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  • Writer's pictureKara Espy

Imposter Syndrome Is the Enemy of a Good _______

One of my favorite Internet personalities is therapist Mickey Atkins, who vlogs about "therapisty things" on her Youtube channel. Not too long ago she posted a video about things she wished she had known as a new therapist, and I found that by simply replacing the word "therapist" with editor, each point also applied to me. One stood out especially: "imposter syndrome is the enemy of a good <editor>".


Imposter syndrome goes beyond simply doubting your abilities. For me, it's the persistent anxiety that my great ruse will be discovered, that despite my best intentions to portray myself honestly, I have somehow fooled my clients into thinking I am far more capable than I actually am. Imposter syndrome leads to an inability to acknowledge our own accomplishments, and it plagues many high-achieving professionals across a spectrum of industries.


I recently attended ACES Emerge 2022 in San Antonio. As it was my first editor's conference, I was determined to fill my bingo card. I went to the networking lunch and evening reception. I spoke with people and handed out business cards and even completed their conference scavenger hunt (more in hopes of winning an iPad than anything else). I met people who edited books, business proposals, risk assessments, government documents, social media posts, translations, non-profit materials, and on and on. Some of them had formal training, some had been mentored, some had taught themselves. And whether during conversation or while hosting a breakout session, so many mentioned imposter syndrome as a consistent, uncomfortable companion.


It seems to afflict experienced editors and newbies alike. It was a constant presence in tales of transition and triumph. This made made me wonder: is there something inherent to the editorial profession that causes us to question our abilities? Or, does the profession draw the type of person more likely to experience imposter syndrome, regardless of what they are doing? Maybe a bit of both?


The anti-anxiety idiom "don't sweat the small stuff" is, in many ways, the antithesis of the editor's mandate. We understand how small details create big meaning. The nuances of a word choice or an applied style can be the difference between clarity or confusion; between othering or inclusivity. The writer can focus on creativity, on expression of new ideas; the editor must home in with precision on all the elements which makes transmission of those ideas possible.


I've sometimes had the impression that some authors view editors as obstacles to their creativity rather than critical support players. But editors are there to ensure the author's intention is conveyed to the reader. Writers want readers. Readers want to understand. Editors want readers to get what they want so writers can get what they want. Precision is not the adversary of creative freedom; it is the perfect complement for art that must be communicated clearly.


An inborn understand of the importance of precision is, I believe, what makes an editor good at their job; but it also makes them susceptible to imposter syndrome. We cannot help but turn that critical eye inward. We cannot help but attempt to optimize ourselves.


So, what is the solution for all my anxious edibuddies? I've taken some of the other tips shared by Mickey in her video to new therapists, and I'm trying to apply them myself.

  1. Lean into authenticity You aren't the same kind of editor as someone else, and that's a GOOD thing. Focus on being who you are and you will attract the kind of clients that are a good fit.

  2. You're allowed to not know things Editors feel a pressure to be an authority on so many things, but our brains can only hold so much. Knowing where to find what you need is a far more important skill to develop than trying to know everything.

  3. Not every editor is a good editor Just as there is an abundance of writing advice and writing programs out there, there are plentiful editing courses and workshops and seminars. It's crucial to have a discerning eye: many of those resources are fantastic, but not all will be a good fit for your style, or your clients.

  4. Don't wish your life away waiting to be a "real" editor. Every stage in a career has its joys and its pains. High-achievement people like to focus on what's next, but that can cause us to miss out on what's happening around us. Find and savor all the best parts of being who you are, and where you are, right now.

Even before attending ACES Emerge 2022, I've been aware of (and participated in) several editing communities, where editors freely share advice, ideas, and client referrals. In an age where many online communities have seemed to turn on each other, it's been so refreshing to find places that remain positive, inclusive, and focused. My experience at ACES solidified this impression. Editors don't view other editors as competition; we are colleagues with a shared vision. Perhaps that is the greatest antidote to imposter syndrome: to find the people who make you feel like you belong.


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