, and he said, ‘Neil, you never figure out how to write a novel; you just learn how to write the novel that you’re on.'”
Get your whack-a-mole game on
The lesson is that you might never get rid of your fear and self-doubt. Instead, just work each one out as they come, one by one. Amy uses the analogy of the whack-a-mole game. Each time self-doubt pops into your head, follow the same steps by shrugging it off and whacking it into oblivion. Pretty soon, you'll get good and start seeing the winning part of your story every time.
Source: Cuddy, Amy (2015). Presence: bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges