stories from my suitcase: overcoming imposter syndrome + taking up space

It’s been a long while since I wrote anything super personal on this space for a multitude of reasons. However, this post has been brewing for a while and I think it’s time to hit “publish” on the little dude.

I’m rarely on Facebook, except for some freelancing groups and to {attempt to} run my blog’s Facebook page. The other day, I hopped on and saw that it had been exactly 1 year since I was in Hoi An, trying my hand at professional writing for the first time.

Okay, that’s not true. i’d been at it in china.

I had already been writing for a magazine in China, loving the collaborative atmosphere and the creative energy in the small office of two people {three if you add in me}. But Hoi An last July was the first time I took a leap into writing as a freelancer. No office. No blackboard wall to scribble out my pitches on in colourful chalk. Just me, an assignment, and my laptop— there for a good time. And now, it’s something I do for a living. Weird and wonderful, writing is hard work but I it’s one of the things I feel has always been a part of me. Yet, even in saying that and knowing it to be true, I have spent the last year fighting off a major case of imposter syndrome.

Over the last year, I’ve felt a rollercoaster of emotions tied to the bigger steps I’ve been taking in freelancing, blogging, and my work for the U.S. Embassy. I’ve felt like I am only allowed a predestined amount of good stuff. Every new good thing I have manifested in my life has had me waiting for the other shoe to drop. But, I feel like I have finally come to a place where I feel comfortable taking up space. Like I’m not an imposter.

I’ll explain…

“I’m not a writer” in CHINA

I had written to the editor of The Nanjinger {shout out to Frank} asking if the team took contributing writers on. I explained that I used to write a blog, which I had recently shut down, and needed some kind of creative outlet to keep my writing juices flowing. Almost immediately he replied telling me to show up at the office with ideas to share over a cup of coffee. I remember that morning so clearly. Shaking while walking up to the office doors, scouring the elevator numbers for the correct floor. Luke had to wipe my nervous tears from my face and calm me down. I’m not even sure why I was so nervous, to be honest. I guess because I had been writing on a blog of my own making, which quite literally anyone with a computer can do, and I figured you needed a degree in journalism or communications to hack it at a print magazine. I had none of that. When he asked if I had a portfolio, my gut sank. Then, he asked for my ideas, all the while scribbling on a notepad and downing black coffee exactly as I imagined the editor of a magazine would do. What was he writing down? Were my ideas total shit? Do I sound nervous, because I am really nervous? He looked over at Renee, his executive editor and she nodded. What was the nod about? A nod is good right?

“Why do you want to write?” Renee asked.

“Because I’m lost in this place and I need to feel like myself again. I know writing can do that.”

She looked at Frank and they exchanged yet another nod. I’d been too honest. Maybe even grossly vulnerable.

Frank sat his coffee cup down for what seemed like the first time since we started our meeting and welcomed me to the team. He explained that I’d start out writing short-form current events and news pieces, moving into personal essays and interviews once I got a bit more settled {which was two articles in, as it turned out}. I couldn’t believe it.

From then on, I eagerly woke up each morning ready to write. Checking my phone for messages about some breaking story I’d get to go report on or a restaurant I’d be sent to review. It’s funny how one break can change everything. I lived for the moments I was sat on a stool, drinking coffee and chatting with Renee about what kind of stories we could make work for the next issues theme. Seeing my name online for another publication was wild, but the real victory was felt the moment I was handed a copy of the print magazine and flipped to the page with my name on it. Something so little to many felt like a major step in a direction I had talked myself out of walking towards for ages.

stories from my suitcase: overcoming imposter syndrome while overseas

“i’m still not a writer” in vietnam

Despite writing in China, learning the ins and outs of the world of magazine publications, when I went on a Workaway experience in Vietnam to write for a start-up website, I still wasn’t brave enough to call myself a writer. It wasn’t until I got closer with a group of women, all bravely pursuing their own endeavors, that I found the courage to call it like it was. One of the women asked what I do. When I told her I worked for a British magazine in China, she said, “So, you’re a writer!” Immediately, I countered with, “Well…I mean…I write…but I don’t have a portfolio or anything. It’s still really new. I guess you could say that…but my degree is in Human Rights…I don’t know…”

“If you’re writing for a magazine, babe, you’re a writer. Own what you do. If you don’t have a portfolio, you just need to make one. I can show you how.”

It was in her reply that I had yet another realization about my own self-doubt. I hadn’t put together a portfolio because I didn’t think I was “enough” of a writer. I had bylines. I had experience. I’d been published. But, I still couldn’t pull the trigger on something as simple as calling myself a writer or creating an online portfolio because that would make writing as a career more real, and real is scary. I had finally started making larger strides towards my ambitions, but I was afraid it’d all go away. So I played small. If I never called myself a writer, then, when it all inevitably fell apart, I wouldn’t have to call myself a former writer. A used-to-be writer. A writer who couldn’t make it happen. The problem with that thinking is that playing small doesn’t work with big dreams.

