Matcha Monday: Imposter Syndrome
Imposter Syndrome: the persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills.
The discussion surrounding Imposter Syndrome has been coming up frequently, more now than ever. All over social media, Instagram, TikTok, discussed on podcasts, people everywhere are putting a name to the phenomenon that affects so many.
I have experienced bouts of this throughout my life, whenever I was being creative, the little voice in my head telling me I had nothing to offer, to share, and that I was a fraud. It held me back in many situations, especially with my hands hovering over the keyboard as I sat down to write. I always believed it was anxiety, and I suppose it is a type of it, but I didn't feel the true strength of what imposter syndrome was until a few years ago when I began my photography journey and business.
According to Verywellmind, there are five types of Imposter Syndrome:
The Perfectionist. This type of imposter syndrome involves believing that, unless you were absolutely perfect, you could have done better. You feel like an imposter because your perfectionistic traits make you believe that you're not as good as others might think you are.
The Expert. The expert feels like an imposter because they don't know everything there is to know about a particular subject or topic, or they haven't mastered every step in a process. Because there is more for them to learn, they don't feel as if they've reached the rank of "expert."
The Natural Genius. In this imposter syndrome type, you may feel like a fraud simply because you don't believe that you are naturally intelligent or competent. If you don't get something right the first time around or it takes you longer to master a skill, you feel like an imposter.
The Soloist. It's also possible to feel like an imposter if you had to ask for help to reach a certain level or status. Since you couldn't get there on your own, you question your competence or abilities.
The Superperson. This type of imposter syndrome involves believing that you must be the hardest worker or reach the highest levels of achievement possible and, if you don't, you are a fraud.
Some common characteristics of imposter syndrome include:
An inability to realistically assess your competence and skills
Attributing your success to external factors
Berating your performance
Fear that you won't live up to expectations
Sabotaging your own success
Setting very challenging goals and feeling disappointed when you fall short
When I began my photography business and started booking clients, jobs and meeting incredible people, I was so excited. I was truly on cloud nine, riding the wave as creativity came back into my life full force in a new way. I was busy, constantly networking, photographing and editing.
Soon, however, I crashed. I was too busy, I wasn’t managing my time properly, I was overworking myself. It is all a learning opportunity, how to manage your business and time, how to make things run as smoothly as possible. Learning takes time and experience. As I crashed, feeling the effects of burnout, imposter syndrome really started to set in.
My life was consumed of thoughts and feelings of being a fraud. Why were people hiring me? I compared myself to so many others online and criticized myself and my own work. I was loving what I was doing, but was I just getting lucky? Was every booking and good photo I took pure luck?
I didn't want to stop, but sometimes the imposter syndrome got so bad I almost considered quitting altogether. Nothing was going wrong, there were no negative interactions or reviews, but I thought maybe if I quit now I would get ahead of it, before everyone found out I was a fraud.
Looking back, I know I wasnt a fraud. I was offering a service for a good price, putting my heart and soul into it, meeting new friends and truly loving what I was doing. I knew how to use a camera, I was taking great photos, and although I could compare myself to everyone else, each person's’ vision is different.
You can give five different people a camera and have them photograph the same subject and each will produce a completely different result. Everyone has a different creative vision and view of the world, all truly unique and worthy of being showcased. Just because your photos don't look like everyone else's, your song doesn't sound the same, or your artwork doesn't blend in with the rest, doesn't mean you’re a fraud. Every piece of art is unique and yours will speak to someone because they can feel it is truly yours. You also find your true vision and style over time as well.
I’m glad I didn't quit, but there were moments I truly considered it. That was my kind of self-sabotage, to get ahead of the disappointment and hurt before it happened. That’s what your mind does, it truly believes something bad is inevitably coming, and that isn't a productive way to live your life.
I don’t think imposter syndrome ever truly goes away, I still feel it in small moments throughout the process, but I have found ways to ease it.
First, taking care of my mental health has made a huge difference. Finally seeking help (which I can talk about in a future blog post) changed my life and it is something I feel extremely passionate about, for everyday life and especially when it comes to creativity. Negative self-talk and mental health issues can impact your creative abilities or prevent you from practicing, and, if you are creative, a life without your passions can make your mental health even worse.
Throughout the past few years I have introduced a lot of other creative people into my life, so I started to voice my experiences with imposter syndrome. In turn, they also began to speak, and I realized I was not alone. Talking about it was extremely beneficial, opening up the conversation to understand that others who I admired and who I never would have believed doubted themselves had the exact same feelings as I did truly made it feel more tangible. I always loved hearing about their newest projects and seeing the results, so I couldn’t imagine not being able to keep up to date on their journey if they let imposter syndrome win and quit altogether. Maybe, somewhere out there, someone felt the same way about me.
Social media was another huge obstacle in ‘overcoming’ imposter syndrome. Although it has introduced many positives and incredible people into my life, it is the ideal environment for comparison. When you scroll Instagram, you are presented with a never ending stream of accomplishments, edited photos and ideal lives. As a photographer, you are viewing a million different creative visions and it is normal to begin to think negatively about your own.
Comparing your art to others does nothing. Your art is your own and it will never be like another's, each person has their own creative vision. I began reaching out and making friends with other creatives, special people I remain close to who practice community over competition. We share ideas, collaborate and help teach each other new things. I am forever grateful for them.
Whenever I have those negative feelings, I try to practice positive self-talk. Whether I am seeing a photograph and thinking “I will never be able to take something like that” or reading a book and criticizing and questioning my abilities to ever write something as good, I try to flip the switch. I will continue to practice and learn more about photography, and I can't wait to get to that place where I can take something like that. When it comes to writing, I will continue to practice and read and one day someone will be as invested in my work as I am in the novel I’m currently reading.
Everyone starts somewhere, and part of my process is to understand I am making my own way, learning all the time, and to recognize how far I have come.
I am able to understand, however, what I do not know and areas where I can grow. Investing in education, reaching out to others who are eager to help, asking questions and throwing myself into new things are so important to pushing myself forward. Looking above at the list of kinds of imposter syndrome, I truly resonate with the idea that if I am not good at something right away, I have failed. This of course, isn't realistic.
It may sound cheesy, but making lists of positive aspects of the journey and lists of accomplishments, no matter how 'small' are crucial to changing your mindset and pushing imposter syndrome to the back of your mind. It's so easy to remember the frustrations, how you could have done better, where you want to get to. Take time to list out all the good, all the awards and new things you have done that have made your journey, all the friends you have made.
No matter how much it tries to creep into your life, do not quit. When you're questioning your path or believing your successes are just 'luck', remember you have success to celebrate if you are feeling imposter syndrome.
How do you deal with imposter syndrome?