i beat impostor syndrome (and here’s how i did it)

Doc Burford
29 min readMay 31, 2023


lost judgment (as usual, all screenshots are taken by me unless otherwise stated. they’re just in this article for visual variety because i have no idea what kind of pictures you’d use for something like this)

There are two kinds of impostor syndrome. There’s the one that says “I don’t deserve to be here among all these other people who are much, much more talented than I, what will they think of me” and there’s the one that says “oh no, I am doing something way way beyond my capacity/skill/talent/whatever. I shouldn’t be here.”

I have spoken to a great many people about impostor syndrome, and it seems like most, if not all of them, fall into these two categories. Growing up, I remember my dad having a mantra that went something like “tell ’em what I’m gonna tell ’em, tell ’em, and then tell ’em what i told ‘em.” He was fond of telling people this in regards to both preaching and the “Scoutmaster’s moment,” where he’d give our Boy Scout troop a little talk. As someone with then-undiagnosed ADHD, I found myself with a very strict aversion to this method of writing, and school only strengthened that aversion.

What people want you to do in school is often informative or argumentative essays, and they prefer that you structure your essays in a way that begins with some kind of “thesis statement” (‘tell ’em what you’re gonna tell ‘em’), followed by the body (‘tell ‘em’), and then, of course, the conclusion (‘tell ’em what you’ve told ‘em’). It’s the same structure, and it does work really well, I imagine, for neurotypical people. But I’ve found that a storytelling structure — linking interesting thoughts and ideas — works best for me as a writer, and seems to hit my audience just as well. So that’s what I like doing.


While I don’t really like telling you what I’m about to tell you, I’m gonna do my best to explain impostor syndrome as I understand it, why you feel it, and what you can do about it, because it’s actually pretty simple. There. I’ve now told you what I’m gonna tell you.

Now, it’s important to understand that what I’m going to tell you isn’t easy, mind you, but it is simple. I make no guarantees — all I can tell you is this: it worked for me, so it might work for you too. Can’t hurt, at least.


Let’s go!

(oh, and, uh, I’m going to do the entire thing without telling you to fake it til you make it, because that advice, in my experience, is horse shit)

lost judgment (what the anatomy model doin?)

But first:

If you want to support the other work I do on this blog, like this article about the biggest pitfall young writers face and how to get around it, then hey, hit up my tip jar.

I figure this kind of writing helps inexperienced writers the most — which means people who might not have the finances to afford my work if I kept it behind a paywall. That would help me, obviously — I could guarantee a certain minimum that would ensure my ability to continue writing these articles — but the people who need my help the most cannot afford it.

I, personally, can only do this with your support; if I wasn’t doing this, I’d have to get a second job, and as disabled as I am, that’s really not great. I have to spend between $145 and up to an entire Nintendo Switch’s worth of my income on medical care every two weeks. So it’s either do this or get a second job, and a second job would not be ideal given my current disability. So when you send me a tip, you’re not just helping a disabled writer like me, you’re helping tons of students, disabled people, and others without access. Thank you.



@forgetamnesia on venmo

$docseuss on cashapp

a medical disclaimer

One of the cool things about people is that, regardless of reason, a lot of our emotional responses to things are similar enough that we can put ’em into big ‘ol buckets like this. HOWEVER, COMMA, IT IS CRUCIAL TO UNDERSTAND THIS NEXT PART: even though we may all have similar problems, we may have gotten to them from different directions.

For instance, when I was being treated for post traumatic stress disorder, I was diagnosed as being a victim of narcissistic abuse. Many of my doubts about myself and my capabilities came from outside, by people who wanted to wear down my esteem so they could feel better about themselves in relation to me. A lot of the treatment for narcissistic abuse victims is in changing one’s mindset, which may involve therapy.

As a result, because some things we experience can be dealt with by shifting our understanding, it may be tempting to think that all things can. But we’re not some weird entrepreneurs on LinkedIn offering advice. It’s not enough to simply ‘decide’ to change our worldview.

