I was at my friend’s Halloween party, standing by myself, holding a red Solo cup of Chardonnay, and wishing I’d put some effort into my costume. Wearing a flowy tank top to hide my post-partum belly, skinny jeans, and a hat shaped like a pineapple, my look was, ”I have a baby and a toddler and I am way more worried about breastmilk leaking through my bra than I am about a Halloween costume.” I hadn’t had an uninterrupted night of sleep in nearly five months.
I was mid-yawn when I made eye contact with a sexy witch. We started talking. Chatting with strangers is my jam so I was pumped to connect with SW until she said something that made me blush.
“What do you do?” she asked.
I started to sweat. I had not prepared for this. What did I do? What did I do? What did I DO? A fire alarm went off in my head while all my brain cells trampled each other to find the emergency exit. My chest tightened and I knew it had nothing to do with my breastmilk. I took a sip of wine and blurted out the first thing I thought of.
SW nodded slightly. As she stared at me and my stupid pineapple hat, I wondered where she was on Halloween three years ago when I was dressed up as Lady Gaga and had a real job. I peered into my drink as if it would reveal an answer and mumbled, “Well, not nothing, exactly,” I gave her a weak smile and continued, “I’m home with my two kids. I have a five-month-old and a two-year-old.”
At that moment, the hostess, my friend Jenni, swooped in.
“Actually, Pam is a writer,” Jenni interjected. Standing 4’10”, she exudes the confidence of a six-foot-tall model who has never been told no in her entire life.
“Oh yeah, I write stuff,” I added.
“She’s an amazing writer,” Jenni continued.
I wanted to share in Jenni’s enthusiasm about my professional identity but I couldn’t because inside I felt like a total fraud.
I had Impostor Syndrome, the feeling that you’re a sham or that any success you’ve achieved was the result of a fluke. And though it is super common (research shows 70% of people experience it at some point), that doesn’t make it any less agonizing. It tends to creep in when we’re out of our comfort zones, which makes total sense; it’s normal to feel insecure when we’re trying something new.
In my case, I was embarking on a career as a freelance writer and I was terrified to call myself a writer. What if I unwittingly happened to be talking to an experienced writer and they laughed at me? I was sure that at any moment someone would ask me for the secret writer handshake and I’d be screwed. I had a license to practice occupational therapy, a drawer full of scrubs, and dozen cocktail parties’ worth of healthcare horror stories but no credentials as a writer, other than a few clips.
It would have been extremely comfortable to go back to work as an occupational therapist at the hospital where I’d worked for seven years at the end of my maternity leave. Instead, I made the terrifying decision to pursue my dream of becoming a writer. Five years later, I still feel ridiculously scared of all kinds of writer-ly things. It is not despite stomach-churning, nail-biting, obsessive worrying about the challenges of writing, but because of them, that I love this path. It’s this anxiety that tells me I am stretching the limits of my comfort zone to become the person I am meant to be.
Growing pains aren’t just for kids.
Since that Halloween party in 2014, I’ve published a book, my work has been published in such places as the Washington Post and Huffington Post, I’ve won an award for my writing, and I have been booked and paid to speak. I’m not saying this to brag. I’m saying it to let you know that amazing things happen when you ignore your fear and keep moving forward.