Picture this: you are sitting at your desk working on an illustration, minding your own business, and someone asks you to show them what you’re working on. So, hesitantly, you do. They stare at your work for a few seconds but it feels like 10 minutes, then they look up and you see it - the outrage in their eyers. “You call yourself an artist?” the ask scathingly. “Why did you even bother? You clearly don’t know what you’re doing! This is an insult to actual artists everywhere! HOW DARE YOU?!” Then they storm off , righteously offended on behalf of all artists everywhere, and you sit there, resigned. You knew it, after all. You don’t disagree. What were you even thinking trying to create anything?
That, in a nutshell, is how imposter syndrome works.
According to the Harvard Business Review, Imposter Syndrome can be defined as “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. 'Imposters' suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence.”
I think the worst thing about imposter syndrome is that it’s only ever people who are genuinely talented and good at what they do that suffer from it. I read something once that the reason creative people can be so hard on themselves is because they have good taste and they are measuring their work against the standard of their taste. Which is great in the long run, like “wow, look how far I’ve come” but it’s kind of ridiculous when you’re just getting started.
If I reflect on how Imposter Syndrome impacts me, I realise that I tend to under value my contribution and then attribute people’s praise to their own niceness. Or when I get some kind of reward for my work that’s truthfully quite subpar, I reason that that’s what I deserve and I should be grateful. Like I didn’t actually put in the work.
I don’t know if I’ll ever be completely cured from imposter syndrome, but here’s what I’ve found helps me overcome it in a small way everyday:
Do it more. Logic says the more you do something, the better you get at it. So logically, even if my work doesn’t measure up to my taste, it’s still better than the first time I did it AND I’ve honed more skills which makes me feel good about it.
Share your work. Be open to criticism. This helps you not be so precious about what you do, but more importantly, constructive criticism helps you improve. The more open you are to criticism, the less likely you’ll be afraid of being “called out” as a fraud.
Dare to fail greatly. Theodore Roosevelt put it best “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” Get used to the idea that you might not get it right on the first time. That you may not even get it right on the second try. However, celebrate the fact that you’re doing it in spite of that.
Practice enjoying your work. Learn to love your work without external validation. Focus on parts that you love even if the total picture didn’t come out exactly the way you wanted to. For instance, the colours you used, the theme, the new technique you learned could be good things to focus on and enjoy about your work.
Don’t be so hard on yourself. Get rid of the idea of what someone who does what you do should be like. Entertain the idea that you might create an entirely new way of doing things that is unlike anybody else’s method but works for you and that it’s fine. There are 1000 and 1 ways to do something, don’t drive yourself mad trying to do it how you think it should be done.
Get over yourself. No really. The earth’s rotational axis is not dependant on what you create. It’s not that deep. So, if you mess up, no one’s going to die. And if you excel, no one’s going to throw a parade in your honour either. Nobody needs you to be perfect. You don’t need to be perfect. You just need to do the work.
So those are a few of my thoughts on imposter syndrome. Do you suffer from it? What helps you over it?