Breaking Through The Imposter Syndrome To Become Successful
Have you ever felt inadequate as a creative artist? Have you internally credited luck to your success rather than give yourself credit for the hard work you put in to get where you are today? Maybe you even just feel like a fake? All of this even though you have worked your ass off to become the successful artist you are today. I know I personally have felt this way on numerous occasions. It wasn’t until photographer Sascha Reinking shared a post he got from Brian Friedman in a Facebook group that I realized there is a name for this condition.
The impostor syndrome, sometimes called impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. – Wikipedia
Often as creative artists we work hard to perfect our craft, learn how to use our tools and see the world differently. We put in countless hours to do all this and it often shows when people look through our work and validate it by hiring us for another job. Sadly though many of us don’t give ourselves enough credit for the work we put out there. We discount our ability or attribute the success to luck. Some of us might even just have a hard time accepting compliments. These are all symptoms of the imposter syndrome and can come in different degrees. Some of us might relate to all of this, some of us might just relate to a part of it but it is a feeling that is quite common among successful creative artists.
Part of this feeling comes from the “starving artist” figure that came about in the early 19th century as part of the Romantic period. According to the Caltech Counseling Center, “Attitudes, beliefs, direct or indirect messages that we received from our parents or from other significant people in our lives early on may have contributed to the development of impostor feelings. Certain family situations and dynamics tend to contribute to impostor feelings: when the success and career aspirations conflicts with the family expectations of the gender, race, religion, or age of the person, families who impose unrealistic standards, families who are very critical, and families who are ridden with conflict and anger.” Have you had to face the “label” your family attached to you when you decided to become an artist? Many of us can probably answer yes.
According to an article published an Inc.com in September 2006, “Psychological research done in the early 1980′s estimated that two out of five successful people consider themselves frauds and other studies have found that 70 percent of all people feel like impostors at one time or another. “Some people, the more successful they become, the more they feel like frauds,” says Valerie Young, who leads workshops and professional development programs on the subject. “They feel as though they’re fooling people. There’s a dissonance between self-image and external reality.” Many business owners think they are only successful because of the amount of time they put into their business, not because they are talented at their work naturally.”
Strangely enough many struggling with these feelings will work even harder, more diligently to keep people from possibly uncovering that we are just an “imposter.” Our extra diligence, study and perfection of our craft just leads to more praise and compliments which perpetuates are “feelings and fears of being discovered as just an imposter.” It’s oddly a vicious circle that we can get caught in and without recognizing we are in it we will feel like there is no way to escape it.
Fortunately, one of the first steps to break through the syndrome is to recognize it. By identifying and becoming aware of what is happening it will break the automatic thought process that we get caught in and help us to recognize the difference between our feelings and reality. We will begin to recognize all the effort we have put in over the years to achieve the success we have achieved and realize the feelings of inadequacy are not reality.
If you have ever felt this way before I’d highly encourage you to watch this commencement speech by Neil Gaiman. If you would prefer to read it here is the text to the speech as well.
In his commencement speech Gaiman talks about this ‘Imposter Syndrome’ and how him and his wife called it the ‘Fraud Police.’ That he feared at anytime someone would show up on his doorstep and call him out and he would have to give up what he loved, creating art, to go get a normal job like everyone else. He later relates a story of an encounter he had with author Stephen King. After recognizing all the success Gaiman was having with his comics and novels King said, “This is really great. You should enjoy it.” Gaiman continues, “And I didn’t. Best advice I got that I ignored. Instead I worried about it. I worried about the next deadline, the next idea, the next story. There wasn’t a moment for the next fourteen or fifteen years that I wasn’t writing something in my head, or wondering about it. And I didn’t stop and look around and go, this is really fun. I wish I’d enjoyed it more. It’s been an amazing ride. But there were parts of the ride I missed, because I was too worried about things going wrong, about what came next, to enjoy the bit I was on.” Gaiman concludes with this, “And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art.”
When I read about this ‘Imposter Syndrome’ and watched the talk from Gaiman I could immediately relate. It felt liberating to know there was a ‘condition’ that I can now call it, that others were going through the same thing and that in fact it was actually quite common. I hope some of you out there are reading this and feeling the same way. Now that you recognize what is you can break through it and credit your success for all the time and hard work you dedicate to your craft. Now, get out there, make good art and feel damn good about it.