If you have suffered from the disease that is depression, you may be familiar with people saying “just be less depressed,” not understanding at all that depression, as a disease, cannot simply be cured by thinking happy thoughts. I am going to tell you how I dealt with impostor syndrome, but if you’re suffering from something that can’t be resolved by reframing the way you think about stuff, don’t think that you’re fucking up or making a mistake of any kind. I cannot give you medical care — my name may be Doc, but I’m not a medical doctor. So if this doesn’t work for you, don’t blame yourself. Please consider other angles.

You do not deserve to beat yourself up because one particular strategy didn’t work; I know some of you will, so please don’t. I have something my doctor called treatment-resistant depression; it’s not super easy to deal with. This is not a failing on my part, it is simply the way the illness manifests.

While I can promise you the thing that helped me deal, please do not feel like you’re a fuckup or anything if it doesn’t work for you. I can only offer you so much; I don’t want to accidentally write my way into convincing you that I have answers that medical science doesn’t. Please, if you are dealing with genuine health issues, get the medical help you need. Do not use this piece as a replacement for medical care.

We will do our best, but sometimes we can’t do it alone. I can probably get behind a Volkswagen Beetle, put in neutral, and push it enough to get it rolling, but I might have trouble with pushing an F350. It’s not me who’s weak, it’s the Ford F350 that weighs three and a half tons. Sometimes, our problems are too big for anyone to handle alone.

ace combat 7

what impostor syndrome is and where it comes from — wait actually, first, we should talk to the not-impostors who think they’re impostors

Impostor Syndrome is, more or less, the idea that one does not deserve to be where they are. One feels as though they are a fraud, in a location where they do not deserve to be. Many versions of impostor syndrome are internally focused, on the sufferer and their own believe about where they deserve to be, but some versions of impostor syndrome are focused externally — worried that at some point, other people will go “hey, you, you’ve been faking it, you don’t deserve to be here.” There is an irrational anxiety about getting caught.

At its core, impostor syndrome comes from two places: taste and perception.

Before we get going, though, I’d like to address a few people who think they have impostor syndrome, don’t, and aren’t able to beat impostor syndrome because they have something else and ‘fake it til you make it’ or other, similar pieces of advice aren’t working for them.

There’s a comedic quiz on the website Reductress that asks “are you even good enough to have impostor syndrome?” which is obviously very funny but I think some of you — the ones who don’t have impostor syndrome but think they do, so they find normal impostor syndrome treatment isn’t working — aren’t good enough to have impostor syndrome. Or, phrased in a less humorous way: some of you are worried about whether you will be good enough to be in a position where you can have impostor syndrome, but you aren’t there yet.

Impostor syndrome, I think, is best reserved to describe someone feeling like an impostor where they are at. For those of you who are wondering if you are good enough to be in a position in the future, that’s not impostor syndrome, that’s simply uncertainty about the future. Congratulations! It’s a different kind of anxiety entirely!

So if you’ve found yourself trying to cure yourself of impostor syndrome and finding nothing works, and you happen to be wondering if you are good enough to get to where you want to be, then I’d like to say: hey, don’t worry. Arnold wasn’t always a massive bodybuilder. At one point, he was not ripped at all. What does that mean? Well, being earlier in your journey isn’t cause for alarm — there’s going to be a day where you learn something new for the first time, and there’s going to be a day where you realize a mistake you made. This is normal. If you are reading this piece, maybe you’re familiar with my other writing and you think I’m a good enough writer to read. Well, I wasn’t always this good of a writer, and I’m sure that twenty years from now, when I’m fifty-four, I’ll look back on my writing now the way I look back on my writing from when I was fourteen.

apparently this is Arnold Schwarzenegger before he became a bodybuilder

If that’s you, then you’re not an impostor, because you can’t be yet! You’re a beginner! Every pro, every expert, every master, everyone you’ve ever seen that was further along the path than you are now? Every one of them, without fail, was a beginner first, just like you.

