Making acquaintances with imposter syndrome


I felt sick to my stomach last week. My editor assigned me a story in which I had to write about a subject that I tend to avoid like the plague.

What subject, you say?

Student loans. Specifically, mine.

These old friends. The presence that’s been in my life since I was 22. My longest-running intimate relationship to date, longer than any of my romantic partners and even better at keeping me awake in bed.

I was comfortable with them as long as I could talk about them privately to select people, in specific environments, and long after a trusting relationship has been established.

But talking about them openly in a major publication evoked a dread I didn’t know I had within me. I felt nauseous, I started trembling, I was annoyed. I looked for something to be mad at, then realized what was wrong.

Nothing. I only had to tell the truth.

I feel sympathetic for the Hollywood youngsters who had to grow up before America’s eyes, because now I feel like I am doing the same, reckoning with choices I made a long time ago with an audience of people who can judge, question, and critique in ways that are – let’s be honest – sometimes valid.

And here’s the thing – I realized the only way I am going to become comfortable talking about them, dealing with them, and moving through all this drama is by simply doing it.

So I sat down.

I wrote the article.

(It’s yet to be published.)

But now, of course I feel much better.

People think that writers have to be experts. And in many cases, we are. But in an equal number of cases, we write to make sense of the world. That’s how we got started in the first place.

It’s easy in a culture of idolatry, when brands, personalities, and celebs (not that I am one) are held in the highest regard to assume the false belief that in order to know anything a writers has to know EVERYTHING in order to have any value.

But that is simply, I’m learning, not true.

“I told you,” wrote Maggie Nelson in The Argonauts, “I wanted to live in a world in which the antidote to shame is not honor, but honesty.” 

Honesty. What an interesting idea.

Well, then. If we’re being honest, here is what I thought before I had the opportunity to write about something that made me profoundly uncomfortable:

I thought that before I’d ever write about personal finance, I’d have a lot more money in the bank.

I thought I needed to be perfect to be worth listening to, and that I had nothing credible to say because I had made mistakes in the past.

I thought that one day, after I’d privately arranged my life into perfect working order, invested more money in school, or a better website, or a branding coach, you name it – THEN I would deserve a spot behind the mic.

But then I realized – this resistance to taking a risk is exactly the kind of thinking that convinced me to put off earning extra income with a side hustle through college, and the same kind of thinking that told me to take out student loans with no plan because “one day” I’d have the answers straight.

And then I decided to, simply, give it a try.

The shaking stopped. The walls, to my knowledge, have not caved in. I’m still here, the same me only a few dollars richer than I was before the piece was written.

I got out of my way. I said the thing that was scary. And everything is better for it.

Shame is a powerful riptide. And the only antidote is honesty.

How to be honest with yourself about money

One of the first steps in feeling empowered enough to set out on my own as a freelancer was to have two solid years of budget tracking under my belt first. I needed to know what my “scary number” was – or rather, the minimum amount of money I had to bring in, even in my worst months. Making a simple budget tracker out of a Google spreadsheet was how I did this. And guess what? I still use this budget tool today.

Try it for yourself, completely for free, here.