Mr. Rogers and Impostor Syndrome

In the writing community, many writers, even successful ones, have a specific fear or anxiety. They are afraid that they aren’t real writers, and they wonder when their fans, publishers, agents, family and the public at large are going to find out that they are fake. When will people discover that the author’s writing is trash? It’s called “impostor syndrome.” For them and for anyone else who wonders if they are faking it, if they are impostors, you are not alone. In fact, Mr. Rogers also thought he might be a fraud, an impostor, and a fake.

I’m Just a Fake

In “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (affiliate link), we are told that Daniel Striped Tiger was Mr. Rogers’ alter-ego. Daniel was the puppet that allowed Fred Rogers to express his emotions and say things he couldn’t otherwise. In Daniel’s song, “Sometimes, I Wonder if I’m a Mistake,” he sings the line “Sometimes, I get to dreaming that I’m just a fake.”

The song is a duet with Lady Aberlin, who attempts to reassure Daniel that he’s a good person, and he’s a real person. Instead of Daniel accepting this reassurance, Daniel sings his fear again, but Lady Aberlin’s support is under it. As analyzed in the film, this is important because these feelings of inadequacy, of being a mistake, of being an impostor, don’t go away, even when the evidence is right in front of the person. Hedda Sharapan, a producer on “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” (affiliate link), says, the song highlights that “It’s not so easy to quiet a doubt, but make it a duet, so it’s not just your fears but you’ll hear my support.”

A Letter to Himself

Even more powerful is the letter that he wrote to himself (at about 53 minutes into the movie). After leaving the neighborhood and doing an adult show, he decided he had to come back to help the children of the world, again. However, he harbored severe doubts about whether he could write what he needed to and whether he could do the show.

“Am I kidding myself that I’m able to write a script again? Am I really just whistling Dixie? I wonder. If I don’t get down to it, I’ll never really know. Why don’t I trust myself? After all these years it’s just as bad as ever. The hour cometh and now is when I’ve got to do it. Get to it, Fred, get to it. But don’t let anybody ever tell anybody else that it was easy. It wasn’t.”

Imposter’s Syndrome

Doubt is a natural part of being human. If a man as talented, caring, and kind as Mr. Rogers, who could lean on his faith, could doubt himself, even after his early success, you can bet that your fears, worries and thoughts about impostor syndrome are valid and not going away. The best you can do is acknowledge them, and get to it, anyway. Mr. Rogers didn’t let his fear stop him, he got through it, and arguably, created some of his best work. You can do the same thing.