Artist's Way,  Impostor Syndrome

The Artist’s Way for Midlife – True Identity

I am currently working my way through Julia Cameron’s newest Artist’s Way series, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again – a program specifically targeted to help those in midlife discover creativity and meaning.

This week I focused on chapter five: Reigniting a Sense of Honesty.

I continue to follow the four cornerstones of the program:

  • Daily hand-written Morning Pages (managed to write 5 out of 7 days due to  holiday travel)
  • Weekly solo Artist Dates (visited 3 museums while out of town)
  • Two 20-minute solo walks per week (early morning dog walks are the only way to survive this heat)
  • Ten weekly Memoir prompts (this week focusing on ages 21-25)

I was curious how this week would pan out. I consider myself an honest person – I always have been. I just didn’t know how this time in my life would connect with the weekly topic. But once again I trusted Julia Cameron’s process and plunged into the memoir questions without hesitation.

  1. Describe the major relationships of this time period.
  2. Where did you live? In more than one place?
  3. What was your driving force at this time?
  4. Describe a sound.
  5. Describe a taste.
  6. Describe a strong opinion you held.
  7. Were there parts of your personality that were more pronounced?
  8. In what ways did you effortlessly express yourself? In what ways did you struggle to tell the truth?
  9. What was a source of frustration?
  10. What other memories feel significant.

Transition would be an apt word for this period of my life. I was a junior in college at the age of 21, graduated at 22, married three weeks later and immediately began working as an administrative assistant in corporate America. Two years later we moved to New York City (Greenwich Village) and I transitioned into a “career” as a market research analyst.

This was the early 1980s. Women were told we could have it all: happy marriage, fulfilling career, 2.5  children. The problem was… I didn’t want it all. I am an old-fashioned girl.

While I was grateful for the opportunity to work outside the home, I preferred to stay in. I wanted to raise my children – not send them to daycare.

This concept was counter-cultural, however. And in an effort to fit into this modern society, I found ways to work from home, take care of my children, and keep my thoughts to myself.  Soon I began to doubt my convictions. I wondered if I was doing my children a disservice. Would they be better off socializing with others their own age?

I may have had strong opinions, but I didn’t often express them. Silencing my voice took its toll.

In answer to the question – what was a source of frustration – I wrote:

I liked school. I liked learning and I understood the assessment policy. I wanted As and Bs and I knew what I needed to do to earn those grades. Excellence was rewarded.

Outside academic institutions assessments were difficult to understand. Corporate America rewarded mediocrity: nothing extra for excellence and peers felt threatened if anyone went above-and-beyond.

I wanted/needed to know what was expected of me and I wanted to deliver excellence. I do not like settling for mediocre.

But how did this apply to this week’s topic of honesty? The key lie in Julia’s introduction to the chapter:

Now that the kids and job are gone (and you no longer try to fit in) you can get in touch with what you really think. You can begin to live more honestly by resisting the impulse to please others or do what is expected of you.

Could it be that I have been so busy fulfilling others’ expectations of me (or my perception of those expectations) that I have lost some of my true identity?

I’ve written quite a bit about Impostor Syndrome – the feeling that I am a fraud. Despite all my hard work and accomplishments, I fear someone will soon discover I am not who they think I am (a teacher – a writer – a good mother).

Could this constant striving to meet the expectations of others contribute to this Impostor complex?

Could the secret of living an authentic life – an honest life – be found in dealing with this syndrome once and for all?

If I eliminate the idea that I am a fraud (dishonest) then I am free to be me.

Wow… that was a lot to process! Even though I don’t have definitive answers to these questions, I do think I’m moving in the right direction. Onward and upward!

Next week’s topic is Humility.


  • Michele

    I love the introspection that this book is leading you into. I think it is a good time of life to think back on the events and feelings from things that have happened in our lives. I think it helps us to know ourselves better, and as a result, I think we can live a more fulfilling life. I am visiting from MLSTL.

  • Karen Hume

    Hi Molly,
    Great to see the photos of you in your early 20’s – you haven’t changed 🙂

    I agree with Michele’s comment about the great introspection that comes from working with It’s Never Too Late. I used to think that I didn’t have all that many memories of certain time periods, but as I work with Julia’s questions memories are flooding in and, along with them, lots and lots of insights.

    You are definitely heading in the right direction. That comes through loud and clear in your posts.

    • Molly Totoro

      Oh Karen… you are so sweet 🙂 The hair is a little grayer and the middle a little thicker. But I if I am only as old as I feel, then I am about 35. I’m glad you are enjoying the memoir prompts as well.

  • Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond

    Hi Molly, I agree about the feeling of the Imposter Syndrome. For many of us we feel as if we have had to keep others happy and as you say not voice our opinions. Working through Julia’s book I’ve accepted and reinforced that it is never to late to be true to ourselves. Thank you Molly for another insightful post and for sharing with us at #MLSTL. Have a beautiful week.
    Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond

    • Molly Totoro

      I am grateful to you and Leanne for developing this #MLSTL online community where I not only feel supported but encouraged to find and use my voice in this second half of life.

  • Leanne |

    I loved the photos of you Molly – the wedding one brought a smile to my face. I married in 1983 and this brought back a lot of memories for me. The pull between wanting to be home with the kids and having a husband (in my case) who often changed jobs was a tricky one. You definitely can’t have it all and I know what you mean about govt jobs rewarding the mediocre – so hard when you are someone who gives 110%.
    Midlife is definitely the time to do some re-evaluation and to settle into your authentic self – people pleasing and trying to be what I think others expect of me is slowly receding in my priority list!

    Visiting from #MLSTL and to let you know I’ve shared this on my SM xx

    • Molly Totoro

      I love this, Leanne! Put people-pleasing on the back burner 🙂 I have a feeling next week’s focus on humility will have me delve into this idea a bit more. I am slowly learning that if I don’t please myself, I am not pleasant to be around – and that doesn’t help anyone.

  • Janet Mary Cobb

    Loved reading your reflective thoughts – how easily we can get sucked into others’ expectations, etc. I wonder if Imposter Syndrome isn’t just a fancy term for basic insecurity — particularly when we question if we are a ‘good mother’. I think your sentence, “If I eliminate the idea that I am a fraud (dishonest) then I am free to be me.” sums it up nicely but isn’t our need to meet others’ expectations part of who we are — at that specific time in our lives?
    I feel I might be turning in a bit of a circle with my thoughts here — thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    • Molly Totoro

      I do believe, Janet, there is a balance. I feel we are called to serve others – and a part of that is knowing (and meeting) certain expectations. I do not wish to change this focus in life. However, in my case, I think I went overboard 🙂 I cared too much what others thought – I compared myself too much with others (and always fell short) – and I discounted my own desires which resulted in resentment. None of this helped me or those I love. What I am trying to learn in this second half of life is that it is okay to be me. It is okay to consider my own needs as well as others. Expectations are good – as long as they are realistic. And life is not a competition. Does this make sense?

      • Janet Mary Cobb

        Molly – I totally understand the ‘too much’ and discounting your own desire – given my 13 years in the convent — what I meant by my idea that it is part of who we are is really that I encourage you to accept that as who you were THEN – and to not beat yourself up for it. In other words, we can’t judge yesterday’s actions based on the grace and wisdom of today. When I came to this realization, I could let go of regret and begrudging and move more freely into the power of choice. Hope that makes sense. And — good for you to move in the direction of honoring your own desires!

  • Victoria

    I have felt like an imposter a number of times in my life. At my age now I am pretty much what you see I have no time to not be myself. When I was the age you are talking about in this post I wanted to be out working and having a career but a stay at home mom was what was expected.

    • Molly Totoro

      I completely understand what you are saying, Victoria. And I am grateful to have lived at a time when women had a choice. I’m sure if I lived at a time when I was told I had to stay home and raise the children, I would have resented the confinement.

      I just felt like the choice I wanted to make at that time was “wrong” 🙂 In looking back… I realize I based that on what one person said in an off-chance meeting. It’s silly how much stock I put in her opinion.

      At this time in my life, I’m trying to separate society’s expectations from what I expect of myself. I am most grateful for that freedom and do not take it for granted.

  • Mary Lou

    I was a young stay-at-home mom during my 21 – 25 years. I had four little boys all in a row from 1964 through 1968. They were my driving force plus sifting through the changes that were taking place for women in the workforce. I was interested to see that you as a young mother in the 80s struggled with the same feelings and questions that I did. I wanted to be home with my children and provide a stable home for them and my husband. Always with the idea that the day would come that I could begin to do more of what I wanted to do. I believe we did the right thing for us, Molly, and today my sons know me as a person and we have a great bond with each other. Once again, I’ll be sharing this on my social media for #MLSTL

    • Molly Totoro

      It is SO important that our children recognize us as a person and not just a parent, Mary Lou! And I agree… I willingly sacrificed a bit of me time when the children were young knowing I would have plenty of me time later in life. I am thoroughly enjoying this Midlife phase.

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