Imposter syndrome and how to creatively thrive with it
You're about to hit 'publish' on your latest artwork. You are uploading it to your website, but you are frozen. Your brain says 'Your artwork is not good enough. You're not good enough. People will laugh at you. This will never sell. You're going to fail. People will find out you're a fake. It's not the best photo of it. The colours are wrong. It's perfect - look at the mistakes. Don't publish it.' THIS is imposter syndrome.
It's more prevalent in low socio-economic BIPOC women than any other category of human. In saying this though, I don't know any female creatives that don't suffer from some sort of imposter syndrome. The question is, how do you keep moving forward when you're brain is telling you you're not good enough?
Grow a penis
Not literally. But sometimes you just need to borrow some of that male testosterone confidence. My brother works in the creative industries as an industrial designer. He has about 12 years experience in his field. He's good at what he does. He has no hesitations around asking for a raise. He just has the confidence and the belief in himself. He's not cocky - he just has a penis. When the imposter syndrome is getting too much, I stop, take a deep breath and pretend I am my brother. He gives no shits about what other people think of him - he deserves that raise. And that is the confidence I borrow. Hopefully in time, as I do this more and more, I hope that I'll be confident more than I'm not.
Do hard things again and again
It's hard to put your artwork out into the world. It's hard to design and run workshops. It's hard getting up in front of people and speaking. It's hard trying to sell your works at a market. It's hard to ask if you can paint a wall, pitch a design, submit a grant application, enter contests and try new mediums. But you just have to grit you teeth, drown out the imposter syndrome with very loud music and do the hard things. The more hard things you do, the more confidence you will get and the softer your imposter syndrome will get.
For example, when I graduated university as a graphic designer I was so nervous. Every job I put so many more hours in than I should have. I wanted to do the best I could. This went on for years. After a while I realised I was really good at design. My clients were really happy and kept coming back. This gave me the confidence to raise my prices and shush the imposter syndrome. Now, when I have a client request design work I'm confident I'll do a great job. The imposter leaves me alone and I get on with the project.
Remember how amazing you are I have a folder of emails and photos that clients have sent me. They are lovely comments about their artworks or murals. They are testimonials about how smoothly the project was. Lovely words from workshop students. Photos of clients with their new works. Screen shots of encouraging social media comments. I look at all these documents and I feel confident and proud. When imposter syndrome is eating at me I jump into this folder and remind myself that I am amazing and creative. Start creating your own folder.
Such a lovely comment from a past workshop participant. This is a keeper for my 'confidence folder'.
Remove your triggers
Figure out what areas of your life are causing the imposter syndrome to flair up - outsource them or remove them from your life. For example, my imposter syndrome gets the best of me when I publish new online workshops. I worry people will email and complain that I'm a fraud. So all emails associated with the online courses go to my assistant who curates the emails I need to see. No one has complained either, by the way.
If your imposter syndrome is too much when you post your new artworks on social media, you could outsource your content management to a virtual assistant. If your imposter syndrome takes over leading up to the launch of a solo art show, could you have a virtual show where you don't have to be there in person. You don't have to listen to everyones comments about your work and therefore you don't have to drown yourself in anxiety. Think outside the box around your triggers. Take Facebook and Instagram off your phone and stop comparing yourself to others. Stop reading business books that make you feel like your business isn't 'running efficiently'. What other triggers can you manage better?
Turn off social media
Comparison and having high expectations of yourself are two major triggers for imposter syndrome. Turn off your social media. Stop looking at what other artists are creating. Don't compare yourself. Look at the expectations you have for yourself. Are they too high? Are you constantly expecting more from yourself? Expecting yourself to fail because your expectations are unattainable? Writing a mile-long to do list that will never be complete? None of this is healthy.
Give yourself space from the 'highlight reel' that is social media.
Set your own goals to reach and give yourself manageable outcomes. When you set a goal for yourself, such as 'releasing a new artwork each week this year.' When you read over your goal, does it excite you? Or do you feel a little bit of pressure or weight? If so, change your expectation of yourself. Maybe a new artwork each month? Is that attainable? Be gentle with yourself. You're amazing!
Take your cheerleader out for coffee
I'm not a huge fan of relying on others to improve your own mental health, but sometimes we all need help. Look for that person in your life that makes you feel amazing after a quick chat with them. They are positive and supportive and you leave their presence feeling like you can take on the world.
For me, my cheerleader is my husband. If I come home from a rough day - dealing with a difficult client - he will remind me that I'm great at what I do and that I can dump that client and find a better one if I want to. For me, this external 'you got this' means a lot.
My daily cheerleaders - my husband and my son, Koda.
Turn into your own cheerleader
How you talk to yourself is so very powerful. You can't always lean on your cheerleader. Sometimes you have to be your own cheerleader. Fill your studio and your bathroom (or wherever you spend a bit of time) with positive affirmations. Read them daily. Look yourself in the mirror in the morning and tell yourself that 'you are amazing. You are talented. And you are going to crush today!'.
In our home we have 'self confidence supper'. Each night over dinner we each say three things we love about ourselves and one thing we love about everyone else at the table. I always finish family dinners feeling really good about myself and really grateful for my boys. I've seen a remarkable difference in my son's self confidence since practising this. It works! Think about changing your passwords into affirmations 'IamBeautiful99!'. Have you noticed that you say your password in your head as you type it? Perfect time to fill your brain with positive thoughts. Change your computer background to a positive thought about yourself, something nice someone has said or a little phrase to boost your confidence. Listen to inspiring podcasts or audiobooks in the car. You got this!
Your brain can be such a powerful tool. It's tough when it feels like it's working against you sometimes. A little bit of imposter syndrome every now and then can be great. It is healthy to question what we are doing and if we should be doing it. But it's a matter of managing that negative self talk and not letting it limit our creative output. Remember: you are amazing, talented and you're doing the best that you can!
How do you keep your Imposter Syndrome in check?
Below is a talk I gave for Micro Galleries a little while ago around Imposter Syndrome. If you'd like some extra tips and some factual information, have a look-see. Ignore the fact I am in my PJs - it was recorded at about midnight. The joys of being part of a global artist collective.