I went to an event a few weeks ago where a large group of alumni from various schools gathered to celebrate one another’s success in the film industry. I had never felt a stronger sense of impostor syndrome in my life.
To be fair, I do not have a background in film, nor was I an alumnus from any of those schools (USC, UCLA, etc.). I attended as a guest. I thought it’d be a wonderful opportunity to meet new people. And there were definitely people. There were actors who were working in indie films. There were producers who have given panels. There were screenwriters getting booked for a Netflix series.
And then there was me: a writer from the outside who has not been a full year in Los Angeles, working retail part-time, about to lose their health insurance, heavily burdened by student debt. I have no background in Film and TV other than a few amateur attempts in writing short scripts. I have not one film project in the works. I didn’t even study film, majoring in English and Philosophy as an undergrad and then earning an MFA in creative writing right after. In other words, I was completely misplaced. It felt like I had no business there.
This wasn’t the first event that made me feel this way. I have been to numerous networking events since moving to Los Angeles, and each one made me reconsider my career choices. I have applied to TV writing programs which I failed to get in. I have attended networking events with other people from the film industry. I have joined a film collective that supports each other with various resources. What I never tell them is that I didn’t start out in film but in literature. TV writing is something I would love to pursue, but it seems so far away from me.
It’s something I’ve felt even with my literary career. Although we attended the same writing program, there are several of my classmates who have already gotten published. They are now giving readings. They are becoming instructors at colleges and universities. Reading the work they put out there, it feels as if I’m wasting my time trying to catch up to them. I may be a fiction editor, but that doesn’t feel like much. At this point, they’ll always be five steps ahead of me.
I came to LA on a whim, believing there’d be more opportunities here than in my hometown, an agricultural city that wasn’t known for much other than its strawberries. There weren’t that many opportunities for me in Santa Cruz county. So one can only imagine the culture shock I received when I landed in LA. I work in a bookstore where authors regularly come in to see their books on the shelves, models buying issues of the magazines in which they are featured, network employees buying copies of screenwriting books for their employers. Everybody seems to be something here, and I can’t help but think as if I don’t belong.
But perhaps that is the wrong way of thinking. Maybe it’s not that everybody here is something so much as everybody here wants to be something, just like I do.
I discovered wanting to be a writer by accident, and I haven’t wanted to do anything else since. Writing is one of the few things in my life that makes me feel accomplished. When I am sitting down with my notebook/laptop in front of me, I almost feel invincible, carving out words out of nothing, stories usurping my imagination. Honestly, there is nothing else I would rather do with my life.
I can imagine that’s how a lot of people felt like starting out and possibly feel like still. My brother tells me stories of several of his coworkers waiting tables while also being writers registered with the WGA and bussers producing their own music videos. At some of these networking events, I’ve met producers also working retail. I’ve even met full-time marketers who have yet to finish a single script to send out for representation.
The same goes for people who have wanted to meet with me, thinking I’m somebody important because they learned I’m a fiction editor for an online literary magazine. I don’t get paid for it. It’s a labor of love. And yet, they still want to meet with me because they think I’m doing something important. They think I have something to offer when I don’t think I do.
And that’s when I often realize my impostor syndrome is a lie: when I realize that a lot of people, like me, are struggling. Some people may already have films made and their books published. But there’s a lot of people who didn’t start out that way. A majority of people did not and still don’t have the luxury of being in a place of privilege, where all of the necessary resources are available to them from the start. A majority of us have to struggle, and the steps taken are often so small they don’t feel like steps at all. But they are steps nonetheless. Impostor syndrome is the lie that tells me everyone else has it worked out. But that’s just not true. There are plenty of actors working retail, hundreds of musicians waiting tables, plenty of writers working tedious office gigs. Impostor syndrome is the lie that I don’t belong because only I struggle. But most people struggle. The struggle is real. And the struggle is probably not going away for a while. Impostor syndrome is the lie that I don’t belong because I wasn’t born into this. But plenty of people are not born into their passions either. They discover those passions and work hard to feel accomplished. Impostor syndrome is simply and wholeheartedly a lie, and that’s something I have to remind myself every day.
I had a conversation the other day with someone where they mentioned returning to their hometown once they “felt more accomplished,” mentioning how they don’t think they’ve taken any steps towards their goal. I told them that they were committing a false equivalence with the steps they’ve taken and their eventual goals. Just because they haven’t met their goals does not mean that they haven’t taken steps towards them. It’s a feeling creative and ambitious people have to combat a lot, an inner struggle we are forced to embrace. In some ways, I was giving myself a pep talk as much as I was giving one to them.
The next time I go to another networking event for creatives, I have to remind myself that I am a writer no matter what and I work hard for what I want. I have to remind myself that not being where I want to be is not a reason to give up. That I am taking major steps towards my goal.
I am a writer in Los Angeles. I am creative. And I deserve to be here. Just watch.