Many artists seem to have this deep fear of being “found out.” We’re afraid that the people around us only admire us because they don’t know the truth. It’s as if we’ve managed to fool everyone into believing we’re great… when in reality, we know we’re no good. Or in another sense: we think our successes are flukes, while our failures are the norm. And we’re afraid other people are going to figure that out.
This is often referred to as impostor syndrome, describing “individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’… Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.” For many creatives (including but not limited to me), this phobia can either turn passion into a rat-race of proving yourself, or it can paralyze us into inaction. Either way, we miss out on the true joy of being a creative.
Here’s the thing with impostor syndrome: there’s a little bit of truth to it. We aren’t actually as perfect as our best piece might suggest. All creatives have far more failures than successes. We all make more “ugly” drawings than “pretty” ones, more crappy drafts than perfect, more wrong turns than right. But what we tend to forget is that this is normal. You’re supposed to have more mistakes than solutions. Master your craft all you want, but there will always be the risk of messing up… and as long as that risk is there, you’ll always need a bit of luck to succeed.
Impostor syndrome comes into play when we try to use our strengths as “masks” to hide our weaknesses. Rather than admit a) we’re flawed lil humans and b) we learn from our flaws, we try to put on the best display possible to distract from any mistakes. But the reality is much easier: our failings are the very things that make up our successes! You can’t make a decent drawing without several (hundred) bad ones. You can’t make a decent book with out lame drafts. It’s simply not possible!
Those creatives who seem to have all that confidence, the ones who never seem to mess up? It’s not that they’re perfect: they’re just okay with not being perfect all the time. Confidence doesn’t come because you know you’ll never fail: it comes because you know you’ll succeed sometimes. Speaking personally, I’ve always made my best work when I stop worrying about my worst work. Instead of trying to pretend we’re perfect, maybe the wiser thing to do is to embrace our struggles as every bit as important as our victories.