Artist's Way,  Impostor Syndrome

The Artist’s Way for Midlife – Baby Steps

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 nine: Reigniting a Sense of Motion (baby steps).

I continue to follow the four cornerstones of the program:

  • Daily hand-written Morning Pages (wrote 7 out of 7 days)
  • Weekly solo Artist Dates (reviewed scrapbook layouts)
  • Two 20-minute solo walks per week (walking the basset…)
  • Ten weekly Memoir prompts (this week focusing on ages 41-45)

This was a breakthrough week for me. Is it coincidental that it occurred during the week we focused on motion?! I don’t think so. I think the culmination of nine weeks of journaling memoir prompts opened my mind and heart to new possibilities – fostering the perfect environment for such a breakthrough.

In fact, this was the first week I did not complete the prompts. I will in time, but the breakthrough began early in the week and I followed that prompt instead.

I won’t go into all the details because quite honestly, I am still processing. In time, I’m sure a blog post (or two) will result. But I do want to explain the chronology of events and the transformation I experienced.

Last week I shared my struggle with having fun. I enjoy scrapbooking but rarely make time to pursue that hobby. Many of you offered kind encouragement and support to help me overcome this mental block. Some suggested I set a timer and allow myself twenty minutes of fun… and then slowly build up my stamina. As you rightly pointed out, my all-or-nothing personality told me I couldn’t scrapbook unless I had hours to complete an album. In reality, an album will be completed with a few minutes each day.

This segued nicely into one of Julia’s exercises for the week:

  • List 5 large actions you dream of taking.
    • Scrapbooking to leave a legacy
    • Embrace a more active lifestyle (walking and yoga)
    • Retire to a lakefront home
    • Travel through Europe
    • Start writing the second book in my Middle-Grade series
  • Now list a tiny action you can take in that direction.
    • review scrapbook layouts for inspiration
    • review beginner yoga videos
    • search through Zillow for available properties
    • begin a bucket list of places to visit and things to do
    • journal my mental block that prevents me from writing the first draft

It is the last dream … my writing dream … that helped me unlocked the mental jail cell I’ve inhabited for decades.

My journaling revealed that my block is due to Impostor Syndrome – something I’ve written about extensively. While the first book in the series has done better than I imagined, I reasoned “anyone” can write one decent book. Beginner’s luck … a one hit wonder. But only a true writer can write multiple books in a series. I fear once I start writing this second book and share it with others, they will discover that I am not really a writer at all. I am a fraud.

I then asked myself … what if I had the confidence to be a writer? What if I actually believed what others say rather than dismiss their compliments? How would my life change?

Through several journaling sessions, I discovered I have a warped view of confidence. I equate confidence with bragging – conceit – pompousness. I was always taught that pride goes before the fall. Blessed are the meek and humble. Unfortunately, I have a warped view of those words as well. I thought the Bible taught true humility was to think poorly of oneself.

In fact, the Bible says no such thing. It states we should not think more highly of ourselves than we ought (not constantly put ourselves down). It also states we should love our neighbor as ourselves (not “instead of” ourselves as I wrongly assumed).

How could I be so wrong all these years?! How did I miss the message of self-love and acceptance?

But more importunately, how can I banish these self-defeating lies and replace them with living truth? How can I move forward with confidence to go after my dreams?

And the answer is found in this week’s focus: Motion … Baby Steps.

Julia did not ask me to list twenty dreams and take several leaps toward each one. She asked me to list five. Then choose one. And take a single baby step.

She also asked me to lower my expectations. I don’t have to scrapbook hours at a time. And I don’t have to create award-winning layouts. All I have to do is preserve my family’s memories for the next generation… one page at a time.

Likewise, I don’t have to write the perfect first chapter. I don’t even have to write the perfect first scene. All I have to do is sit down for ten minutes and write. What I write could be total rubbish – or it could be the start of a rough draft. That is inconsequential. I need to sit down without judgment, lower my expectations, and simply type words on a page.

My young grandson is learning to walk. He does not judge the quality of his steps. He does not try to run a marathon or even keep up with his mom. He simply puts one foot in front of the other for as long as he can. And then he rests. He is satisfied and content. I can learn much from this innocent child.

My post rambled a bit this week. I apologize. But breakthroughs are hard to contain.

In conclusion, I want to leave you with this thought from Mary Oliver:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and crazy life?

I plan to start living it with confidence, gusto, and a sense of great anticipation. How about you?



  • Michele

    You are very dedicated to this process and I’m glad you had a break through. Why do we have such an all or nothing mentality? Of course things will get done when you take baby steps. Little bits do add up. I hope you will give yourself permission to start things and spend a short time working on them. .

