How many times has someone complimented your work, and you’ve maybe said thank you, but also added “I guess it’s okay” or “It’s not my best work” or “That’s sweet of you to say”?
Do you have a hard time introducing yourself as an artist? Do you add qualifiers like “I’m trying to be one” or “I’m learning to be an artist” or “I’m an artist, but not, like, professionally”?
Do you compare your work and your path to others and always find reasons you don’t measure up and find that you’re thinking “I wish I was that good” or “I wish I could do that”?
Congratulations, you are experiencing imposter syndrome! You’re also not alone. We all do.
EVERYONE FEELS IT
In her book, The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer calls it the Fraud Police (side note; this book is SO worth the read, and the audiobook version includes extra musical interludes). Here’s how she describes it:
“The Fraud Police are the imaginary, terrifying force of ‘real’ grown-ups who you believe – at some subconscious level – are going to come knocking on your door in the middle of the night, saying:
We’ve been watching you, and we have evidence that you have NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE DOING. You stand accused of the crime of completely winging it, you are guilty of making shit up as you go along, you do not actually deserve your job, we are taking everything away and we are TELLING EVERYBODY.”
Kate Winslet and Neil Gaiman have also admitted to feeling that they weren’t good enough, or that someone would show up and say they don’t belong. In fact, Neil Gaiman has an amazing anecdote about imposter syndrome and how pervasive it is – he met Neil Armstrong at an event, and Mr. Armstrong was saying he felt like he didn’t belong among all the amazing people there. The first man on the moon felt like an imposter. For Neil Gaiman, it made him realize how much it’s something we all struggle with, and made him feel a little better.
For me, I know that feeling not good enough has been a huge part of why it took so long to get this blog and my business off the ground. I had a bachelors degree and experience and had taken other classes and still felt inadequate. I got my Master’s degree last year, and I STILL held back. I kept falling into “maybe I should take ONE more class” (as I took about 20) or “other people will do this better than me”. I still occasionally do. I know Harrison will compare his art to others and question his abilities despite praise from fans and high marks from his teachers.
WHAT IS IT? WHY IS IT?
So clearly, imposter syndrome is pervasive. One study says that a third of successful adults don’t believe they deserve it or should be where they are. Good news – people who are affected by Imposter Syndrome tend to be overachievers. In other words, it’s not that you are overrated, you’re just overly critical of yourself! The other good news is that ACTUAL imposters don’t seem to feel Imposter Syndrome. So if you do feel it, chances are you are not one.
Unfortunately, doing better in your career won’t make it stop. In fact, the better you are doing, the more opportunities there are to feel like an imposter or fraud.
THE TRAP OF CREATIVE COMPARISON
When Imposter Syndrome gets bad, you’ve perhaps ended up looking at others creations all day on the internet, comparing yourself and your creations and seeing all their success and creating imaginary flaws in your own work. You start spiraling and seeing everyone as better and more talented than you and questioning yourself more and more.
The more you compare yourself to others, the worse you will feel. Spending too much time on negative thoughts will affect your creativity and just lead you into an endless cycle of negative comparison and imposter syndrome and jealousy.
Despite feeling like it is, selling art is not actually a competition. I know you’re trying to make money, of course we all want an income and means to live, but I’m pretty sure that you didn’t start doing this just for money. There’s a reason you started creating and sharing your artwork. Your “why” isn’t the same as someone else’s, and we are all on our own paths. Remember, you don’t know their numbers or total business. You don’t know what else is happening in their life. You don’t know their minds. Chances are, they are sitting at home looking at someone ELSE’S work feeling the exact same feelings as you. There will always be someone doing better than you, and you can’t let it define you.
WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT
The bad news is that Imposter Syndrome will never fully go away. However, you can learn to recognize it and try to redirect your thoughts. Acknowledge it. Realize and accept that you are human, and so are all the people you compare yourself to. Try to find the root of what’s triggering the current feelings – was it a specific incident? Context can help.
In terms of comparison, try comparing against yourself. Look at your earlier work compared to newer art or creating, see how you’ve improved. Build on your own successes and accomplishments. Review them and focus on the positive things you’ve achieved.
Try to remember, no matter where you are in your career, you ARE an artist. You ARE a writer. You ARE a maker. You’re creative. You’re talented. You are unique.
Take compliments as given and accept them. Reply with confidence, even if you don’t feel it. Talk to yourself! Tell yourself you are good at what you do and deserve the recognition you receive. The more you say it the more you’ll believe it.