While both of these things — a beginner’s worries and impostor syndromes — come from the same “what if I’m not good enough?” question, they differ in their position in time.

Funny thing is, both anxieties can be addressed with the same idea! So stick around! We welcome experts and beginners alike.

ace combat 7: dlc 1

it’s not about not caring

Now, if there’s one thing I think you need to prime yourself to do before the rest of this, it’s care less about what others think, but not in the way you might assume I mean.

There are a lot of things I do not care about. For instance, when I say my opinions on a video game, there is no component of me that is seeking approval for the things I am saying. There is, likewise, no part of me that’s particularly considering the reaction of my audience — that is, I have no motive beyond expressing what is in me to express. I am not speaking to get people to think of me in a specific way — there is no additional hidden motive. If I believe something, I say it, because why be anything other than truthful? What good is that?

If I say “I like this kind of game” not because I believe it, but because it will make people happy with me, then I have to perpetually pretend that I do like it and live a lie that will come to light eventually, maybe getting super embarrassed by admitting to being dishonest. I’d definitely blow through any trust anyone ever had for me. That’s creating a lot of problems that future Doc does not need to experience.

So it’s better just to be honest with your feelings on a matter. Do you like this game? Okay, you feel positively. Say that. Who gives a shit about what anyone else thinks? You had your feelings before you knew what they thought anyways, why deny those feelings upon contact with someone else’s opinions?

Since my whole deal is trying to explain concepts in meaningful and interesting ways so that the people reading them can benefit, it would really do me no good to alter what I’m saying to achieve some kind of societal reward. What good is a trophy if it means nothing, you know?

If I say something I don’t believe, then the person on the receiving end hears something that isn’t true, and if they hear a falsehood, then they’re unlikely to benefit. So there’s just… no point to pretending something other than what you believe. You aren’t helping anyone.

When I say I don’t care about what other people think, this is what I mean.

I’ve known people who very much do care what others think, and are heavily invested in controlling what others think about them. I’ve watched them waste time, burn bridges, lose out on opportunities, all because they were trying to control how people saw them by distorting themselves, violating their own interests and desires, in order to control something that no one can, at least not for long. Why would I waste my time playing a video game I hate to fit in, or writing twitter threads to make my follower count go off if there’s nothing productive said in them?

If people like my work, then they hit my tip jar, they tell people about my writing, they encourage people to play my games, and they leave reviews if they liked them. Best to make my work the absolute best it can be so people want to do that, rather than trying to be some guy with completely orthodox opinions about the world. That’s not quality work, that’s fraudulent…

And now you probably see where I’m going with this.

To try to shape people’s perception of you instead of focusing on the work is what it means to be fraudulent. If you’re focused on image over the work, you’re focused on the wrong thing. That’s what a real impostor looks like. It’s why we all hate that guy at work who sucks up to the boss but doesn’t do anything useful, right?

Sure, it can be scary to have an opinion people dislike. I remember back in the day on Kotaku, I must’ve been like 19–20, and I played a game, didn’t think it was very good, casually said it, and got a ton of hate for my opinion. How was I to know people loved Half-Life 2? It didn’t impress me that much. What good would pretending to have liked it done for me? If you know who I am, and you happen to like my work, then you know I seem to have gotten along just fine without needing to pretend I loved something I didn’t, right?

and if there’s one thing i love, it’s call of duty: modern warfare 3’s campaign

Some people don’t like it when your opinions differ from theirs. But so what? Can they go into the past and alter your experience, making you like or dislike the thing? No? What can they do, exactly, except voice their disapproval? You already had the experience you did with the thing, you’ve already formed the opinions you had. Why’s someone else get to make you be dishonest about your honestly-held beliefs? There is no “why,” of course. They don’t have that right. That’s yours and yours alone.

