Does every creative professional have imposter syndrome? Everyone except the sociopaths. I am sure you’ve felt, at one point in your life or another, a persistent inability to believe that your success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of your own efforts or skills. Imposter syndrome is also called perceived fraudulence. You might experience self-doubt or feelings of personal incompetence that persist despite your education, experience, and accomplishments. To counter these feelings, you might end up working harder and holding yourself to ever higher standards. Or, letting the perceived accomplishments of everyone around you determine the context in which you perceive yourself.
When I first started coaching creative professionals over 10 years ago, I focused on the part of my coaching framework that covers offers, clients, and systems. I figured, “If I can just help people with the logistics of their music businesses, then they’ll be better able to live sustainable lives in the arts.” With experience comes maturity and some earned wisdom. I learned over time to add the “most desired outcomes”, mindset, and my story sections to my coaching framework. I realized that things in this latter section will ultimately impact my clients’ ability to do the tasks/activities we identify in the offers, clients, and systems section of the framework. Imposter syndrome, comparing yourself to others, and professional jealousy go hand-in-hand and are prevalent topics that come up in relation to the mindset section of the framework.
Your 29 Days to Diva – Day 4 Assignment: Cope with comparison
The way that I have come to understand professional jealousy is that you see somebody else and they’re doing amazing things. Suddenly, you’re thinking to yourself, “I want that too. I wish somebody was asking me to do those things.” That is why I believe that professional jealousy is your ‘future self’ calling to you.
Anytime that green monster shows up in my life, I say to myself, “It’s my future self reaching out to me.” My future self is subconsciously asking and prodding, “Megan, you want this too? Go ahead and start working towards it.” I allow myself to let professional jealousy or comparing myself to others to be a catalyst. That feeling is an indicator light that I should be working towards the outcome that is making me emotional.
What crushes me when I have conversations with friends and colleagues around professional jealousy is when I hear them say, “God, I feel awful for feeling this way. Like, why do I feel so gross? I don’t want this other person to not have the great thing they just achieved. They’re awesome. I want them to be doing great.” These friends and colleagues don’t feel like the person they’re comparing themselves to is a jerk who doesn’t deserve good things or accomplishments. They don’t think the other person is bad at what they do.
“I just wanna be doing great things too.”
When we proceed deeper into the conversation, they (almost self-consciously) admit, “I just wanna be doing great things too.” And that, is the key. Professional jealousy and comparing yourself to others can be a map.
It’s a map for you. It’s not for anybody else. When you realize that you don’t want your colleagues to have these things taken away from them or that they don’t deserve it, you can accept that it’s actually a map for you. You might even be surprised. “Oh, I didn’t realize I wanted that in the same way. I’m gonna start working towards it.” If professional jealousy is a map, then imposter syndrome is about recognizing that you’re a work in progress. You can’t possibly have it all figured out yet. There’s no way you can have everything done yet. Every project is full of controlled failure. You will continue to work on things. You will continue to grow. You will continue to add to your vault of creative work. That is your artistic legacy.
Imposter syndrome is that mean voice in our head that says, “You can’t hack it, you can’t do it.” Imposter syndrome lies a lot. It tries to convince you, “You’ve never done this before. You’ve never been able to do anything, and so you’re gonna fail at this.” Imposter syndrome is trying to make you stop yourself. It’s in cahoots with your brain to stay safe, not try new things, not go out on the limb, not try to prove yourself in something you haven’t done before, or haven’t tested before. It’s saying “Don’t practice. Don’t try to get better. Don’t take lessons. Don’t learn from somebody. Don’t grow.” It goes farther into saying, “Just do what exactly what you’ve done before because nobody can take that away from you.”
Cope with comparison and imposter syndrome.
One of the ways that you cope with comparing yourself and dealing with imposter syndrome is to respect the work that you’ve done, celebrate your success, and cultivate self-compassion. Look at all of the things you’ve learned. Every single month, every single year, you have learned new things, taken on new tasks, worked on bigger-risk-bigger-reward projects. You have survived everything you’ve tried so far.
I ran into this quote, this Ira Glasss quote many years ago on my journey, and I have to say that it’s one of the things that I come back to as a little totem anytime I’m feeling the comparison trap try to take over.
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.
Divas, sometimes your vision and your ambitions will outpace your ability. That’s a good thing. It’s a good thing because it makes you find the path and it makes you discover new ways. It makes you build new systems and try new things. You grow because your taste, your goals, and your ambitions outpace your craft. So your craft gets better. Then, you come up with better taste and better goals and better ambitions, and your craft gets better again. So, what I’m telling you and what Ira Glass is telling you is that these feelings are not there to to break you down.
Overcome imposter syndrome by doing the work.
Imposter syndrome, comparing yourself to others, and professional jealousy can show up to make you better. They’re there to be a roadmap. It’s your future self calling out to you. You can only process your professional jealousy or your imposter syndrome by doing the work. It doesn’t happen any other way. So, make a lot of work, make a lot of mistakes, try a lot of things, dream bigger dreams so that you can push your craft and you can push yourself.
I know professional jealousy, imposter syndrome, and comparing yourself to others can feel like such ugly feelings, but they’re not. They’re invitations. Put your hand on your heart and say, “good things are happening to me too.”