Have you ever downplayed your own achievements? Been reluctant to tell people you’re an artist? Have you ever attributed your success to luck, rather than your hard work and natural talent? All of these things are a sign of artist imposter syndrome. So many people–especially marginalized people, who are already conditioned to feel like they don’t belong–experience imposter syndrome. It happens in every workplace, in every industry, in every artistic pursuit, and it can feel isolating. Embarrassing. Exhausting. Impossible to overcome.
I’m here to tell you that artist imposter syndrome is common, natural, and that you can totally get over it.
Before we dive in, let me tell you a story. I’ve been a writer my whole life. Some of my earliest memories center around creative writing. As a kid, I felt proud of my writing. The adults in my life told me I was talented and praised me for working hard, and I believed them. (Shout out to my second and fifth grade teachers!) I eagerly showed people my work and happily accepted their compliments. I truly believed I was good at writing and that one day I’d be successful at it.
Somewhere along the way, I lost that mindset. Maybe it was just that I got older and more jaded. Maybe it was because I learned about the harsh realities of pursuing a career in the arts. Either way, I wilted. I stopped showing people my work. I stopped telling people I was a writer, even though I spent all my evenings and weekends working on my books. My closest friends knew this was a big part of my life, but I didn’t discuss it with anyone outside of my inner circle. When I finished a novel, I told very few people, so there were no congratulations. I queried literary agents, but didn’t tell people about all the little victories, not even when I eventually signed with an agent I was super excited about. I was embarrassed to admit I loved something this much. I was afraid it wasn’t going to work out. I thought that all my achievements amounted to luck, so I didn’t think I deserved to have my community cheer me on.
A few years ago, I quit my teaching job to pursue writing more seriously. Suddenly, I had to talk about it. I had to tell them that this was my dream, that I’d been working extremely hard for many years to achieve something I cared about. It felt vulnerable. Scary. I had to learn how to accept praise, how to answer questions, how to respond to people asking to hear more about my work or, worst of all, requests to read it. I had to white-knuckle my way through conversations that felt like small talk to the other person but to me felt very, very vulnerable. For a while, this was very difficult… but it got easier. A LOT easier.
Recently, my mom ran into a childhood friend of mine who asked about me. She told him that I worked for a film company and wrote novels. A year ago, I would have been crushed with feelings of imposter syndrome. But now? I just felt proud. That is what I’m doing, and I love both of those things, and I work very hard on them. My art is everything to me, and, as much as I hate to admit it, I’m good at it.
I’m not going to say I’m totally over my artist imposter syndrome. Most days, I feel pretty confident, like I’m good at what I do and I’ve worked hard for the career milestones I’ve already met. Other days, I feel small, like people are going to judge me for all the things I haven’t yet accomplished, or I don’t deserve my achievements. But now I have skills to get me through those days, and I want that for you, too. You’re an amazing artist, and you deserve to feel that. So let’s dive in and talk about it!
Share what you’re doing.
Actually telling people that you’re an artist can be a challenge for some people. It certainly was for me. I felt embarrassed to admit that I was an artist. When people asked me about my hobbies or goals, I didn’t mention my art. But for me, the first step to overcoming artist imposter syndrome was telling people what I was doing. Now, when people ask about my career, I tell them I’m a brand writer and novelist. When they ask about my projects, I give them an overview of what I’m working on. A lot of people find it difficult to discuss their projects with people, but challenge yourself by whipping out your phone to show them a painting you’re working on, or give them a brief overview of what you’re writing.
If this is hard for you, start small by telling a favorite coworker your artistic weekend plans, and work up to sharing with a wider audience, like that guy you just met at a party. If you don’t have an artistic internet presence, set one up so that people can find you online. This is the first step to feeling a genuine sense of pride in yourself!
Ask for what you need.
This one is hard, at least for me; if you want to overcome artist imposter syndrome, you have to ask for what you need. This means opening up to your inner circle about what you’re experiencing, and telling them how they can support you. Think carefully about how you want them to do that, because there are many ways your community can be there for you. I have a writing group chat, and I share when I’m feeling down so that my writing buddies can give me a pep talk. I am part of a Discord where I sometimes share snippets of my work so people can hype me up. I have asked critique partners to do positivity passes on my writing, where they read it and only share the things they love, no notes. My partner is always willing to listen to me vent about whatever wild thing is happening in the world of publishing, and I have a mentor and an agent who give me specific guidance on my career and answer my questions when I’m feeling confused.