Other people see “don’t care” as “be aloof, be a jackass about it.” It’s the “I say it like it is” guys who are really just assholes. Man, just because I’m not interested in pretending to like something I don’t feel any affinity for doesn’t mean I’m gonna be like “fuck you for liking it!” Honesty is good, but not at the expense of being tactful. Be reasonable in your honesty. Be productive. Be helpful.

Try not to hurt any reasonable person’s feelings in the process (if someone is so fragile that they can’t handle overhearing you say “I don’t like [thing they like]” or “I like [thing they don’t like]” and try to fuck with you over it, they are probably not reasonable people, but if they say “I like a thing” and you waltz in with “WELL I DON’T” you’re probably a jerk, so don’t do that). When people talk about The Last of Us in my presence, I do my best not to interject unless it’s absolutely necessary, like if they directly ask my opinion. I’m here to give people a good time, not a hard time.

Still others, invested in trying to terrorize people like you into silence, afraid at the possibility of any dissent over shit that don’t matter like “is God of War 2018 good or not?” will insist “but the popular consensus!”

So what? You formed your own opinion! Why would discovering that other people don’t like the thing you like change your own opinion? It shouldn’t. That’s external to what mattered to you in the first place. Appeal to popularity is silly. Do you like Young Sheldon? No? It gets great ratings. Don’t you like it now? No?

(i’m not about to yell but i am going to use caps for maximum emphasis; all caps forces your brain to slow down your reading a bit for some reason, which makes the statement clearer)

THEN WHY WOULD YOU LET ANYONE TELL YOU THAT YOU MUST NOT HOLD YOUR HONESTLY-HELD BELIEFS SIMPLY DUE TO SOME OTHER GUY’S FEELINGS? Why’s some random guy’s opinion matter more than yours? I think Armond White’s a contrarian weirdo. He gets published in bigger media than I do. So what? What makes his opinion better than mine in the realm of the subjective? Fucking nothing, that’s what.

In other words, to thine own self be true, as long as thou art not a jackass. Don’t cave to the desire of perception. That’s step one. To avoid being a fraud, simply do not take fraudulent action.

But I’ll best most of you aren’t compromising yourself for the sake of social credit. Cool. I gotchu.

stasis is so fuckin remarkable

the part about taste

Okay, so, there’s a really big reason why you might feel like a fraud when you get somewhere, and identifying it is gonna help you deal with impostor syndrome a lot.

Here’s Ira Glass, a veteran public radio personality, on the matter:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.

But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.

Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

If you’re looking at your work and going “man, I should be doing so much better than this,” then that should be encouraging, because it means you have taste, and you know where you need to go. Your skill does not match up to your taste… but the really important word we put at the end of that sentence is YET. Your skill does not match up to your taste YET, but you’ve got the taste to know where to go. Good. You’ve got direction.

Realizing I wasn’t where I wanted to be but I had the taste for it was one of the things that has been keeping me from trying to learn to draw, and I only recently realized it. I’m going to have to learn to draw a bunch of garbage and be okay with drawing garbage.

A teacher of mine, back in the day, told me “Doc, the reason adults are so much harder to teach than kids is because kids don’t worry about messing up. The adults know how things ought to look, so they get paralyzed when they mess up because of the conflict between expectation and output.” The adults didn’t have the muscle memory they needed, or they’d learned some skills but not others, and so they didn’t see the gap between where they were at and where they were completed. They had taste, but they didn’t have the skill yet.

You are going to have to work on your skills until they align with your taste. That worry that you don’t deserve to be here? Dummy (I say this affectionately), you are here because it’s time to develop your skills now. Don’t worry about whether or not you deserve to be here, because about this? This thing? Where you’re at? This, right here and now? This is the thing that helps you get to where your taste is. That might be intimidating, but it should be the most exciting thing in the world. Now you have a path to get to where you want to be.

Now, kiddo.

