Ever hear this endless nagging voice at the back of your mind saying you will never be good enough or that you have no authority to be sharing what you know? Dealing with imposter syndrome as a creative person is common regardless of how accomplished you might be.
The pressure to perform and achieve is much higher when you choose to make a living from your artwork and creativity. Art is so subjective. Your work might bring joy to some people, while others might not like your style.
You try to please the algorithm and strangers online with the hope of making some money with your art. What makes it harder is that apart from the criticism you receive online, you also have to deal with the opinions of relatives and close friends.
You might start to find that you get caught up in negative self-talk that makes you feel like you don’t deserve your success. Perhaps you find yourself thinking that you don’t deserve to get paid the amount you should for your work. Even when you receive positive feedback, you might dismiss it and believe it was just luck rather than the hard work you put in.
So, what is imposter syndrome ?
Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes first identified imposter syndrome in 1978. It is described as the constant fear of being found out as a fraud. While others may perceive you as a good artist, your mind is bombarding you with quite the opposite, which leads to feelings of self-doubt and an inability to realistically assess your skills and work.
The nature of creative work, especially for those who are trying to make a living through their art, is being exposed to criticism. Because your work is highly public, you feel that you are defined by your viewer’s perspective, however subjective it may be. It can then be a challenge to maintain your confidence despite knowing that you are good at what you do.
Tips to help you overcome imposter syndrome
1. Recognition is key
If you are struggling with a sense of self-doubt, the first step to changing anything is to recognise how you feel. Pay attention to your thoughts and how you feel about criticism or feedback you receive. When talking to yourself, use positive words, and reinforce thoughts that help you break the bad habit of feeling like an imposter. The more you recognise the pattern you follow, the easier it will be to challenge your perspective.
2. Know that feelings are not facts
Imposter syndrome isn’t based on facts. It is caused by our fear of not feeling good enough and the self-doubt that goes with it. Understanding the fact that you may feel like this at times but that it is not true will help you feel more in control of your thoughts. And know that if you do feel self-critical at times, that’s completely normal too. Don’t stress too much about it because we all feel the same way and it does pass.
3. Change the way you think
Once you’ve recognised how you think and feel, the next step is to slowly change the way you talk to yourself and talk to others. When negative thoughts arise, question their validity. Choose instead to celebrate your achievements and past successes. Keep a record of positive feedback from others and save them for such occasions.
4. Stop comparing yourself and your art to others
Those of us who choose to put our work online are constantly bombarded with images of perfectly curated highlight reels of other people’s lives. This is a perfect recipe to feel like you don’t measure up. So we keep pushing ourselves harder till the point of burnout.
Your artwork is still valid even when it does not get any likes on social media or takes a long time to build a following. Each person’s life and situation are unique. You know your work best, so learn to trust the process.
5. Trust yourself
As an artist, you’re often fighting the need to be a perfectionist. The inability to integrate achievement and trust with one’s abilities is at the core of impostor syndrome. The good news is that trusting yourself is a skill you can develop. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is crucial to trusting yourself. You don’t have to be invulnerable, you just need to know where you might need some help. It’s all about being conscious of your internal resistance and acting on it.
6. Trust that it’s not about other people
Not to be confused with constructive feedback and genuine help, remember that everyone has an opinion about what is good and what isn’t. When we put our artwork online we are regularly subjected to judgement and negative comments. That doesn’t mean you should take every single piece of advice that comes your way. Learn how to filter out what is necessary for you to improve yourself and what is just negativity that will dampen your spirits.
7. Learn that failure is okay
Artist or not, failure and making mistakes are a part of life. They are some of the best ways to learn and adapt. When we start seeing failure and mistake-making as an opportunity to better ourselves rather than a sign of how inadequate we are, we can grow not only our art but also how we feel about ourselves.
8. Remember your value and worth
Focus on the value you are providing and remember that not everyone can do what you can. You don’t need to compare yourself to every other artist because your value lies in what is unique to you. You don’t have the same experiences and expertise they do – but that works both ways! A different perspective is thought-provoking and worthy of being noticed. You don’t need the validation of random strangers, that means that your work is still valid even if your work is not trending on social media or that your follower count is low.
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9. Share your expertise
A great way to boost your confidence and learn something different is by mentoring someone or sharing your expertise with a fellow artist. Whether that is by creating tutorials, joining a forum, grabbing a coffee with someone, or exchanging ideas, teaching someone else will help you realise just how much you know. And it can also be a humbling experience to see what they do. Oh… and consider starting a blog or YouTube channel about being an artist.
10. Reward yourself
Try not to look for external validation, praise and approval but instead pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Be appreciative and grateful to yourself for every small hurdle you cross. This is your personal journey of discovery. Start a gratitude journal, celebrate small wins. Take a well-deserved break, go on vacation.
11. Talk to a therapist
If you start to feel like these issues continue to challenge you and affect your quality of life consider talking to a therapist. Mental health professionals can help people who experience imposter syndrome to detangle emotions and confusions that come with it.
12. Most importantly, have fun!
Having said all of this, I think the most important aspect of any artistic pursuit is the joy of creative flow. Tap into the childlike curiosity that got you into art. Success is not about other people but how you decide to give meaning to your body of work. Each piece of work does not have to be a masterpiece; don’t judge every piece of art you create. You will look back on them and realise you learned from every piece you have ever created.
Often these feelings that force us to perform and achieve remain dormant and undetected. It is a common experience and many people don’t even realise that they could be creating a positive life.
I hope I have illuminated some aspects of the difficulties that come with being creative.
Try these simple journaling exercises to help gain some insight into your thought processes.
1. What gives your artwork meaning?
2. What do you consider success?
3. How is it different from the conventional model of success?
4. What are the personal successes that you would like to celebrate?
5. Write a letter to yourself thanking yourself for the things you do.
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