THIS ARTICLE WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN 2018 IN ISSUE THREE:MAKERS
Fake it ’til you make it. It was a confidence hack I relied on in any challenging or intimidating work situation. And sometimes it worked. Sometimes. But sometimes I would feel like I was stumbling in the dark, scared that at any minute someone was going to walk in and “find me out”, revealing to the world that, in fact, I hadn’t a clue what I was doing. I had Imposter Syndrome, and I had it bad.
What is Imposter Syndrome? It’s feeling like you’re a fraud, when you’re not. First coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, it’s defined as “an inability to internalise your accomplishments” coupled with “a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud”. People who suffer from Imposter Syndrome say they often feel like phoneys, or that their success is, at best, luck or – more likely – an outright mistake, despite evidence to the contrary.
Tortured artist cliches aside, Imposter Syndrome is something that hits creatives and makers harder than most, especially as we navigate the choppy waters of social media. We are selling ourselves, “building our brands”, while trying to remain authentic, yet confident, sharing our accomplishments proudly while not getting sucked into cookie-cutter, everything-is-awesome fakery. It’s a lot to juggle.
I’m fortunate that I get to see both sides of the Imposter Syndrome coin. I have faked it and worried about being ‘found out’ while working as a magazine editor at two national titles, a photographer for international brands and publications as well as working at one of Silicon Valley’s fastest-growing tech companies. In each of these different careers, Imposter Syndrome affected me in new and surprising ways, making me feel not smart enough, or creative enough, or just simply like I didn’t belong (and everybody knew it). It’s not to say I wasn’t proud of my work, but I would often find myself unable to believe that the success that came my way happened for the right reasons, and be left wondering if it was simply a fluke or a result of being in the right place at the right time.
But these different roles also allowed me to meet creatives and makers from all disciplines – painters, programmers, ceramicists, writers, chefs and designers of all kinds. I got to see first-hand how incredible, creative, talented people I so admired doubted and second guessed themselves, constantly.
Learning that I wasn’t alone was huge; opening up to people about my own Imposter Syndrome and asking them how they dealt with theirs helped me immensely. It also often came as a relief to many of them to discover that there was a name for this disquieting, uneasy feeling.
I wanted to share their wisdom and so, alongside two other creatives, I co-founded The Imposter Project (theimposterproject.com), a photo project profiling inspiring women across dozens of industries talking about how they experience and handle Imposter Syndrome.
The project is still in its infancy, but something I’m starting to learn and accept is that Imposter Syndrome is, in its own way, a vital part of the creative process. Being eager to grow and learn means pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, leaning in to trying new things. But it’s easy to forget how, well, uncomfortable that can feel. How it can leave you feeling inadequate or under-skilled.
Through my interviews, I’m beginning to see a common thread among people who suffer from Imposter Syndrome: they try and use these feelings to fuel new growth and push themselves to learn; using these negative experiences to steadily forge something positive.
Self-doubt is part and parcel of any creative’s journey, but there are moments when you need to humbly embrace all that you don’t know, and times when you should bask in the glory, pat yourself on the back and just cut yourself some slack. Knowing how to tell the difference is the real trick – and if you’ve mastered how to do that, can you let me know?