Now isn’t the time to give up because you ‘don’t deserve to be here,’ now is the time for learning. So get excited! This is the place you’ve always needed to be so you can get to where you want to go. Being here may seem intimidating, but this is the opportunity to get what you want. Let it become exhilarating.

i cannot stress enough how random these screenshots are. i do not endorse killzone: shadow fall

the part about perception

There are two kinds of perception at play here: self-perception and perception of the role. We’ll start with self-perception, because that’s the more controversial one and I suspect I’ll be able to segue into the next section off of perception of the role a lot easier.

I suspect people will dislike me for saying this, but I believe it to be true, and I think it will help, so it must be said (woe be unto the person who says “I tell it like it is,” because they may believe something to be true, but they failed to consider whether or not their words would help):

Anxiety is self-centered.

I’m not saying you are self-centered, I’m saying that anxiety, that fucker out there, outside of you, is selfish. It very much wants to make you selfish too. Anxiety is our ego trying to drive a wedge between us and our reality.

Take it from me, a person who was diagnosed with severe social anxiety disorder (I could not leave the house except at night when no one was around, which basically meant all I ever did was go to Wal-Mart, which was open 24 hours at the time) and eventually got it worked down to moderate. I’m working on working it down to no social anxiety disorder at all, but it’s a process, and I’m only part of the way along my journey towards enjoying spending time with people again.

Anxiety is a force that makes your brain go “what are they thinking about me?” There was a time when, any time I left the house, I was constantly going “what are they thinking when they see my face? I bet they’re laughing. I bet they think I’m a hideous freak.” I’m getting better about posting my selfies, going without a hat, not covering my mouth (though admittedly I needed dental surgery for that one in order to feel good about it). But at its core, every step of the way, my anxiety tried to capture my attention and force me to think that everything I did or said was something people A) paid attention to, and B) cared enough to hate me over.

Now I want you to think about yourself. How often are you really thinking about other people? If you’re out there going “people are judging me” 100% of the time, reading into every little look and gesture as a criticism (which is what severe social anxiety disorder sure makes it feel like, having had it myself), think about how often you actually do that to others. How many times are you staring off into space, thinking about what errand to run to next, or thinking about the next milestone at work, or, heck, thinking about your own impostor syndrome?

You probably aren’t judging people that much, so it stands to reason that other people aren’t really judging you that much either, yeah? Yeah. See? The anxiety was trying to trick you into thinking it was about you, but you’re too smart for that.

So, when you’re in a place where you’re wondering if everyone is judging you and everyone secretly thinks you don’t belong… just, like, compare that with you. Are you judging people that much? No? Then they aren’t judging you like that either.

i will be writing an article about ghost of tsushima, a game i love for many reasons, and why it does something really bad, very soon

But that’s not the solution, the one we’re driving at. We’re working through the process. That might help you, but if you’re going “I tried that,” don’t worry, we’re still getting there. This is the between-meal snack.

I think the key thing to understand here is that anxiety is trying to make you focus on things that genuinely and truly do not matter to you. Like, if we can speak to the anxiety for a moment: Okay, so you are here, in this position where you would worry others would consider you an impostor, right? But is that why you came here?

What I mean is, let’s say you’re a 2d artist, and you get a job at Famous Game Studio, which you’ve wanted to work at since you were playing Game Saga 3: Quest’s Revenge on your pa’s knee at the computer back in the day. You are now working at this place you’ve built up in your mind as a sort of hallowed, sacred hall of innovation — the connection means something to you. There may be some trepidation there, some sense that you don’t belong. Where does that come from?

Well, I’d suggest that it comes from a headspace focused on positioning: you saw yourself as looking up to the people in this place, and now you are here. You may not see yourself as being as great as the thing that dominated your childhood, but that doesn’t mean you are. That’s you comparing nostalgia to reality — thinking about the relationship and how it’s changed over time. You don’t see yourself as some big, epic, famous game developer, so you feel like a fish out of water. That’s natural; there’s an adjustment period for that.

But, if we cut all of that away, the question remains: why are you here?

