Imagine waking up this morning to discover that Seattle Opera left a message offering you a lead role without even an audition. After the absolute euphoria subsides, what emotion would take over next? Fear? Perhaps you feel undeserving of the opportunity. Even if you have followed every step of the 29 or 28 Days to Diva challenges, how soon would the imposter feelings and apprehensions creep into your consciousness? My suggestions and challenges for you so far are steeped in the Great-American-Way-of-Life: working your way up from the bottom, struggling through challenges, becoming an innovator in the field, and always with your nose to the grindstone. But, what about the moment when your hard work meets success? We do not only fail regularly. We succeed regularly too. The praise and recognition of your talents are not achieved by deception, a congenial personality, or simple good luck. Divas, we only have a few days left of our February together. Today, Day 26, I want to you to prepare yourself for success.
The term “impostor phenomenon” was coined in the 1970s by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, both then at Georgia State University. Clance and Imes noticed that many of their students with excellent test scores and good grades admitted during counseling that they felt they did not belong at the school. Although these students were successful and accomplished, they expressed the idea that they had somehow conned their way into their current positions. They were astutely aware of their weaknesses and tended to overestimate the strengths and abilities of others. In their minds, they always failed to measure up — and they dreaded the day they would make a mistake and reveal to the world the grand illusion. –Birgit Spinath
There is a void in conservatory training regarding the experience of success. Schooling and training is obsessive about rehearsing and performing better and better. It is also about amassing tools to help with your future trade. Dealing with success should be one of those tools. Many musicians have a tendency to blame external circumstances for both their successes and failures. It is one of the ways that we steel ourselves against the heartbreak of a freelance career like this. However, if we attribute our success to external circumstances, we could left unable to process that accomplishments we actually earn. One of the most basic steps to dealing with success is fortifying your emotional stability. Those that suffer with depressive tendencies will feel great responsibilities for their failures and attribute all of their successes to luck. Researchers suggest that “emotionally robust people tend to attribute positive events to internal, stable and global factors (‘I’m just smart!’); in contrast, with negative occurrences they tend to cite unstable and specific factors (‘bad luck this time!’).”¹ Practicing acceptance of credit for achievement and criticism for mistakes is paramount to letting in success.
One of the concealed traps of success is self-sabotage. No matter the level of success you have achieved, you have found a comfort zone at that level. To grow and achieve better success you must also develop beyond that comfort zone. Your success will only continue as far as your self-esteem allows. Even those bold-faced names have struggled with involuntary self-sabotage due to insecurity. There are two camps that musicians fall into that precipitate self-sabotage: over-doing and under-doing. Does this resonate yet? Over-doing is marked by the obsessive preparing and rehearsing of every detail in the music. Over-doers believe that they only achieve success due to their epic preparation and not because of their skills or intrinsic abilities. They cannot enjoy the process of making music because they did not have enough time to prepare; never realizing that there will never be enough time for them. The fear of performing only increases because they understand that will not be able to consistently match the amount of effort.
Underdoing looks somewhat different. Given a particular performance situation, a person will, for example, fail to prepare or prepare much too late, doing other, extraneous things instead. In the 1970s social psychologist Edward E. Jones dubbed this behavior “self-handicapping.” When these underdoers perform well, despite putting obstacles in their own way by not studying or preparing, they ascribe their success to luck rather than their own ability. It was just a fluke. Thus, people who have an impostor mind-set who fall into the underdoing trap end up viewing the future as just as uncertain as those who overprepare. –Birgit Spinath
What can you do if you find yourself suffering in one of the two camps? Break the cycle. You cannot give up preparing or suddenly go into hyper-drive in an attempt to avoid self-sabotage. There must be a balance and accurate attribution to the cause of success. Thinking about ways to ameliorate self-sabotage can also be another way to visualize real success.
Going beyond the “I’m gonna sing at the Met!” ambitions to thinking about acknowledging specific successes will be extremely positive. Boosting your self-esteem can help you resist self-handicapping urges. Try writing about a value you truly hold before opportunities for self-sabotage. For example, thoroughly explain your belief in music or theatre before a big audition. Confirming your beliefs can prevent you from putting obstacles in your way. Another way we can avoid self-sabotage is to focus on the right attributions to success. When others suggest a singer only got a role or audition because she has a pretty face, she will begin to equate her success with her looks instead of focusing on her actual skill or preparation. It is necessary that you are aware of the skills you bring to the game whether innate or learned. When you can point to your abilities and can acknowledge how they figured into achievement, you will be able to grow.
Career procrastination is incredibly self-defeating. Singers that believe they are not worthy or capable of succeeding beyond their current comfort zone will subconsciously avoid opportunities. Some worry that once they reach a personal milestone they will not be able to continue the obsessive fight and struggle to be noticed. If you can relate to this self-defeating personality, it is time to redirect the narrative of “what will I do now?” Avoid the temptation of diffusion instead of challenging yourself for more growth. These musicians will fear moving forward because they are doing well at the current level and want to stave off negative feelings of trying and failing. Practice telling yourself, “I did this well, watch what I can do next.” Funnel your energy and passion into your future gigs.
A lot of our journey is about criticism and a constant need to be better. It is extremely difficult for some to let go of that hyper critical mentality. When you meet success, at any juncture, you must be ready to accept that it really is your turn.