I was Penn State University when I first saw an ad that was great, really great, and immediately I vowed to get into the advertising business. I wanted to be with those people, the ones that did ads like this.
It must be a riot to sit around and come up with cool ads for a living, I thought.
And I did everything I could to get into the business. To be a copywriter.
When I finally did get the job in an ad agency I had to start as a clerk in the media department. To call me hopelessly unqualified would soft-peddle how just wrong I was for this job. Or any job that required math and a desk.
It took a year, but the happy day came. I was promoted to copywriter (official title: copy cub), and mister, I had the cubicle to prove it. I was over the moon, beyond ecstatic…in fact a Handi-Wipe and some ether wouldn’t have been entirely out of place.
The pure excitement lasted for exactly one day. One day of pinching myself. Of sitting up a little taller on the subway.
Because the next day I actually had an ad to write with a deadline and everything.
The excitement stopped and pure terror walked in the door (technically it was a cubicle and didn’t have a door, but still…).
Little did I know how long that terror was doomed to stay.
The terror talked to me. “You just got lucky this time…”
Even though I got the job a hundred others didn’t.
And “I wonder if this will be the project when they’ll find out it was all a fluke…”
Even though I worked my brains out ’til I got to a really good idea. Even though I was winning awards. And getting better jobs and making good money.
All these things were fleeting; the terror stayed.
Then one day, as Creative Director of Ogilvy L.A. and facing a crushing new business pitch, I was on the phone to my friend Veronica Nash (a GREAT copywriter). And it just slipped out. “Veronica, I’m so sick of feeling like this is the time they’re going to find me out, this time I won’t come up with it…”
“Oh Joanie,” she said “it’s the just the Impostor Syndrome. Joanie, we all have that.”
“What???,” I said “You mean there’s a name for it?”
Not just that, she said. Books. Articles. It’s a real thing.
And it is – just go ahead and Google it.
It turns out the Impostor Syndrome most commonly affects creative people….and women. Especially the really successful ones.
And that the cure is simply understanding what it is.
Oh, and one more thing. The Impostor Syndrome never, ever affects one group.
The real impostors.