Now, we can do the espresso depresso thing and tell ourselves this question means some metaphysical blah blah blah bullshit about ourselves, or we can tell our anxieties to fuck right off because the question means exactly what the question means: why are you here?

There were decisions made — decisions you made — that put you here. Did you get the job because you were forced into it at gunpoint? No. You got the job because, presumably, you applied, right? That was a choice you made. You applied because you wanted it, right? That was your dream job, you wanted to be there, right?

And, knowing you, I think we can both safely say you also put in some work to get there, right? If you’re an artist, you probably drew. If you’re a writer, you wrote. If you’re a programmer, you coded, and so forth, right? You did work to get there, am I right?

All along the way, you made choices, choices that mattered to you, because you wanted something. Even if you were feeling lost in college and took a class for fun and found you liked it, you still made that choice.

And now you’re here.

it’s extremely funny to me that they call ghost of tsushima equivalent to samurai cinema when it’s got so much zhang yimou in it and almost no samurai cinema in it at all

You’re here because you wanted to get here. So now you are in the role, and you may feel that you do not deserve to be in the role because you were not qualified for it. Maybe you’ve only been at this job for a little time, and you got thrust into something more senior than you expected. Game director? Me? I’m only 29! Okay? Well, at what age is game director something you’d feel comfortable?

I directed my first game at 29. So did Shigeru Miyamoto.

29 is a fine age.

Hell, some of you may be on the other side — I know at the time, I was sitting there going “29??? my god, I’m too old, I’ll never be able to make the games I want at this rate.” But, of course, Miyamoto wouldn’t direct Super Mario Bros. 3, arguably the game that many people see as defining Nintendo until he was 36. He was pushing 40 when he hit us with Link to the Past. So never tell yourself that you’re too old.

But, back to you, the impostor syndrome havers (and also the people who aren’t even there yet): this version of impostor syndrome is focused on the connection between you and what you think about the position. You are, likely, considering whether someone deserves the position because of what the position means, but… can we step back a bit and look at it? A position exists because someone needs to fill that position.

When I’m hiring a lead designer, it’s not because I want to hire someone particularly special, it’s because I need to hire a lead designer (no, this is not a job offer, right now that’s my co-owner at Mischief, the inimitable Cameron Ceschini). There’s a part of me that would love to do lead design, because I want to spend tons of time in the spreadsheets, pacing out events, designing units and buildings and so on, but it’s not because Cameron and I are competing for prestige — we are only able to make the games we make because the two of us, together, create a chemical reaction that results in the kind of games that we and we alone can make — it’s because I just really enjoy figuring out game pacing in the same way I enjoy editing dialogue to be pitch perfect.

I don’t think about the role, right? I don’t think about the prestige, I don’t think about any kind of fame or benefits that should come with the title. I think about what tasks need to be done and who can best do them, and I pick the people I believe can do those tasks.

Your hiring manager, likely, believes you can do the same, which is why they put you through various tests. They got from you what they needed to decide that’s a task you could actually do and do to their satisfaction. You may — remember Ira Glass here — have taste that says “but in my head it’s so much better than that.” Hey, I get that. Every game I’ve ever worked on, the thing in my head was better… until I realized how humans think.

So much of what we have in our head is incomplete. As an example, when you’re imagining how a game plays in your head, you’re probably thinking of it like little blips at a time — hazy moments that, somehow, feel like a complete thing. When writers write stories, a lot of stories end up there too. You think you’ve got an entire story really well planned out, then it turns out you actually only have about 10%. A lot of what we think is really good is our brain going “actually, we’ll come back to this eventually, but it’s really good, I swear,” and when we have to confront that there’s nothing there but placeholder, sometimes we can feel like “oh no! I messed it up!” when in actuality it was just our brain creating a kind of cognitive blind spot (similar to how it slices out time from our perception when our eyes move, or how we don’t notice the thing we’re looking for in the fridge right in front of us).

okay now i’m just having fun posting ghost of tsushima screenshots

In other words, sometimes, you can be in a role, make something, realize it’s not entirely there, and find yourself asking why what you imagined (that felt good!) doesn’t match up with what’s in front of you (which isn’t entirely there!) and it’s easy to think you did have the whole thing in your head when what you actually had was one of the many, many times when the human brain fills in some gaps with static and says “ignore this for now.” It’s not you not fitting the role, it’s you doing the normal human shit. All the people around you who seem like they’ve got it figured out? They have, likely, at some level, externalized this. Or they’re just like you and they’re freaking out internally and trying to play it off.

