Managing Imposter Syndrome, Part 2: The Perks of Being a Beginner

Imposter Syndrome can undo years of hard-earned confidence. Most of the writers I work with are seasoned professionals who reached comfortable levels of success in their first careers—and those first careers had nothing to do with writing books. Heck, my first career had nothing to do with writing books.

For 20 years, I worked as a physician covering pediatric emergency room, inpatient ward and ambulatory care centers in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was grueling yet rewarding work I spent years in school training for and fully planned to retire from. But those plans didn’t quite pan out. About halfway into my medical career (a time when I was supposed to be enjoying the well-earned fruits of my labor like job security, the respect of my peers, and a cushy salary), I got bit by the writing bug and then fell in love with editing.

Anyone who’s made a major career shift will tell you how intimidating it is to start at square one. There’s so much to learn, so much room to fail, and so much potential for judgment. When you’re just starting out, it’s hard to imagine ever being as good at your new gig as you were at the old one. But if there’s anything I’ve learned in my journey from doctor to editor/writer, it’s that being a beginner is the best place to be. Adopting a beginner’s mind presents open—not closed—doors.

In part two of my Managing Imposter Syndrome series, I’m going to cover some often overlooked perks of being a beginner that will help you quiet your inner critic and embrace this exciting new chapter of your career. So if you’re struggling to take the leap because you’re scared of being a late bloomer or the overwhelm of starting over has you questioning if it’s really worth it, read on. You might be surprised by how much being a beginner rocks.

You’re Free From Expectations

If you’re well into your first career, you know how debilitating expectations can be. There’s pressure to perform at a certain level, live up to your degree or title, and meet the standards set by those around you. But as a beginner in a new field, no one has any preconceived notions about who you are and what you can do.

Let me tell you—nothing is as liberating as a clean slate.

Having no expectations gives you the freedom to experiment, fail, and grow without really worrying about how it will affect your reputation. Any mistake you make is just part of the learning process, and any success is a pleasant surprise. It’s hard for imposter syndrome to gain a foothold.

How to take advantage: Take more risks! This is the perfect time to throw everything on the wall and see what sticks. Try out different genres, play with interesting formats, and experiment with new techniques. You have the freedom to explore and write without fear of judgment, so use it!

You Offer a Fresh Perspective

After years of doing the same thing, seasoned professionals tend to get stuck in their ways and struggle to see outside the bubble they’ve created. Beginners have no such limitations. Your lack of experience means you’re not bound by traditional ways of doing things, and you’re more open to learning and trying new approaches.

Creative fields like writing thrive on newness. So don’t underestimate the power of being an outsider. Keep actively exploring and questioning everything. You never know where it might lead.

How to take advantage: Trust your instincts. When we’re newbies, it’s all too easy to question ourselves and assume the experts know better. But often, it’s that fresh perspective that leads to groundbreaking ideas. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo if you truly believe in your vision.

You’re a Sponge for Knowledge

The further along we get in our careers, the less we make time for learning. But as a beginner, acquiring new skills and knowledge is your main objective. You’re eager to learn everything you can about your new field, making you a sponge for information and mentorship. Don’t let imposter syndrome convince you that asking questions or admitting when you don’t know something makes you look foolish—it’s actually the opposite.

Being curious and open to learning is a sign of growth and adaptability, two qualities that will serve you well in any career. Soak up as much as you can while you’re still early on in your journey.

How to take advantage: Sign up for every class, workshop, and conference you can find. Start studying for a degree or certificate. Find a mentor. Join a writing group to learn from others in the industry. Try out writing sprints to motivate and ease isolation.

Seek out as much knowledge and guidance as you can—and don’t be afraid to ask questions along the way. I studied writing craft and editing and publishing at UCLA and copyediting at UCSD. I still enjoy and value the community of like minds I’ve met in these programs.

Beginning anything is equal parts exciting and terrifying. There’s no way around the fear, discomfort, and learning curve—but don’t get so hung up on the scary what-ifs that you miss out on all of the incredible advantages of being a beginner. Making a conscious effort to focus on those will turn the volume down on your inner critic.

Remember, You’re Not Alone: Imposter Syndrome has invaded the thoughts of many famous individuals. These feelings are a natural part of creative endeavors.

Acclaimed authors like Maya Angelou and Neil Gaiman have been widely quoted as feeling like imposters at times. Neil Gaiman’s 2012 commencement speech at the University of the Arts shares his personal anecdote about feeling like an imposter long into his career (Read the speech here).

Of course, that’s just one way to silence the beast of self-doubt and gain an advantage over Imposter Syndrome. In the third and final installment of my Managing Imposter Syndrome series, I’m laying out all my best tips for keeping that pesky voice quiet long enough so you can do the work you were meant to do.

And if you haven’t caught up on part one yet (which covers defining imposter syndrome and identifying triggers), you can find it here. Finally, consider working with a book coach, a professional trained to bring their knowledge of writing, editing, and publishing in service of your words.

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Story Coach, Story Development

I’m Pam, Your Story Coach

I help busy professionals write and polish the book of their dreams. Let’s bring authenticity to your speculations, flow to your structure, and heart to your words.

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