Remember that it’s okay to ask for specific things, and that your loved ones can say no if that doesn’t work for them. You should get familiar with phrases like “can I vent? I am not looking for solutions right now, only support” or “can you help me talk through this feeling I’m having?”
Accept praise… and then try to believe it.
Maybe I’m just weird, but I have a really hard time accepting compliments. I’ve had whole therapy sessions dedicated to this issue, not even joking. Hearing a compliment, even from a very close friend, feels super vulnerable because I don’t know how to respond and frankly I hate being perceived. When I was really struggling with artist imposter syndrome, I felt a sense of shame when people complimented me, because I didn’t believe I deserved their praise. If you have a hard time accepting compliments, try to think about why that is. How do you feel when someone praises you? And how can you respond to their praise? I started small, by thanking people when they complimented me. This seems so obvious, but before I made a conscious choice to do that, my instinct was to dismiss their comment or even argue with them! Once I mastered the skill of thanking people, I moved on to another step, and tried to agree with them if it felt authentic. This can be as simple as “thank you, I worked really hard on that” or “thank you, I’m proud of this piece.”
Even if you don’t have a shame spiral every time someone compliments you or your work, you can still work on internalizing the praise you receive. Instead of mentally dismissing someone’s praise, really consider it. Think about the compliments you’ve received in the past and make a mental note of what people like about your work. If you want to go the extra mile, you can even write it down and revisit it later. Knowing what you’re good at goes beyond overcoming artist imposter syndrome and will actually make you a better artist in the long run.
Create a mantra.
I can’t tell you how much creating a mantra specifically for my art has changed my life. I use it when I’m feeling frustrated, embarrassed, or undeserving. There are lots of ideas for mantras online, so do some research and create one that feels authentic to you and the feelings you’re struggling with. When I was really having a hard time, I wrote my mantra on my bathroom mirror and left sticky notes around my workspace for myself.
What are your limiting beliefs, and how can you counter them? If you’re having imposter syndrome about pricing, maybe the mantra “I deserve to be compensated fairly for my work.” If you’re having trouble comparing yourself to others, try out the mantra “my work is my own, and it is unique and worthy.” If you don’t think you deserve the success you’re experiencing, how does it feel to say “I work hard for my achievements?” If you aren’t experiencing the success you want, how about “every day is another step towards my goals?”
You can write down your mantra, journal about it, write it on a sticky note for your workspace, or practice saying it out loud in the mirror. This step is about shifting your mindset, and even if it feels silly at first, it is totally possible to consciously change your thought patterns!
Eyes on your own paper.
Regardless of what type of artist you are, it’s so easy to compare yourself to others. As a novelist, there are days where it feels like everyone has a book deal except for me. As a filmmaker, sometimes it feels like everyone has more resources than I do. I always say there is some benefit to jealousy, because it helps you learn what you want out of life. But comparing yourself to others is a dark road to go down, and trust me when I say it only leads to despair. Focusing on yourself, on improving YOUR skills, on growing YOUR client list, on setting YOUR pricing, is the only way forward. The tough news is that there will always be someone out there who has more money, more resources, more clients, more skills. But the good news is that that’s none of your business. When you stay in your lane you grow as a person and an artist, and you create your own opportunities. Your career will never be the same as someone else’s, because you’re a different person. You have different skills, resources, education, experiences, art styles… the list goes on. If you are working on overcoming artist imposter syndrome, keeping your eyes on your own paper is key.
Give it time.
I wish I could tell you that if you work hard to change your mindset, your artist imposter syndrome will be gone overnight. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. For me, overcoming imposter syndrome has been a years-long journey, and it’s a journey that I’m still on. Challenging your own thoughts and feelings is difficult, vulnerable work, and it takes time. Remember to celebrate each victory and give yourself credit for the hard internal work you’re doing. Talk about it in therapy, share with your close friends that this is something you’re working on, and don’t beat yourself up when you have a bad day (or week.) You’re a talented, hardworking, capable artist, and eventually you will overcome your artist imposter syndrome!
Is this something you struggle with? Do you have tips for overcoming imposter syndrome? Reach out and let’s chat!