But whatever the case is… did you notice the problems with both of these perspectives? You’re looking at how others see you, you’re looking at what you expected the role to be like, or what you think someone in the role ought to be able to do.

See where we’re taking this?

and so we arrive at the (a?) solution:

I’d tell you this: to beat impostor syndrome, you need to recognize that it attempts to distract you from what actually matters to you. So you get your dream job at Famous Game Studio, which has great benefits and pay and a thousand amazing games behind it. You’re going to be working with people who you read about growing up. You’re going to become part of a long and storied lineage of amazing game making.

This is what you always wanted.

And now, here you are, wondering if you deserve to be here, wondering if you aren’t good enough, if people will see through you, whatever else.

So let me ask you something: isn’t this where you wanted to be?

I mean… look, there are times, working on every game I’ve ever worked on, that I’ve asked myself that same question. Can I really do this? Especially when things are going wrong — though often, they’re not actually going wrong, they’re just not going as I planned, and no plan ever survives contact with reality, but it does momentarily shake the confidence before I realize I simply need to adapt to the circumstances — it can be easy to feel like “maybe I bit off more than I can chew.”

But, I mean, everything I have made has won tons of game of the year awards from people, right? Adios got a nod in the freakin’ New Yorker! Simon Carless said in his game newsletter that he’d never seen a game like ours get the ratio of reviews to sales before! People like my work, and my work has always achieved the goals I set. Waifu Death Squad’s goal is to make a game that is ridiculously beefy for the budget, because I’m tired of “it’s a masterpiece but not worth the price of a meal for two at Arby’s because I’m a cheap loser.”

Still working on that laser-precision in the work itself, so it’s no longer and no shorter than it needs to be — but I want to see if maybe I can make a bigger, more systemic game.

But do you notice what I’m doing?

if you were ever wondering what the best hat in a video game is, it’s ghost of tsushima’s tengai, often worn by komuso

I’m focusing on the work, not where I am. Who gives a shit if I’m not as experienced a team leader as Shigeru Miyamoto? Who cares if I don’t have even a fraction of the resources to make a game as anybody in AAA? What does it matter that someone more experienced than me might be able to do a better job?

This is the game I want to make. This is the role I wanted for myself: game director. This is the place I want to be. I wish I was getting paid more, so I could buy a house where I could grow chestnut trees and raise a dog, but that’s okay. One day, my games will make enough money for that to happen.

All that other stuff? How other people see me? I worked with people who cared about that, and there were the people with impostor syndrome, who eventually figured out it was the work that mattered, not how they were seen, and then there were the frauds, the ones who didn’t care about the work ever, and were just focused on being seen a specific way.


I care about the work.

Waifu Death Squad is the game I want to make because there are feelings I want to give to my audience. It is the game — the game — that is in me to make right now. When I sit down to write a scene, that is the scene I want to write.

I was sad, once, because “my game can’t have dinosaurs in it.” Then, midway through a shower, I went “wait. Why not? I’m the game director. We can have dinosaurs in this game. Nobody’s stopping me. This is literally my call.”

I don’t have to be good enough, because there are people around me I can trust to complement me well. If I’m the peanut butter in this Reese’s cup of a game team, the rest of the team is the chocolate. I don’t have to do it all myself, y’know?

