A few days ago I was walking with my husband and talking about work and income when he suggested I teach an art class. I immediately said I couldn’t do that because my imposter syndrome is too out of control. The response I got back was “?????”
My husband had never heard of imposter syndrome, which then made me wonder if other people had never heard of it, or possibly even suffer from it but have never articulated it. So here I am to talk about what I know on the subject. But who am I to talk about it? I’m not a psychologist or an expert by any means. Ironically I feel like an imposter while trying to write about imposter syndrome.
So what is it? I think it essentially boils down to a low self-esteem but it manifests in a very particular way. If you have a degree in something, have been doing it for years, or would be regarded by others as being totally suited for a particular topic yet you feel out of place and like someday you’ll be found out to be unqualified, congratulations, you may have imposter syndrome.
For me as an artist the way this has manifested itself over the years is thinking everything I’ve accomplished is due to dumb luck, lack of competition, or good timing. For example when I get a job doing an illustration for a company my first thought is that I was picked out of desperation. That the illustrators they really wanted were out of their budget or couldn’t work in their time constraints. I always fear that I was picked as a back up.
Even in school when I would get straight A’s I worried that it wasn’t because I was doing a good job but that the teacher graded easily or I was pitied and graded on effort. All the times I won merit scholarships? It must have just been that there wasn’t any competition and maybe I’m the only one who entered.
From what I’ve gathered in talking with others and reading about it, everyone experiences imposter syndrome at one point or another. It’s especially prevalent among the science community apparently. To me as an artist, the fact that art is subjective is both a blessing and a curse. I can say that my work is not to someone’s taste, but they could also call me a hack.
Imposter syndrome is greatly made worse for creative by the Internet and social media. We constantly compare ourselves to others, and to their successes. It also makes us feel that we must constantly be producing work or learning new skills in every free moment.
So how do we work to overcome imposter syndrome? This will be different for everybody but here are some general suggestions that I try to practice:
1. Verbalize your insecurities. Talk to a friend, partner, or mentor about how you feel. Sometimes simply talking it through and saying it out loud will make you realize how silly your thoughts are.
2. Write down your skills and accomplishments. This will be hard if you’re really down on yourself, but try approaching it like you’re updating your CV. You may be surprised at the things you forgot you’ve accomplished or the skills you’ve acquired. Think back to school, grades, awards, publications, commissions, projects, no matter how big or small. The more you start brainstorming these the more they will come to you. These can also be goals you’ve personally met. Did you push yourself to participate in something? Did you take a class or watch some tutorials? Did you muster the courage to submit your work to a gallery or publication? Even if it didn’t go anywhere these things are still personal accomplishments. I personally keep a list of every time I do anything in the professional realm because 1- it reminds me that I am in fact putting the effort in, and 2- it shows me how much effort and hustle is needed for a positive payoff. Think of it like you may get one good outcome for every 50 rejections and make it your goal to collect rejections in the meantime.
3. Create a praise file. I’ve mentioned this in my blog about facing rejection, but I think it’s important to mention it again. Keeping a file on your computer with screenshots of positive reviews, nice comments, and having your work shared or reposted is a great thing for a quick self-esteem boost when imposter syndrome is hitting you hard. Hell, I even have screenshots of people using my work without permission because if nothing else, theft can be considered a sincere form of flattery.
4. Celebrate your achievements. No matter how big or small. Ultimately it doesn’t matter how many other people you have telling you that you’re doing a good job if you don’t believe in yourself. Refer to your list and give yourself some damn credit for the skills and accomplishments you have under your belt. Don’t compare yourself to others. It’s not helpful and everyone has his or her own unique challenges in life so it’s not a fair comparison. Just be kind to yourself and be realistic about your self-expectations.
As for my husband’s class idea, I’m trying to take my own advise and am currently brainstorming ideas and lesson plans to pitch teaching some sort of introductory art class at my local art supply store.