    • Molly Totoro

      I’m not sure how this all-or-nothing mindset begins, Michele. But I can tell you, it is well-engrained in my brain. Even when I think I’m taking a baby step, it is still way too big. For example… last night I thought I would try yoga (it’s been a desire for months!). I started with a beginner video. A 40-minute beginner video! Perhaps if I were younger and/or in better shape, that would be a good baby step. I quickly learned, however, that was a huge leap for me. I petered out at 25 minutes. So, I will now lower my expectations and try yoga for ten minutes at a time and then slowly build up my stamina. The good news? I’m not going to quit. I’m not going to give into the “nothing” mentality. That in itself is a baby step 🙂

  • Natalie

    Hi Molly – I’m glad you had a break through. I’m still a bit surprised at discovering how many fellow bloggers are so hard on themselves. Baby steps are great starts and it’s never too late to begin something that brings you joy. #MLSTL

    • Molly Totoro

      “It’s never too late” should be my mantra, Natalie! Sometimes I bemoan the fact that I am learning these valuable lessons so late in life. But then I stop myself and express gratitude for learning them at all. Teacher in-service meetings begin tomorrow… and I plan to do something that brings me joy today in celebration of the end of a fantastic summer 🙂

    • Molly Totoro

      Thank you, Janet. It’s hard to believe I have only three more weeks of the program. I am excited to see what more Julia has in store for me 🙂

  • Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond

    Great to read of your breakthrough Molly and I didn’t realise you were an author. Baby steps is something I always use when planning my goals. For me, each baby step is something to be celebrated as we work towards the main goal. I’ve recently been life coaching a friend and she hadn’t really thought about breaking down her goals into baby steps. Once we did this, she felt more motivated to keep moving forward. I do enjoy your weekly update on working through Julia’s book. Thank you for sharing at #MLSTL and being part of our community. Have a great week and enjoy each baby step. x

    • Molly Totoro

      Becoming a part of this nurturing #MLSTL community is the true highlight of my summer, Sue! While I have enjoyed the breakthroughs and aha moments of Julia’s program, it means so much more to share these moments and experiences with others who can relate and empathize.

  • Leanne |

    I really enjoyed reading your thought process Molly. I’ve been struggling a bit lately with the whole blogging “thing” and whether to stop or push through. I think I need to follow your advice; “I need to sit down without judgment, lower my expectations, and simply type words on a page.”
    Overthinking everything just wastes time and energy. I’m now planning just to go with the flow and if I run out of steam then I’ll figure out what to do at the time – not anticipate something that might never happen! And even if I’m writing rubbish – it’s my rubbish and that’s fine too.
    #MLSTL 🙂

    • Molly Totoro

      Oh Leanne… I cannot encourage you enough to continue this blogging thing!! It was your website where I discovered this wonderful #MLSTL community and I will always be grateful. Having said that… you must do what is right for you and your life. Perhaps you can cut back rather than quitting altogether? Or take a hiatus for a specified amount of time? I so look forward to your messages and I know you have so much to share that we want – and need – to hear.
      I am a professional overthinker … so no judgment from me in that regard 🙂 I saw an infographic the other day that showed 85% of what we worry about never happens. 85%!! And of the remaining 15%, does worry really help? I know logically the answer is no, but that doesn’t stop my brain from going down those rabbit trails. That is why journaling has been so beneficial to me. It gives space to all those discursive thoughts. And for some reason, when I journal I don’t judge the words. I just let them flow.

  • Kay

    Molly, first of all, I want to thank you so very much for sharing your journey with us. As you’ve written about each chapter, I have nodded my head and understood a lot of your struggles. The breakthrough you mentioned is wonderful and I applaud you. I, too, know what it’s like to question and my thoughts on the Biblical things you wrote about have been very similar in my life. As I’ve gone through my weight loss this last many months, I’ve discovered more and more ‘odd’ thinking that I didn’t even know I had. I put into words some of those thoughts on my blog in July and confessed that it has been very, very hard for me to actually see how much I’ve accomplished. I’ve been too busy seeing myself as I was – almost 90 pounds heavier. So, I’m so pleased that our minds have been moving down some of the same paths. And, yes, yoga does take some practice – oh, the leaders will actually call it practice. It’s like anything else – becoming more comfortable with it takes a little time. Good luck! Hope you school year starts off well. I’ll be around cheering you on remotely.

    • Molly Totoro

      90 pounds! Oh Kay, what a wonderful accomplishment! And it sounds as though you have a great relationship with diet and exercise (I mean, movement) 🙂 I know I will like yoga once I get over the fact that I can’t do it well and I feel like a fool. I did try a class near home, but the instructor provided little feedback. So… I am trying some online videos and doing it myself in the comfort of my own home. I can’t help thinking I’m doing it “wrong” … but perhaps that is part of the practice.

  • Pat

    Molly, I can totally relate about the Imposter Syndrome. I had it at work even though I was promoted multiple times… I always wondered when they would find out I really wasn’t qualified. And now, I have a hard time calling myself a writer…even with a completed book draft. Why would anyone ever want to read it? I also feel that I need to be perfect at anything I try pretty quickly…so I avoid starting many things. That’s my perfectionism coming out. Yes, an Imposter with perfectionism. What a mess!

