Imposter syndrome can be crippling to creatives waiting to be ‘found out’, but how can we readjust our mindset? Lottie Storey investigates.
What’s so unusual about the online world is that there are no exam boards for bloggers, crafters and creatives, no official bodies to rubber stamp our work, no qualifications for being entrepreneurial and successful. Forget performance reviews and pay rises – success is marked by ‘likes’ and ‘follows’, online purchases and prestigious commissions. And, if you didn’t make your foray into a creative career until later on in life, that sense of accomplishment can be even harder to gain.
Take fine artist, author and illustrator Lisa Congdon, for example. “My journey began when I was 31 years old. I took an art class for fun, with zero experience in art and zero intention of becoming a professional artist,” she recalls. Fast forward seven years, and Lisa started her ‘official’ art career in 2006, aged 38. “I had a horrible case of imposter syndrome because I didn’t study art in school, and didn’t become an artist until later on in life,” she confesses. “I’d even avoided talking to artists I admired because I thought they wouldn’t like or respect me. I thought they were secretly saying: ‘Ah, that’s Lisa over there! She isn’t a real artist like us!’”
The comparison trap
It’s easy to get hung up on what other people think. Alison Perry is a full-time blogger who battles with imposter syndrome all the time. “Like many creative freelancers and business owners, I fluctuate wildly between feeling fired up to take on the world, and a desire to crawl back into bed where no one can see what a huge failure I am!”
Describing a cycle known well to many, Alison tells us: “As soon as I’ve had a pitch accepted, a panic washes over me. ‘Oh no, now I actually have to do this! What was I thinking? I’m going to mess this up!’”
Working alone, or from home, can be isolating, and while creatives often rely on social media for validation, comparing ourselves to others is never a good idea. “One thing I’m really working on is getting out of the validation trap,” agrees Alison. “That sense of only feeling good about my work when I land a great job, I’m shortlisted for an award, or I get praise from someone I consider to be awesome.”
So how’s it done? “It’s important to work out what my measures of success are, and when I hit those goals, to celebrate and pat myself on the back. By hooking my self worth on the actions of others, I’m not in control and that’s quite a damaging place to exist in,” Alison points out. “That said, other people’s words and praise can be a great boost on days when I’m having a wobble. One great piece of advice I got recently from the brilliant Emma Gannon is to save emails from people raving about your work into a special folder.” That way, any time you’re having a bad day, you can read them out loud for motivation.
Be kind to yourself
Self promotion isn’t easy, especially for those of us hard-wired not to take compliments. It’s ‘easier’ to credit our success to luck, to being in the right place at the right time. But it’s important to believe what people say. You need to be able to convince others that you’re worthy of what you’ve achieved.
For Kat Molesworth, founder of Blogtacular, imposter syndrome is something that crops up again and again among the bloggers and business owners she works with. “Interestingly, it often comes up as a theme with our keynote speakers at Blogtacular. Many top industry individuals share their secret anguish that they’re not good enough. They believe they’re unqualified and somehow working in a space they don’t belong.”
Kat’s advice for overcoming the social awkwardness you feel when promoting yourself, or celebrating your achievements, is to “ask yourself whether you’d say the same things if it were a friend you were talking about. Would you say they didn’t deserve the award, or don’t deserve to succeed?”. Kat continues: “I think we all need to give ourselves permission to succeed. If we don’t promote our work, we’re sowing the seeds for failure, whether we admit it or not.” Wise words.
Pep talk over, it’s time to get back to work – this self-built empire won’t run itself. Creatives, let’s do this!
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