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In today’s web world, there is a huge push for more content production. But it can be challenging to keep up a regular blogging schedule. How do you say something “unique” or “new” when a quick Google search returns a dozen or more posts on the same subject?
It’s usually at this point that Imposter Syndrome sets in. “I’m no expert in _____.” “Why should anyone listen to me when there are so many more expert voices out there?”
Well, it’s true that you will always be able to find someone more skilled than yourself. And it’s probably also true that countless people have written about the same things you write about.
But no one has lived your life, no one else has your particular perspective, and no one else can speak from your unique experiences. The key to vanquishing Imposter Syndrome is simply to focus on your own learning, and to reflect upon your discoveries.
For instance, someone will always be able to prove you wrong if you make a claim like, “I’m the best content strategist around.” But no one can argue with you if you state, “I’m learning a lot of important things about content strategy.”
Lessons learned in a paint can
When I was a teenager, I worked for my dad every summer, painting signs for his businesses in a seasonal resort — those big 4x8 foot signs you can read from your car. I enjoyed it a lot because it was a chance to communicate something in a creative, colourful way. After a few years of this, the resort office approached me to paint a simple sign for their resort entrance. They had seen my various signs around the resort, appreciated my style, and now wanted one for their own purposes.
As a 16 year old, I was pretty excited to have my first piece of “client work”. I was also really nervous because this wasn’t just another project for my dad. The stakes felt higher. If my dad wasn’t totally happy with the way a sign came together, it was an easy conversation to get it fixed. But it seemed scarier to me to disappoint people who were officially hiring me to do some work.
So, out of fear more than anything, I abandoned my usual freehand method, and instead scrupulously measured out every last angle and line. And the end result? You can imagine. Not good.
It was clumsy, rigid, and lifeless, like someone had done a poor job of stencilling. I took one look at it and realized I could never submit this. When I showed my dad, he agreed and asked me, “You know why they came to you to paint their sign? They want you to make it the way you make signs.”
I was afraid I wasn’t professional enough, or that my work wasn’t “perfect” enough. In my attempt to impress, I had abandoned the very thing that made them want to hire me.
Write the way you write. Write from what you know.
When you set about writing, don’t make the mistake of breaking out your stencils and goofing up what would’ve been a good piece of work. Don’t try to emulate someone else’s style. It’s always going to come off forced or fake.
Don’t salivate in anxious envy over another professional’s depth of understanding. You have to get there yourself. If you try to sound authoritative in hopes that people will take you seriously, you’ll be poked full of holes in no time. It’s a better idea to first take yourself seriously and devote yourself to learning.
Listen to speak. Read to write.
Jeremy Keith of Clearleft advises that you first need to listen in order to have something to say; you first need to read in order to have something to write. We humans are finite beings, and we need to keep feeding the fire if we’re to create anything of worth.
It really doesn’t matter if there are already 38 billion posts on how to use Facebook effectively. I guarantee you, your clients are looking to you for leadership; they’re not scouring the web to find out if this is truly the best or only word on the subject. Be you because that’s who your clients and your audience need you to be.
And if you’re curious about what happened to that sign, I ended up whitewashing it and starting over. The second time around, I cast away the thoughts of “I’m not good enough,” and just made another sign in the same fashion as all the others I had created. And the result? They were more than pleased, and that little 4-foot notice to newcomers sat at the resort entrance for years. $50 honestly earned.