How I Fooled Myself Into Beating Imposter Syndrome

Meet Clarence, the self-doubt toad that sits on my shoulder

Yi Shun Lai
Published in
5 min readJun 9, 2021


Photo: Holger Langmaier/EyeEm/Getty Images

A couple years ago, I asked one of my clients for a quarterly review. She wrote back, “I’m not just pleased with how things are going—I’m thrilled.”

Only I misread, and my heart trip-hammered. Could I be getting fired after just three months? What I’d read was this: “I’m just not pleased with how things are going.”

I felt like I’d been sucker-punched — all the blood drained from my head and I immediately began to wonder if they’d let me try and improve before they replaced me. And then I read again and slowly returned from my black hole. I turned to Twitter to help me right myself, and a friend immediately tweeted back:

Twitter image: Asked a newish client how she thought things were going in my employment so far. she wrote, “i’m not just pleased w how things are going. i’m thrilled.” i read, “i’m just not pleased…” folks, i am still looking for my heart somewhere down by my boots. speaks to mood, hunh? (Tweet from gooddirt, February 5,2020) Reply from Melissa Manlove, February 5, 2020, reads: Sweetie, I’m not just your friend, I’m the person who will come over and kick the ASS of the self-doubt toad sitting on

The self-doubt toad! Yes, I recognized him. You may know him as imposter syndrome. As your inner critic. As writer’s block. As anything that keeps you from moving forward, or that makes you wonder why you’re putting so much energy into a thing you‘re probably innately terrible at.

Ever since Melissa pointed out my self-doubt toad, over a year ago, I’ve been paying more attention to him. I give him space in my classes, introducing him to my students so that they, too, will recognize him when he pops up in their own lives. In interviews about almost anything, I refer to him because imposter’s syndrome can be about anything. He comes up so often that someone made me a drawing of him.

I call him Clarence.

Marker drawing of an unhappy-looking toad with a black cloud over its head. Text reads: For Yi Shun…Self-doubt toad
Original art: Jaime Glasser, DVM

Right around the time I named him, I realized that he didn’t have as loud a voice anymore. And he didn’t speak up nearly as often as he used to. That’s because Melissa’s comment had triggered a change I wasn’t even aware I needed to make.

Before there was Clarence

See, Clarence had always existed in my brain, in one form or another. In the beginning, he looked an awful lot…



Yi Shun Lai

Author: A SUFFRAGISTS’S GUIDE TO THE ANTARCTIC (2024), Pin Ups (2020). Columnist, The Writer.; @gooddirt. Psst: Say “yeeshun.” You can do it!