Imposter Syndrome

I’m here to talk about my feelings a bit, just because I’ve been feeling them and I like talking about them and I also like writing so it’s really all just jiving for me rn. If you also like feelings there are words for your enjoyment below.

If you’re not into that, that’s cool, man. Just skip through for pretty pictures so you have a positive takeaway.

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Donuts are my comfort zone. Making them is second-nature. I spent a whole year testing recipes and travelling around the country to donut shops before launching Orlandough. And those donuts at the beginning? Woof. Not great—at least when placed next to what I’m making these days. Looking back on that growth I feel uncomfortable, probably because I was during that time.

Back in early 2017, I regularly felt uncomfortable selling what I was making for real america dollars. I imagined each person who came to the table would be thinking “who does she think she is? Selling those? For how much? Wow.” And this, after YEARS of making desserts near-constantly for friends and family with mostly positive feedback. I’d worry about orders I took, the trust people placed in me to make their parties or celebrations special, why did they think I could make things for them?? So I’d stress and hyperfocus on each order and with each one representing a hurdle, I got over them and got better.

Turns out this feeling, especially after you’re doing okay and have shown you’re capable, has a name! It’s weird that that thought process has a term. When I first read that I was like “omg, YES, that is exactly it, Google!” and also sort of impressed before I remember psychologists spend a lot of time researching and naming sh*t your brain does that it maybe shouldn’t do.

Imposter Syndrome: a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud".

For me, imposter syndrome also creates this fear of criticism, because it makes one feel exposed. For a while I thought I disliked criticism for the good ol’ reason that it doesn’t feel good to have something you put time into be deemed “meh" or “dry” or “insert criticism here”.

But now? I am COMFY with donuts. Which is nice. I don’t worry too much about people complaining about donuts anymore. But also a bummer; complacency doesn’t exactly breed excellence. And criticism shines a light on something that might actually be easily remedied/make your business better. But then again, who wants to be uncomfortable? Then I start imagining a rom-com where they just get together and there isn’t the dramatic turmoil, romantic reconciliation, and appreciation of what they had to go to get to where they are, also probably less intriguing sex scenes, just saying. I mean, imagine The Notebook if Allie just went back after she turned 18? Said F you parents, I’m going to be with Noah. Snooze. Which is a long-winded way of saying I was missing that drama in my donut crafting and therefore missing that sense of accomplishment, specifically that dance-around-the-kitchen-I-baked-the-shit-outta-you feeling. I was also successful enough from an outside perspective that I believe criticism people may have had for my products were going unsaid, because overall it appeared I was with-it and was doing fine. Who are they to tell me?

Well. They should tell me, if they mean to help me, not if they’re just trolls, obviously. But you’re someone and you have thoughts and feedback and it can really help. If what’s being said is meant to make my products and me better. It might not make me feel great when I hear it, but I’d rather know. Short story: My mom spends a lot of time helping me, and one day she said in passing she found a relatively big eggshell in the doughnut she ate. “Maybe you should crack the eggs in a separate container and then add them to try and avoid the eggshells?” she said. “Uh, whatever, Mom” said 27 year old Liz. I totally know you’re supposed to do that with the eggs, I’m clearly just lazy and it’s FINE and I can’t believe you’d CALL ME OUT like that, wow. Booooo. But it wasn’t. I was just defensive, clearly. And yes, I did basically respond like that to her, because I was ashamed I messed up (see above where I’m afraid failure means I’m a fraud). But once I really sat with the suggestion I realized it was only intended to make Orlandough better. And guess what? I crack every single egg in a separate container, scan for shells, and then add it to the mix. I probably occasionally miss some. I am human. But now that I’m aware that my bit of laziness was causing a fixable issue with the dough, I was able to fix it.

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But what about that complacency I’ve found my way into with donuts? Luckily for my business and the quality of the items I produce, I’ve come into another phase of true discomfort. Between new expenses, new opportunities, and new products I have to handle all on my own, I oscillate between confident, self-sufficient, dare-I-say-sexy-? human to “…maybe I could just go be a mole person for like a year? Mole people probably sleep so good…'“. Macarons and I have had quite a few moments in the past weeks of exhausted happiness. They have the frilly foot and a flat bottom and the shells are smooth and I DID IT.

Only downside, beyond the stress added, this new discomfort has reignited the imposter syndrome I felt when I started years ago.

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So what have we learned thus far? Discomfort -> improvement (!) feelings of accomplishment earned through hard work (!!) but also impostor syndrome :’(

My point? I feel like way, especially now. As soon as one batch of macarons came out not great after that successful one, I was throwing them in the trash thinking “you’ve failed me, I’ve failed me, mole-person time”.

But I’ve come to see that the real goal isn’t just pushing that feeling of being an imposter aside, nor is it to avoid things that make you uncomfortable. It is about being in those emotions, recognizing them and also being able to simultaneously reassure myself I am capable, my accomplishments are real, and I can direct my future and have the intelligence to direct it well. I imagine this positive voice as Jonathan Van Ness and the vibe it gives me demonstrated below. Shamzing.

Also, mistakes can mean you learn something, if you’re doing them right. They don’t have to dictate total and complete failure, in fact they almost never dictate total and complete failure unless you want them to. Example: below is the cake I gave away last week. And below that is what it originally looked like when I got done decorating it. I scraped everything off and started over, because you can do that sometimes, especially with cakes, thank God. I’m including this because honestly it’s pretty f*cking funny how bad the original is. So I hope it gives you a laugh and illustrates what I’m saying a bit. Related, I now know one more way not to decorate a cake! Can you believe?

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Elizabeth Doerr