There's nothing worse than losing confidence in yourself when you work in an artistic platform. It can result in a massive block that could last for long stretches of time. A huge portion of what creatives are putting out into the world is derived from spilling a little bit of their soul out into their projects, they take from their experiences emotionally and physically and form it into an idea or work of art. The fear of being rejected or criticized can halt their drive and stifle future projects. There is an incredible book about it called, Art & Fear: Observation on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking. The things explored in the book are pretty much common sense now. We've watched a lot of movies about the starving artists and the writer's struggling with writer's block. But what happens when the fear isn't about the art, but about how other artists will perceive you or ultimately call you out for being a fraud?
A few years ago I was invited to participate in a writer's round. It is essentially a very intimate show where song writers perform their work for an audience with a group of other song writers. Usually it is organized where the songwriters sit in a horseshoe shape in front of a small audience and play a song, talk about the path that led to writing the song, and take questions from the group. It can be a very intimidating experience even for the most seasoned songwriter. At the time, I had been writing and playing for about 10 years, having taken a brief hiatus to focus on other ventures and recently returned to performing earlier that year. Even with this short break, logically I should have been comfortable with being labeled a song writer and being included with the other likeminded individuals for this event. Instead, I felt overwhelming dread about it. It was one thing for me to entertain at a show with maybe one other artist, but to sit beside these folks and share my writing process was overwhelming. Why was it so bothersome for me? What was causing all of this trepidation? Why did I feel like I was an imposter? I convinced myself I had no right to be there with these 'real' musicians.
A few years later I attended a workshop for creatives in business. By this point I was doing a lot of different things in the creative space. The event was essentially a meet-up organized to help other creatives talk through business strategies and their biggest hang ups. Similar to the experience I had with the writer's round, I started to have a bit of a panic attack about being in a room with all of these folks who were 'real' artists. Who did I think I was to be there? Instead of just sitting to the side and not participating, I spoke up and explained how I was feeling. Fortunately, I was not alone in my plight. Another artist validated my experience and worked to explain what was happening to me. He said, it's not all that uncommon to feel that way and can be very situational. It can be brought on by feeling intimidated by whomever else is in the room, it could be an underlying issue with the work that you're doing, or it could just be some completely off the cuff remark that someone makes that spurs it on. He said it was called Imposter Syndrome or as I've learned, the Impostor Phenomenon. The name itself was enough to evoke an "AHA!" from the rest of the group. We had all experienced it in some form or fashion. Impostor Syndrome is not technically a psychological disorder, however, it has been studied since the late 70's as a psychological pattern. Linked above is an article cowritten by Joe Langford and Pauline Rose Clance from 1993 that explores this more in depth if you are interested.
I found it extremely helpful to be able to classify my fear as something more than just this weird quirk I had on occasion and it has helped me to adjust some behaviors so I feel more at home in my creative self. As I have been reading the study of this phenomenon originally focused attention on high achieving women, it has been determined that the experience is not gendered and in fact a lot of different people from different backgrounds experience(d) an episode of this nature during their lifetimes. This experience doesn't just happen to creative types either, it is really common for folks that have very strong A-typical personalities. It's part of what can drive them to keep producing - however exhausting that is.
Some things that really help me if I'm experiencing these moments are to simply surround myself with groups that let me talk out my fears. I have found an amazing community of makers that are so willing to part with wisdom and guidance when I start to doubt myself. They provide a never ending well of support for me, whether it's through my instagram posts or youtube videos. The other thing I need to get better at is taking compliments as they are and not try to discredit them. When I'm asked for advise I need to be careful not to add qualifiers that demean my abilities. All of these skills - and yes, they are skills - come with time and confidence. I need to shed myself of that fraud-skin and start to enjoy the things that I work so hard to achieve.
Heidi Jacobs is the Co-Founder of Slap Stuff Together, a maker's studio. She is also a Project Manager by day and part time professional photographer. If you would like to learn more about SST's adventures as a new start up you can follow them on Instagram or on Facebook. If you would like to learn more about their startup you can drop them a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Small Business owner and Artist, committed to growing as a maker as well as sharing her and her husband's experience with owning a small maker studio.
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