Down with the Syndrome
Updated: Jan 18
On Being a Card-Carrying Creative, and Why Your Inner Critic is a Lying Lie-Face
Aspiring Artists have it.
Successful Artists have it.
More common than the common cold, it seems no one is completely immune to...
*dun dun dun*
For those who are unfamiliar (and lucky you, if you are), Impostor Syndrome is a kind of thinking that plagues many of us in our pursuits of awesomeness.
It's a kind of thinking, in which, we start to doubt ourselves and accomplishments.
It's that sneaky thinking that makes you fear being "exposed" as a fraud.
When that voice inside starts to say things like, "They're gonna find out, you know," or "They're gonna see right through you," or something like, "You're an inadequate and incompetent failure and you've got everyone fooled, but sooner or later, it's gonna catch up with you," ... Yep. You gotta case of the Syndrome.
Anyone, no matter their line of work, can get a case of the Syndrome, but I think it's even more prevalent in the creative community. Why? Well, lawyers are licensed by the state. Dentists hang their diplomas in their offices. Lots of jobs come with objective metrics, and performance reviews, and specific outcomes that can provide evidence that, yes, you are good (or bad) at your job.
Creative work is just a little more difficult to assess. We have metrics, of course:
Is your work in the gallery? Are you published? Are you making tons of money?
But the intrinsic value of the things creative people do is rarely captured in these metrics.
Your work may be awesome, and still not up in the gallery. Your poems may be stellar, and you're still not Poet Laureate. The conviction that your work has value has to come from inside you, whether others love it or hate it. And that's tough, man.
Pile on top of that the annoying tendency of humans to critique and criticize and tear each other down and, well, it's no wonder we're all walking around thinking we're frauds.
Here, I made this fancy diagram for you:
Okay. So we've got Impostor Syndrome. Is there a cure?
What can we do about it?
First, I must tell you, that if your case of Impostor Syndrome is severely impacting your life, then seeking advice from a licensed professional is an awesome thing to do.
Everyone's situation is unique and different, and I'm just a doodler on the internet.
That said, there are some helpful resources out there to help you manage Impostor Syndrome when it creeps up on you. Here are just a few things I try to keep in mind:
1. Remember That No One "Deserves" Anything.
To qualify: I'm of the belief that all beings have intrinsic value and deserve fundamental rights and freedom from fear and access to basic means of survival.
When I say no one deserves anything, what I mean is that the world often isn't a meritocracy. Humans are forever flaky. Collectively, we're swayed by stuff like fashion, and stock markets, and politics, and fear. Just because someone has a book deal, doesn't mean their writing is more valuable than yours. And just because your painting isn't in the museum, doesn't mean it's not any good. Your level of "success," whatever that means to you, should not determine the worth of your creative life.
2. All Titles Are Made Up
You can have all the qualifications in the world, and still feel like an impostor in your field. Remember that all titles- Writer, Painter, Poet, Sculptor, Actor, Dancer, Masked Wrestler- only have meaning because we say they do.
Unlike a registered dietitian, you do not need someone to bestow upon you your creative title. You can give it to yourself.
We all do. And that's cool. That's the way it happens.
You can work three bar tending jobs and call yourself a writer and that's good enough to make you a writer.
It took me a long time to call myself an artist with any kind of conviction.
Well, I'm really just a student. Well, I'm really just a laboratory manager. Well, I'm really just a scientist.
But I was making art all along. All I had to do was say I was an Artist and POOF, I'd be an artist. No test to take, no card to show.
You can if you think you can. You are if you say you are.
3. We're Beings, Not Doings.
This one's tricky.
Vincent Van Gogh said that, "If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced "
But what if you're the aforementioned bar tender with three jobs and no time to paint right now? Are you still allowed to call yourself a painter?
Yes. Yes you are.
So many of us struggle with the belief that, unless we are making art right now, we are not artists. Unless we are on stage right now, we are not performers. Unless we are, in this instant, typing out our next masterpiece, we are not writers.
And this is dumb.
We are human be-ings, not human do-ings. And the Creative Spirit inside you would appreciate it very much if you would stop pretending it's not there all the time.
Remember: we all get a case of The Syndrome every now and then. All the "success" in the world won't make it go away. Learning to summon the conviction inside you to persist even in the face of self-doubt is an ongoing process.
But it's worth it.
Because your Creative Spirit is worth it.