Why is it so hard to write about ourselves?
Updated: Mar 31
“I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.”
No, this quote wasn’t said by Elizabeth Holmes or Anna Delvey.
Nor the neon-bedecked DeAnn Brady of Lularoe.
It was none other than Albert Einstein.
And if the world’s most-renowned genius had trouble believing in himself, maybe there’s hope for you yet!
Many of us contend with this phenomenon, one that psychologists and brain experts call impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome is like a petulant, impossible-to-please teenager living in our head, displeased with our every accomplishment and explaining in raw detail why our latest win is actually rubbish.
“You’ll be found out!” the voice promises. “They’ll all realize your entire life’s work was all a fluke!”
Winners of Nobel Prizes, Olympic champions, and yes, even Albert Einstein, all share this internal nattering nabob of negativity. It desperately tries to wiggle its way into any nook or cranny in our confidence to convince us that we’re not successful at all, but at the helm of the world’s most clever bamboozle.
When it’s time to put pen to the page, we find it even more impossible to champion our winning attributes. You have no idea how many times clients have tried to talk me down from “making them sound too good!”
But they ARE good—they excel in a remarkable field, they’ve won awards, their peers constantly shower them in deserved praise. Here are some common examples of where people commonly try and dull their shine:
Website copy like an “About Me” page
Articles where we assert our opinion
Social media bios like LinkedIn or Instagram
Podcast host descriptions
Presenter or guest speaker profiles
So why’s it so freakin' hard to write about ourselves—and what can we do about it?
We don’t view our missteps through an appropriate lens
Picture this. You’re in a conversation with someone you’ve just met. You discover that you’re both super fans of horror movies. Then, the catastrophic happens—you nervously misname Halloween-renowned actress Jamie Lee Curtis as the lead in Friday the 13th!
The conversation rolls on, but are you still having fun? For many of us, the answer is a resounding N-O. For some reason, our brain will dig its claws into that itty-bitty mistake. The impostor-y rumination starts to slither its way into our consciousness. We’re a moron! The other person must think we are a fraud!
Why do we do this? Our brains always think, “something is up.”
We’re lowkey on 24/7 recon, sniffing out taco trucks for sustenance and assessing rustling shrubs for attacking animals. The same function also evaluates whether our conversation partner is wise or a doofus.
The thing is, unless a tiger does come charging out of the bush, we immediately brush off the feeling and move on. Still, we assume others are clinging to the slight misstep as an unceasing warning alarm of our incompetence.
Turns out, if you circled back to your blunder, the other person would probably have no idea what you were talking about. The music was too loud, or they didn’t even hear what you said. More likely, they did hear you, assumed you misspoke, shrugged it off, and continued to swoon over your other fascinating film insights.
What you can do: Instead of viewing your writing as a soapbox, think of it as a conversation, openly encouraging others to share and exchange their knowledge, too. Aside from remarks shared by career trolls, every response is an opportunity to improve—so use any feedback as on-the-job training to get even better next time around.
We think the spotlight is always on us
When the actual spotlight is on us, we suddenly think we are at the center of attention. We assume listeners and readers are preparing a rigorous dossier of our incompetence, counting the times we stumble on our words, or worse, plotting to get us fired.
Is this over yet?
Will I be able to make my 5:30 yoga class?
I’m in the mood for a hamburger.
Why did they make Dan Humphrey Gossip Girl?
The truth is, most of the time, people are wholly consumed by their own thoughts. They’re not nitpicking your every word or every movement. Brief thoughts breeze through, Wow! This person is pretty smart!, before they’re right back wondering what time the dry cleaner closes. Nobody is focusing their full attention on you, and they’re certainly not keeping a tally of your every mistake. For the self-centered among us, this might be a tough pill to swallow—but for the rest of us, it’s freeing!
Try This: Think of someone you emulate in your field and write a short passage about their accomplishments. How would you introduce them to an audience? How would you pen their book jacket? Most likely, your words would be glowing and filled with reverence.
Next, try writing one that showcases Y-O-U. Resist the temptation to pare down on the words of admiration and get comfortable describing yourself and your competence in your subject matter with confidence.
We weigh our early performances far too heavily
When we’re just starting out in a new field or career, we’re bound to encounter plenty of stumbling blocks. Sadly, our brains code these as severe mistakes—behaviors that should be utterly avoided in the future!
Have you ever been consumed by something trivial, like the time one mean boss pointed out a typo? I, for some reason, remember a time in my very first job when I had an arrow pointing the (subjectively) wrong direction in a PowerPoint.
My manager was wholly baffled as to why I did it that way. From there on out, I was always anxious about putting together these presentations. I don’t even remember the content of it—which I’m sure was fabulous—yet for some reason, I’m still plagued by this hairy detail from nearly fifteen years ago!
Again, we can blame our brains. Naturally, we have a more vivid and hard-to-shake recollection of harsh and uncomfy experiences. It makes sense: if we burn our hand on the stove, our brains want to make sure we never do that again. But unfortunately, it treats low-grade risks the same way, and if we’re not careful, they can consume us.
What you can do: I can’t count the number of times I’ve stumbled across an article and read it through with great praise for the writer. Only to realize—something felt strangely familiar. Turns out I was the writer!
To make sure you keep your wins top of mind, maintain a spreadsheet with links to everything you write. Once a week, click through and check out some of your greatest hits. Overwrite the memories of the one time you messed up with gratitude for all the great work you’ve done.
Social media inundates our brains with talented experts from every corner of the planet
Keep in mind: our brains weren’t wired for the power of social media. We simply don’t have the capacity to consume the world’s most brilliant talent 24/7 without it denting our own self-confidence.
We’re used to being the best football player in Katy, Texas, or the most celebrated singer in Tuscaloosa.
We hear the story all the time: a remarkable hometown talent goes off to college, only to find out that they’re no longer the smartest person in the room. And it completely crushes their spirit!
Social media is like going off to college each and every moment of the day.
You record an awesome acoustic guitar solo, and immediately: there are twenty people from all around the world with sweeter strumming skills.
You write something great, and you instantly stumble across five people who wrote it better. There’s a constant pool of top talent standing in your doorway—and if you’re not careful, they’ll talk you out of delivering on your greatness.
Remember this!: If this is something you really suffer from—lay off social media, for starters. But remember, there’s no one quite like you.
You and a hundred other people can write on the very same topic—one is snarky and one far more formal. One is a pianist and brings in lots of musical analogies, while the other is a chef serving up food metaphors. Different readers will relate to different writers for all kinds of different reasons. Your perspective is wholly yours and deserves to be shared—dig in your heels and honor it as such!
Remember: “The size of the fear indicates the size of the assignment”
I like the saying, “the bigger the opportunity, the bigger the devil in the doorway.”
We feel so terrified of putting ourselves out there because the potential reward is so fulfilling. The bigger and more life-brightening the opportunity, the louder the voice in your head telling you that you can’t do it and that you don’t measure up. So with a bit of bravery to punch impostor syndrome square in the nose, you can gain the confidence to put pen to paper on the thing that matters most to you—Y-O-U!