After leaving Vietnam, I immediately started filling out the “occupation” section of disembarkation forms at immigration with “writer.”

stories from my suitcase: overcoming imposter syndrome while overseas

“i’m not a really blogger” IN LAOS

Eventually, I did reboot my blog {obviously, since you’re reading it right now}. I decided if I was going to do it, I wasn’t going to do it half-in/half-out any longer. I took up {and am still} learning SEO strategy, Lightroom, pin creation, DA boosts, etc. I began pitching more regularly, learning what worked and what didn’t. I found my online voice a little more steady. I felt overwhelmed by the opportunities, no matter how small, that presented themselves to me once I worked harder and actually tried. Even getting a rejection from a brand felt like a victory, since it meant I had put myself out there. And with every “no” from one person came a “yes” from someone else. Slowly, traffic grew and I felt like, despite being nearly a decade into this whole blogging thing {shout out to my fellow original Blogspot lifestyle bloggers + those of us who got into Pinterest when it still required an invite}, I had found a new way for me to blog that felt like I was getting seen and could bring about continued opportunities {without the overshares I no longer had the emotional bandwidth for}.

This past March, I was invited on a press trip to Luang Namtha in northern Laos. The tourism board was hosting a trip for bloggers and writers hoping to boost the eco-tourism in the northern region of Laos. Fully comped travel, accommodation, and activities, plus getting paid for all of it— what more could a girl ask for? Throw in the fact that it was centered on responsible tourism and elevating the economic opportunities of ethnic minorities that live in this part of the country and it combined things I love rolled into one amazing experience; responsible travel, Laos, writing. I was over the moon.

As soon as I arrived, I met the other three bloggers I was on the trip with. All with bigger following and greater DAs, but all of whom had been at it for a much shorter time than me. I’m not competitive with other people. What got to me wasn’t comparison, it was an annoyance with myself. I had been so many places I hadn’t yet written about. Why hadn’t I gotten serious sooner? Why did I suddenly feel like I knew nothing about any of the blogging acronyms they used? I felt fully out of my depth, despite them all being friendly and fun. I called Luke back in Luang Prabang and told him I had no clue what I was doing. He, of course, reminded me that my knowledge of Laos and love of the country, along with my writing got me there just like everyone else. Heart counts for something. He reminded me that, while I felt like kicking myself for not doing all of it sooner, I was doing it all now, when I was ready. And it was this perspective shift that changed everything.

And, I wasn’t late to the game, I had only recently decided to re-approach the field. In truth, I don’t really want to be a travel blogger. I want to be a writer. And those two things can be very, very different.

I left the game willingly no longer wanting to play for a time and, after Vietnam, had finally felt like upping a gear to help build my portfolio and writing samples in order to write about what matters most to me more. I hadn’t wanted to blog. I left it.

I wasn’t an imposter. I had been invited to the press trip. Smaller following be damned. I didn’t have to be a big-time blogger to get opportunities. I just had to believe I was worth the opportunities I was working for and getting.

stories from my suitcase: overcoming imposter syndrome while overseas

“i can’t pull this off” in London

Creating and hosting an event has been something on a long list of things I’ve wanted to do for a while, but kept talking myself out of. I wouldn’t pull the trigger because how could I possibly pull off hosting an event based entirely on a vision I had in my head and no experience with event planning. Thanks to the help of a friend, willing to email vendors all over London, we absolutely nailed hosting a women supporting women night at Bar Teatulia and a collaborative evening with a bevy of creatives at thee Sketch London.

Meeting publishers, models, film producers, and the coolest of the cool in London gave me sweaty palms. Introducing myself as a writer, once again brought up feelings like I was an imposter, despite over a years worth of professional bylines in print and on digital platforms.

Both events were such successes that the vendors emailed us wanting to do further event creation. Thrilled and shocked and in total disbelief, I learned so much from both these events. The first one was great, the second was even more fantastic. And yes, I was nervous for both. I realized, however, that my long list of all that I’ve been wanting to do and create doesn’t require me to be perfect— flawless and fearless and without nerves. You don’t have to be the best photographer; you only have to be willing to learn and start. You don’t have to be the best writer; you just have to pick up a pen and chase down editors. You don’t have to be an event planner with a major budget; you just need confidence and a vision.

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the take away

The truth is, my case of imposter syndrome came from the self belief that I should be working harder, doing more, achieving more, creating more. The belief that playing small was the same as being humble. The belief that you can’t say yes and figure it out as you go; that you have to have it all together from the get go. And those beliefs did not serve me. So I had to change my inner dialogue, a change that has been transformational. I had to level up and

There is no finite number of good things we are allotted. You are allowed to go after all your passions and every ambition. But waiting until you’re ready is a sure-fire way to never go after what you want— be it freelancing full-time, blogging on a bigger scale, creating an event in a busy city, starting a business…whatever. Quit playing small. Do the thing. Learn. Fail trying. Learn more. Go for it. And don’t ever count yourself out before you actually try. You have everything you need inside of you. We are all as wildly capable as we believe ourselves to be.

If you’ve made it this far, I applaud you. This novel was written in the hopes that, if you’ve ever felt similarly, you know you aren’t alone in feeling that way.

quit hiding your magic, the world is ready for you.

- danielle doby