I am here because this is what I fought for. This is where I wanted to be. I don’t have to be perfect, and it doesn’t matter if other people think badly of me for wanting a dinosaur in the game. What matters is that I’m here, now, and all I have to do is focus on the thing I want, rather than all the external shit. Because the external shit doesn’t matter. The people in my life who told me that God didn’t approve of games don’t have a leg to stand on; they blew through their credibility long ago. The classmate who told me I didn’t deserve to be in film school because I wouldn’t acknowledge that The Dark Knight was the best film ever made because it was “#1 on IMDB” can stuff a whole chainsaw up his ass for all I care. Every single person who’s ever told me “you don’t deserve this, you can’t make it,” can go to hell.

I am doing this because I like doing it and it’s where I need to be. Even if I’m not qualified yet, even if other people don’t think so, I don’t give a shit.

This is what I want.

the art team on ghost of tsushima is one of the best in games

Impostor syndrome and every other anxiety is about the external stuff. It’s about how you’re seen, how you see yourself, how much time you have. Comparison is the thief of joy, they say, but that’s just one of many anxieties. All anxiety is here to steal your joy. And it’s hard, I know — it’s so hard — to get rid of it at times, because it’s like a malicious person sitting across from you shouting “but what if you aren’t good enough”?

Who gives a shit if you aren’t good enough? You still want to do the thing you like, right? And the only way to become good enough is to do the thing, right? So do the thing! Think about the thing! Write the story, even if it isn’t perfect, draw the character, even if they aren’t exactly what you saw in your head.

I wrote Adios thinking of Hitman being voiced by David Lynch and Farmer being voiced by Clancy Brown. You know who voiced those characters? D.C. Douglas and Rick Zieff, and those men fucking killed it. The way Adios looked in my head before we had an art style? I can’t even see it anymore. I only see what is. Now.

So focus on what you want. Make what you care about. When you find yourself drifting, worrying about all that stuff outside of the thing you are actually doing? Go back to what you’re doing. That script has to get written, that character has to be drawn, that feature has to be implemented. Who gives a shit if it’s not flawless? It has to get done. You don’t have to be as good as the people who inspired you right now — you just have to focus on the thing you want to do.

Recenter yourself on the joy of doing the the thing you live and breathe.

Just, y’know, don’t be an asshole along the way, and you got this in the bag.

in persona 5 there’s a guy playing a vita on the train

oh, one more thing

Even if you still struggle to focus on the things you want to achieve over the way others might see you, consider this:

What of all the people who you and I know who are actually confident and feel no impostor syndrome? At least you’ve already figured out that they aren’t good enough, so that means you know what it takes to be better than them, right? If you can see what they can’t, you’ve got something they don’t, so who cares about qualification? If you were in their position, I bet you’d be a damn sight more effect than the clueless fellas, yeah?

If Jimmy Richpants gets a job because his dad was rich, and he’s a clueless bastard, then what have you got to fear?

So, hey: you wanted it bad enough to get to where you are, so do you wanna give up now?

Of course you don’t. You wanna keep going. You got things you want.

You got shit to do.

If you want to support the other work I do on this blog, like this article about the biggest pitfall young writers face and how to get around it, then hey, hit up my tip jar.

I figure this kind of writing helps inexperienced writers the most — which means people who might not have the finances to afford my work if I kept it behind a paywall. That would help me, obviously — I could guarantee a certain minimum that would ensure my ability to continue writing these articles — but the people who need my help the most cannot afford it.

I, personally, can only do this with your support; if I wasn’t doing this, I’d have to get a second job, and as disabled as I am, that’s really not great. I have to spend between $145 and up to an entire Nintendo Switch’s worth of my income on medical care every two weeks. So it’s either do this or get a second job, and a second job would not be ideal given my current disability. So when you send me a tip, you’re not just helping a disabled writer like me, you’re helping tons of students, disabled people, and others without access. Thank you.



@forgetamnesia on venmo

$docseuss on cashapp



Doc Burford

I do some freelance work, game design consulting, and I’ve worked on games Hardspace: Shipbreakers and created games like Adios and Paratopic.