You know, it's kind of funny, but only recently (...like in the last three months...) have I confidently been able to say, "I'm Annika. I'm a published writer." Call it Imposter Syndrome. Call it a lack of confidence. Call it whatever the heck you want...the bottom line is that conversations about my books typically went like this.
-New Friend: Nice to meet you! What do you do?
-Me: I'm a grad student...and I used be a teacher...I write too.
-New Friend: You write? Like...blogs? Books?
-Me: Yeah. I write books.
-New Friend: Oh, have you thought about getting published? Are you already published?
-Me: I'm already published.
-New Friend: Oh, cool. When? What's it called?
Me: It's called the Rearranged Life...it was published in 2015.
-New Friend: Like, at Barnes and Noble?
Are you cringing? I AM CRINGING. Digging out of me that I was a writer was harder than cracking into a cement block with a plastic shovel. I often justified it with, "Yes, I have two Master's in..." or "Yes, I'm still working on the next one..." because it is so easy to rely on the back-up. If you fail, you were really doing something else anyway--this was an experiment. You haven't said you're a writer often enough that the world hears you and knows that you tanked. And if you're an imposter, you never said you were a writer openly to believe you were anything but a fluke. It was just another blip on your career radar.
I'm done pretending now.
My dashingly handsome and brilliant friend Kunal (y'all, he's a real estate agent in New York--this girl is a shameless plugger of talent) had a birthday party in May. I walked in fully intent on introducing myself as a graduate student but he didn't give me the chance--proudly, he spoke of me as a writer to literally everyone who he introduced me to. "Hey, this is Annika, she's a writer. She's got books coming out at Barnes and Noble next year. Let's go to her book signing!" At first, I accompanied the introduction with a nervous laugh and probably an expression of OhshitdammitKunal...but confidence grows when the people you love are proud of you. His enthusiasm was so contagious, eventually my awkward smile became a genuine one.
I kept wondering why that was. I am a writer. Why hide it? So, of course, being the overanalytical human being I am, I thought about it--and began to recognize my signs of insecurity, also known as Annika's Playbook.
-The Credit Handoff:
Them: Wow, you wrote a book?!
Me: Well, I had a lot of help...I didn't do much.
Them: Good luck! I look forward to reading your bestseller!
Me: Let's hope...I mean, there's a lot of other great writers out there. Let's see what happens.
-The Justification Sidestep:
Them: I've always wanted to write a book. But I have a day job.
Me: Well, I'm actually a teacher, and I'm getting my second Master's...it's a side hustle.
Needless to say, none of those were scoring points. There are plenty more--the nervous laugh, the awkward glance around the room to see if you can hide, the compulsory mention that you don't write romances like Fifty Shades so you can be taken "seriously" (But why? Fifty Shades did great and everyone's got their own taste.). There's a list as long as my arm of the diversionary tactics used by people who are afraid of their own successes.
But, as they say, the first step to recovery is identification.
From there, it was the small things. Mentioning "writer" first, before my day job as an intern and student. Working on not looking down when I talked about it and instead, locking eyes with people as I spoke. Proudly describing plot lines about Indian-Americans, which was then only catapulted into even more confidence when people seemed interested. Using empowering stories about how I juggle things rather than demeaning it--like, "I have two jobs. I work during the day as a teacher and when I get home, I eat and then I write so I can have my manuscripts finished and to my agent." instead of, "Well, writing is a side hustle..."
The thing is...as women, we get told all the time we aren't good enough. Hell, why limit it to women? Men do too. We're constantly bombarded with messages about being more beautiful with X makeup, being skinnier with Y diet, being curvier with Z workout, being smarter with A achievements, but remaining individual because somehow, in all this pressure to fit in, we're supposed to stand out.
Why, then, in these moments where we CAN stand out and own our triumphs do we feel the need to make them blend in? It's infuriating and it needs to stop. You know that feeling you get when someone does something SO COOL you just can't handle it? Like when my friend Hetal talks about her time on MasterChef--I'm hanging on every word and I want to know All The Things because I'm fangirling over her success. What makes us feel as though we ourselves can't be the subjects of that same awed adoration? And why, oh why, do we remotely ever entertain the thoughts that our success can threaten others?
I wish I had answers. I wish this post was full of enlightenment about how to change the world. But I do have some tips...and I hope you find them as helpful as I did.
1. Own your story. You have come so damn far, girl (or dude!). Wear that badge of honor and rock it. And when others share their own roads to success, respect it. Do not let it threaten yours. There's room at the table and you have your own giant fluffy chair waiting.
2. Inspiration is everywhere. That girl in the cubicle across from you who seems to not work as hard but somehow just got a promotion? She's not hindering your success, she's fueling it. Take a moment of your day to get to know her. Maybe there's something you'll learn. And remember, you have something to offer too.
3. The sun shines in the dark too. Whether you see it or not, your talents and your brilliance are right there. They are constant. Burn bright. Own the fact that you cast light that only you can bring.
4. Start small but grow big. For me, recognizing my quirks when people brought up writing was the first step in owning what I had in my arsenal. You have a unique set of talents and insights that only you can bring to the table. Stop hiding. Find out why you do. Work on changing it. The world deserves to see you shine.
Just to push you, I'll follow my own advice. Hi. I'm Annika Sharma. I am a writer. I write contemporary Indian-American romance/women's fiction and yeah, I'll say it out loud now: You bet your size 2-32 sexy butt I'm proud of it.