A few weeks ago, we dove into creative anxieties and the entire topic felt wildly cathartic and even on-trend. For creatives, one of the most challenging anxieties to handle is the illusive, all-present impostor syndrome. According to the American Psychological Association, up to 82% of people in the workforce experience impostor syndrome, which can lead to further feelings of depression, anxiety, and burnout. But, why are creatives some of the most susceptible people to experience it? And how can we combat these feelings when they come up?
Why do creatives suffer from impostor syndrome?
Full disclosure, we’re not psychologists. But we are creatives with the power to do a little research (and ask our therapists). Impostor syndrome is the debilitating fear that you’re pretending to be more qualified, talented, knowledgeable (etc.) than you really are. This comes up so often when we’re applying for a job or starting a new position or trying to tackle a new, challenging project. This manifestation of anxiety affects creatives so often because so many of us are sensitive artists who have received criticism and been ostracized for our non-traditional career paths among other reasons. Also, being creative and pouring yourself into your work can feel like putting your own personality and sensibilities out for everyone's judgment.
And all of this is for people who traditionally don't receive backlash or any other challenges to the workplace. People of color and those who are just starting their careers are also more likely to experience impostor syndrome and subsequent anxiety and depression. We’re told from a young age that art can somehow be quantifiable or measured by societal standards of ability or technique (see: talent shows, expensive artwork galleries, and certain artists put on pedestals). It’s no wonder so many of us are susceptible to impostor syndrome.
So, how do you combat impostor syndrome? Here are some tips…
Evaluate what’s fact versus fiction about the situation
One truth that we already covered is that most people do suffer from impostor syndrome at work at one point or another. So, first off: you’re not alone! Now, turn your focus to your immediate situation. Is it really true that you are incapable of completing this project? Is it true that you’re unqualified, even though they hired you for this purpose? Did you really lie about your abilities? Or are your fears of being a fraud all in your head? What most challenges boil down to is this—they’re challenging or scary problems that you haven’t tackled before or maybe just not in this capacity. But aren't most unknowns always scary at first? Try to remember a time when you’ve overcome challenges and done things you didn’t think you were capable of doing. Separate the self-doubt from the truth—that you’re more capable of doing this than you think. Otherwise, would they have hired you and specifically asked you to complete this project? Nope—and it’s because they are trusting you. So trust yourself, too.
Ask for help and lean on your team
After evaluating the facts of why you're feeling insecure about this project, there is bound to be a specific area that feels like a blind spot to you. Time to concentrate on that. Start with talking to your people. You may need to be humble enough to ask for help from others. Think through those in your close network and tap into anyone with similar or helpful skills and experience. Collaboration from diverse thinkers will always strengthen a project and knowing that you don’t have to do this alone will help boost your confidence. Great outcomes are rarely the result of a single person’s efforts. We’re all human and we all need each other to get things done. Get clear on where you need help and ask the right people or invest in some tools to help get you to where you feel more confident in your ability.
Control what you can control
This tip is short and sweet—read up, do your research, and prepare however you need on your own so that you can feel a little more confident. Maybe even take a quick online class. And then jump in! You might be surprised to see the project comes easier to you than you thought. Just dedicate time and attention and the ideas will flow. If not, there are places you can go to help ideate.
Separate others’ expectations from your own
Sometimes the impostor syndrome feeling has nothing to do with your ability but with other peoples’ expectations. If you’re a people-pleaser, this is bound to be where you struggle the most. You might be more afraid of letting down your team, manager, or the company, causing that familiar fear that renders you immobile. The way to overcome this? Let go of the idea that you can please others with your outcome. Decide what matters—your values—and separate them from what’s out of your control—others’ expectations. All you can really do is your best with what you are given, ask for help, and work to the best of your ability. Others’ expectations aren’t something you can change, so put them out of your mind. It’s their job to work on their need for impossible perfectionism, not yours.
Take comfort in knowing it will go away the more you confront it
Further challenges and growth through learning are the antidotes to impostor syndrome. One day in your career you’ll look back on this difficult time and chuckle to yourself about your unfounded fears or reminisce about what it taught you. There is always a lesson you’ll learn from every challenge, and that’s a reward in and of itself. Challenges will get easier and one day you’ll strangely see how you crave more challenges and seek out different employment to keep from getting bored. You’ll grow older and get to an age where fear diminishes because you’ve had so much experience. Know that impostor syndrome is not here to stay and the more you tackle it, the better you get at stopping it from taking over your projects and your life.
TLDR; Most creatives will feel impostor syndrome at some point in their career, especially around new ventures and projects that are challenging and unfamiliar. But with a little research, help, time, and dedication, confronting impostor syndrome head-on can quell your fears of being “inadequate”. You’ll discover you were the only one thinking about it in the first place. Most often creatives get the job for other reasons outside their ability: they demonstrate new ways of thinking, they have experience with specific software, or they’re generally just superb people to work with! So embrace that the client wants YOU and then do your thing to the best of your ability.
If you’re looking for a new project or gig, we have some clients looking for creatives just like you.