There is a lovely untamed wildness to the arts industry. It is a kaleidoscope of ideas, hopes and dreams, all open to interpretation. It is an ever-expanding fire that thrives on the sparks and dreams of its contributors. And for some, it is a perfect storm that makes imposters out of all of us.
For me, when inspiration strikes, the act of creation feels natural, however, when it comes to sharing my work, I often find myself confronted with intrusive thoughts.
Is my work worthy enough to compete with my peers or other artists within the industry?
Why do I feel like I don’t belong?
Am I good enough?
So, where does all this negative talk, self-doubt and anxiety come from? Well as defined in the Oxford Dictionary, Imposter syndrome is “the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.”
The first time I experienced imposter syndrome was during my youth when I reached the highest level within my drama company. I remember feeling excited by the process but also very anxious. Suddenly, actors I had admired on the stage performing in lead roles were now my peers. I remember feeling completely out of my element going to classes and often doubting whether I belonged with the ’big dogs.’ I even questioned when I was cast in a lead role, whether it was rightfully mine due to the pedestal I had placed my fellow peers on. At the time, I assumed these feelings of inadequacy were a part of the competitive nature of the arts industry. I didn’t realise that I was experiencing imposter syndrome.
So, how do we cope with this annoying little voice whispering “imposter?” Well, I’ve outlined a few things that have helped me over the years.
Replace Perfectionism With Productivity
The perfectionist in me strives for the best quality of work – even if it’s my first draft. We all want our work to be the best, especially in the arts industry, but putting that pressure on ourselves is an unfair expectation. In the past, and even still sometimes now, I find my need for perfection can hinder my creative process thus leading to procrastination and an inability or lack of desire to write at all.
So, what can be done to help combat the perfectionist in us?
When your expectations of yourself are too high, you are ultimately setting yourself up to fail. Don’t get me wrong – it’s good to have high standards and goals to strive towards, however you can’t expect diamonds out of sand.
One of the key things I usually tell myself when I’m struggling with my work is: ‘I can’t improve on something that doesn’t exist.’ Just pausing to remind myself of this whenever I begin to write, shifts my focus from self-sabotaging my creative work to let’s just write and see where this goes. When I’m stuck, I’ll often tell myself, 10 words a day is better than no words at all. Then, I’ll push myself to think: ‘If I can just write 10 words and then 50 and then 100,’ it shifts the focus from: ‘This manuscript is never going to get finished’ to ‘Hey, this isn’t as bad as I thought!’
Just by being mindful of my internal monologue and focusing on smaller tasks one by one, I can drown out that inner perfectionist that tends to hinder my work before I’ve even started. I also find that taking on smaller tasks helps me avoid procrastination and makes me feel less overwhelmed when working on a creative project.
Your Greatest Competition is Yourself
‘Stop comparing yourself to others,’ I’m often told – easier said than done, right? So I have to keep reminding myself that (as Franklin Roosevelt once said), “comparison is the thief of joy.” Because comparing your own talents to someone else’s is essentially, self-sabotage.
While the arts industry is wonderful, it can be cutthroat as it is so competitive. In the past and even sometimes now, I tend to compare myself and the stories I write to one of my favourite authors, Sarah J Maas. While it’s good to have role models, you shouldn’t measure your journey against their success.
Ask yourself this question when you begin to doubt your work: Is it fair to compare your journey and success against someone who has already succeeded?
I can tell you, I don’t compare myself to the version of Sarah J Mass who struggled for 10 years to get her debut novel Throne of Glass published. I tend to compare myself to the version of her that’s sold millions of novels globally.
It’s okay to have heroes and allow others to inspire your creative journey but don’t compete with them. Mark your success in the small changes you make, the measurable and fair targets you set and watch your focus shift from failure to the small victories that are on the way to accomplishing your bigger goals.
When you compete with yourself, you begin to drown out the success of others. Instead of focusing on what age so and so published their first novel, you shift the focus to: ‘if I work on this manuscript and set myself a deadline, I could look at publishing this soon.’ By doing this, you ultimately develop an action plan to mapping out your success.
Even The Best suffer From Imposter Syndrome
New York Times Best Selling Author Victoria Aveyard, has publicly spoken about how she deals with Imposter Syndrome on a day-to-day basis. She talks about her experience with never believing she could make it and then, in turn, once she has written a successful book, whether she would be capable of writing another successful book. When I first heard this, I found it incredibly humbling to know I was not alone in my experience of feeling like a fraud and that if a New York Times Best Selling Author struggled with this and could publish her books, then there is no reason I couldn’t do the same one day. And she’s not the only one: Lady Gaga, Tom Hanks and Emma Watson have all openly admitted to suffering from feelings of self-doubt and imposter syndrome.
Imposter Syndrome is an irrational fear that feels rational. As humans we don’t want to fail or look silly. You can be one of the most successful people and still feel like you’re just lucky and faking it until you make it. So, what’s the trick to banishing this little beast? Well, unfortunately, you cannot banish imposter syndrome completely.
The truth is, imposter syndrome comes with the territory of being a high achiever. But rather than aiming to rid yourself completely of something that you will probably face constantly throughout your working career, you should aim to focus on not letting imposter syndrome hinder your capabilities and success.
Don’t let that voice that tells you that “you got lucky” win. Retort back by shifting the internal monologue of self-doubt to one of self-doing.