    For yoga, I did the “I’ll do it for one month” approach and bought a class pass. The first few classes were very challenging…I had no idea what I was doing. It helps to find a good instructor, one who will help you understand your body’s capability (without judgement). There was a beginners class where I went…but I found the “senior” class was better for me. It took me over a year to feel like I could expand to different classes and feel OK (not lost). Now I do it 1-2 times a week and miss it when I don’t. The improvement in balance, flexibility and strength keep me at it!

    Your continuing the memoir approach continues to inspire me. I need to get back into it (I did weeks 1 and 2 and stopped.) Thanks for sharing your journey with us!

    • Molly Totoro

      I agree… impostor syndrome coupled with perfectionism results in one hot mess! BUT… we are never too old to learn something new, right?

      I am trying an at-home yoga practice right now (well… all of two days so far). I know I need to get over the fact that I feel foolish and just take those daily baby steps. It’s comforting to know that others have gone before me, pushed through those feelings, and now enjoy the exercise. It gives me hope 🙂

  • Catherine Ensley

    I suffer from the all or nothing mentality as well. It is truly difficult to devote only 10 minutes to a scrapbook layout or a piece of writing, as I cannot get much done in such a small amount of time.

    I’m tired of switching between scrapbooking and writing and feeling as if I’m not making progress in either. So recently, I decided that I will complete a significant chunk of scrapbooking the 25 or so years of my family’s life (that are still left to be done, to bring me current with 2018) before returning to my writing.

    Yes, it’s an all or nothing mentality, big time! But I’ve found that in the long run, I do get more done if I operate this way. This is what works best for me. One rule I’ve set up for myself, though, is that I do only single-page layouts wherever possible. Before, I did only two-page layouts. That would make this project take years! And, if I’m not entirely happy with a layout, I do not do it over.

    Fortunately, I’d laid the groundwork for this years ago. Set up dummy files in Publisher. Collected a room full of papers, embellishments. Once harvest is over and I’m no longer babysitting my two-year-old grandson full time, I should be able to attack this project. I predict it will take about 4-6 months to complete about 25 years’ worth of scrapbooking.

    • Molly Totoro

      How I wish we lived closer to one another, Catherine! I would love to get together for some scrapbooking sessions.

      Your system sounds amazing! I currently think in two-page spreads, but I can see where one-page layouts would be more efficient. I’d love to hear your progress (and perhaps see a few pages??)

  • Christie Hawkes

    I love this post Molly. Congratulations to you on making such a monumental breakthrough and thank you for inspiring me. I can definitely relate to the imposter syndrome. Even though I was an honor student in college and am now a senior executive for a successful company, there’s a part of me that still whispers, “You don’t really know what you’re doing, and someday people will figure that out.” Isn’t that sad? It’s not as frequent as it used to be, and I’ve gotten better at rebutting that voice, but it’s still back there. #MLSTL

    • Molly Totoro

      I’ve done quite a bit of research on Impostor Syndrome, Christie. The good news, I suppose, is it typically affects quite competent individuals. Ironic, yes? I’m glad to hear your negative voices have quieted over time… perhaps one day they will be entirely silenced.

  • Victoria

    I have some of these same thoughts. I have always wanted to write a book but some days I feel that the blog pushes me to my limit. I need to remember baby steps.

    • Molly Totoro

      Oh Victoria, I strongly encourage to take those baby steps toward writing that book. I truly believe everyone has at least one book in them and the world needs to hear it! Although I do understand the blog takes time and effort as well – especially if maintaining a consistent posting schedule. Feel free to contact me anytime for writing encouragement and support 🙂

  • Mary Lou

    I love the cover for “Ellie’s Paris Adventure”! What an achievement! One of my dreams was to write and illustrate a children’s book. I’ve been going through the process that Julia mentions and it has always worked for me. Without that I’d have procrastinated my life away. Watercolor painting, blogging, etc. all began with a baby step …… just begin. Now I look back at some of the outcomes of those baby steps and I’m amazed at what I’ve done! Great post! I’ll be sharing on social media for #MLSTL.

    • Molly Totoro

      Oh Mary Lou… I adore watercolor, although I fear I never progressed beyond the kindergarten 8-color rectangle 🙂

      Yes, I think my reluctance to follow the baby step formula is because results are not immediate. It times time and patience and lots of practice to make creative progress. But once we allow ourselves that luxury, hindsight allows us to witness the process – and our resulting transformation. It’s a wonderful way to live.

  • Leslie Clingan

    So frustrated…darn computer…lost my comment.

    Won’t rewrite the whole thing but just want to say bravo! You inspire me. I am interested in your art date ideas because I have been stumped on what to do for those.

    Enjoying all of the writing I am doing thanks to this book. Now to write on my little children’s book. But I find every excuse to avoid doing that.

    Congratulations on being a published author. Where may I buy your book?

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