“No matter what we’ve done, there comes a point where you think, ‘How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?’” That’s a quote from actor Tom Hanks on an interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air. Yes. Tom Hanks. Of Splash, Forrest Gump, A League of their Own, Elvis. Famous. Beloved. And like all of us, still incredibly human. He’s talking about dealing with imposter syndrome.
In an article titled, “Imposter Phenomenon,” imposter syndrome (IS) is defined as a “behavioral health phenomenon described as self-doubt of intellect, skills, or accomplishments among high-achieving individuals. These individuals cannot internalize their success and subsequently experience pervasive feelings of self-doubt, anxiety, depression, and/or apprehension of being exposed as a fraud in their work, despite verifiable and objective evidence of their successfulness.”
In some ways, it’s almost like gaslighting yourself. While it was first observed in the late 70s in women and other marginalized groups, the phenomenon has continued to pervade industries where achievement standards have moved and shifted, where benchmarks for success are nonexistent, or where social media has laid the ever-expanding groundwork for in-your-face comparatives. We see everything. We stick little thumbs up buttons and numbers next to a photo or an article or a video of something we’ve created. Because of the constant ability to see what everyone else is doing, but only to the extent of what you’re shown, we have built an unrecognizable foundation for jealousy, competitiveness, depression, anxiety, and self-doubt. You can read studies that express the same sentiment, but I can tell you, as someone who suffers from this phenomenon, that those feelings are real.
The most mind-boggling, though, at least to me, is imposter syndrome in successful artists (the Tom Hanks of the world). How can you look out at a room full of people who are there to see you perform, and think you’re a fraud? And before you go dissecting the individual childhood experiences that may have manifested into this lack of self-love, there are at least some ways you can start work to overcome imposter syndrome. There are plenty of blogs about the subject, but I want to express these bits of advice through the lens of an artist, pulling from the American Psychological Association, Harvard Business Review, and more (there is a lot of overlap out there).
Talk About Imposter Syndrome
They say that the first step to healing is admitting you have a problem. Who “they” is, is often varied, but it’s true. When you unload a weight, you will generally feel lighter. And you’ll be surprised how many people share the same concerns, or fears, or experiences. But you’ll never know unless you open up. Be willing to be vulnerable. You’ll be surprised how much camaraderie and conversation can change the power that feelings of fraudulence can hold.
Reflect on Your Accomplishments
Did you book your first showcase? Finish writing a new song? Play a show at a new venue? While the age-old phrase “stop and smell the flowers” may be dated, you really do have to look at what you’ve done with a certain amount of respect, adoration and time. This social-media driven world is full of hustle, but you have to stop at some point and look at what you’ve achieved. You can start listing out your whole year and you’ll notice how much has changed. It also stops you from feeling that sense of urgency, that “I should be doing something right now, look at [insert someone’s name here]”, that you may feel when your body and your heart need a little rest.
Limit Doom Scrolling
Social media isn’t going to be the source of your endless self-confidence (maybe for special cases). Start putting your phone down and pick up a journal. Watch music documentaries. Find ways to add to your knowledge as a performer. Pick up your instrument and practice [if you’re taking that personally, then you know what you should be doing]. You need to keep your eyes off negative reinforcement. And I promise you, if you start shutting off your phone more you’ll see a deep connection to a dip in your anxiety. Even consider buying an alarm clock and shutting off your phone an hour before you go to sleep. Like anything addictive, you have to wean yourself off it to make the action stick.
Practice Positive Self-Talk
We often reinforce imposter syndrome by unconsciously agreeing with our inner negative voice. If you feel like you may look crazy saying positive things aloud, consider using a dry erase marker and listing positive messages on your mirror, even something you’ve accomplished recently to remind yourself to celebrate it. Write three things you love about yourself down on a notepad or in your phone notes that you can look back at. If you do well at a gig, let your inner voice say, “yes, I had a great performance.” Call up a friend and ask them to do a gratitude exercise with you. Once you start introducing increased amounts of positive thinking into your daily routine, you’re opening yourself up to a whole new level of self-care, which in turn, will reflect in so many aspects of your performance and your ability to take up much-needed habits (like having the energy to write new music).
It’s important to note failure as an essential stepping stone to success. You need to remove fear of failure from the equation. If you have a performance and have a bad turnout – look at the facts. What can you do better in the future? What did you learn from this experience that you can apply to future gigs? If you look at failure like a friend instead of the boogeyman, you’ll start to look at your accomplishments as the direct result of learning from your experiences, giving purpose to your time, your efforts, and your missteps.
No solution is one size fits all. And everyone has their own way of dealing with feeling inadequate or false or like they don’t belong. If small changes don’t help, you can always seek professional advice and guidance. Our mind is incredibly powerful. Something within you, in reality, shouldn’t make you feel so terrible. Just remember, if you’re ever feeling like you’re a fraud, take a step back – don’t give up on your art. If you feel it in your bones, if you know you’re meant to do something, then you should absolutely continue to try. We are our own worst enemy in these cases, and once you remove the obstacle of your own negative thoughts, flipping the narrative, harnessing your mind – there’s no limit to what you’ll be capable of.