Tracer Rounds – Fakin’ It ’til You Make It

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How The Impostor Phenomenon Gets In The Way ~

In my interpersonal communication classes, we talk about something called “the impostor phenomenon.”  (Now, let’s all just pause for a moment and marvel at the fact that they actually have me teaching a class about interpersonal communication and yes my wife is laughing her ass off right now but that’s neither here nor there.)  The impostor phenomenon is best summed up this way: even well-accomplished individuals sometimes doubt their achievements and fear being ‘outed’ as a fraud in areas in which they are no way ‘faking their way’ along.

TR-stuartThe impostor phenomenon hits me rather personally.  Let’s face it, I’m here helping run a wargaming site, and some people might mistake that for having some level of expertise in the wargaming field.  But my track record in the wargaming field has honestly been pretty spotty along the way.  I’ve legitimately had wargames in print that I sold through conventions and mail-order, but they were entirely self-published, so I never had to polish them enough to get them through a gatekeeper.  I’ve also legitimately had RPGs in print that were sold online and through conventions, and through a few brick-and-mortar stores.  But again, they were self-published and self-financed, and I probably lost money overall on them before the momentum dried up and let them languish.  Yes, I worked on a wargame project on for the NSA, but I was brought on to coordinate playtesting and tweak variables in an existing game engine, not develop from scratch.  We had a contract with NDU to create the GEMSTONE system, but after only a few iterations in use, it fell by the wayside, and I don’t think it’s even in use at NDU anymore with any other contractor.  Sure, I’ve written reviews for a bunch of places like Scrye and and that other site, but I was never a full-time paid staffer with a regular deadline and set of responsibilities and all the trappings of the professional writing trade.  I’ve put together some events and presentations at game conventions (like the GrogHeads Central Command at Origins – product placement for the win, baby!), but they were always within the broader context of someone else’s event.

So anytime anyone would bring up something I’ve done, I always had a self-deprecating riposte to the achievement that would deflate it.  I was uncomfortable with the idea that someone might over-inflate the achievements into a rarefied, and unjustified, air.  I am not a full-time professional wargamer like the brain trust at NDU or the real big brains at the Naval War College.  I’m not a full-time designer (or even a recurring/regular designer) like a Mark Walker or a Chad Jensen.  I’m not the writing machine that Jim Z was for a decade or the reviewing machine that Kev Sharp is now.  I’m not running my own game convention.  And you know what?  That’s OK with me.  It’s taken a long time to get to the point where I’m OK with the things I have achieved.

No, I’m not a full-time designer like Chad Jensen, but I unlike Chad, I was able to branch out into some professional wargaming as well.  I’m not one of the big brains at the service schools, but those guys rarely have the media outlets that I do, much less the time to engage on them.  And while my writing output isn’t what I’d like it to be, none of the writers I’m constantly comparing myself to have pulled in paychecks from their designs.  How many guys co-hosting wargaming podcasts (or any other kind of podcast) have the regular output we’ve been able to achieve, never mind getting broadcast on the radio?  Ultimately, I was making some very unfair comparisons about what I have achieved by comparing myself to someone I wasn’t even trying to be.  What that did, was lead me to believe that somehow I was just faking my way through moderating panels at Origins or Connections, or that my analyses of games for online sites were somehow less-well-informed that they should be for the assertions I was proposing.

So what?

GHLogoTextAt some point, I finally realized that if I really wasn’t any good at this, I wouldn’t keep getting asked to be involved.  Sure, I’m not the best podcast co-host (especially since I’ve bailed on Michael a few times), but we’ve been able to achieve some remarkable reach and consistency for a bunch of guys who had no idea what we were doing.  I’m not a wargaming expert like the guys at DLDC, but people still keep writing me and asking for advice, or for comments for news articles they’re working on.

Somewhere along the way, I’ve finally become confident enough in what I’m not that I’m OK with who I am.  It’s not an issue of arrogance – Lord knows I’m not ‘all that’ in the wargaming world – but more of a comfort in the skin I’m in.  I’ve got a bunch of different perspectives about wargames that comes from my broad background around wargaming.  I’m not going to tell they guys at NDU anything they don’t already know abut running seminar games.  But I might have some ideas I’ve cribbed from a tabletop game that can be incorporated into their existing programs to enhance them.  I’m not going to offer any insights to RPG design that Ryan Dancey or Matt Forbeck hasn’t already picked up elsewhere.  But is there a good idea from a wargame we could bring into an RPG that might be worth discussing?

Here’s the takeaway for you guys – because I promise the point here wasn’t to try and just make me seem like some God-among-wargamers (I’m not; I’m more like the Mo Rocca of wargaming).  Be confident in what you’ve done and how you got to where you are.  If you really think you might have a dose of imposter syndrome, check out this test and see.  You might have honestly stumbled into it, but that doesn’t mean you’re completely faking it.  You have some basic competencies that got you to where you are, so lean on them.  Moreover, while you might not have every perfect qualification for what you’re doing, there’s no shame in admitting that you’re still learning as you go. I spent 3 years as a business analyst in the software world before I was finally confident enough to walk into a room and tell folks that “I know what I’m doing, and here’s how we’re going to do this project”.  In the meantime, I would approach each situation with “here’s how we’re going to start this, and we’ll adjust as we go and learn more about what works.”

So how about you?  Where do you feel like you don’t belong in conversation, and – most importantly – why not?  What have you done that would make you worthy of being in the discussion, and why isn’t that enough for you?

Most importantly, remember this: if you’re the smartest guy in the room, you’re probably in the wrong room.  So why should you feel like you have the smartest guy in the room just to get in the door?  You’re not an impostor; you’re part of the conversation.


This week’s soundtrack:

My favorite song from a gone-way-too-soon Andrew Wood and Mother Love Bone.  This came up on “shuffle” in the car the other day, and I keep hitting “repeat.”


Game that caught my eye:

My copy of Liberty or Death from GMT arrived.  Pics will be coming toot-sweet.  Let me just say that this is a beee-you-tee-fulllll game.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been this impressed with the visual production of a game, and I’ve got a graphic design background, so I know how hard these things can be.  We interviewed Harold Buchanan a while ago, and have tracked this one though its p500 timeline, so it’s been on the radar for a while.


What I’m doing this week when I should be playing games:

We had a water leak in an upstairs bathroom that’s ruined the ceiling and carpet in the bedroom below.  So I’m spending this week dealing with contractor bids, insurance companies, etc. etc.  Yip-freakin’-ee.


Wouldn’t it be cool if…

We trusted our gut instincts more, and they were actually right for a change?  On a completely unrelated note, it would be so magnificently cool if NC State could actually win a basketball game of consequence this year.  Man do we suck.  Ugh.


This week’s quote:

“What’s talent but the ability to get away with something?” – Tennessee Williams


Happy Monday everyone; just remember that the first 5 days after the weekend are always the hardest.   Bayonet 06 – out!

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3 Responses to Tracer Rounds – Fakin’ It ’til You Make It

  1. David Skordinski says:

    I now about bathroom leaks from upstairs. We can provide advice.

  2. Brian Train says:

    I believe I am the Hazil Adkins of wargaming.

  3. […] and just not sure how.  Many of those turn out to be kind of personal, like the column about the Imposter Syndrome.  Today is one of those days, and it’s going to be hard for make this as coherent as it deserves […]

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