You get to work on a new project, with everything you need. One thing nags at you: the sense that you’re a fraud. A picky little voice at the back of your mind tells you negative things about your ability, your resources, your idea, and the next thing you know, you’re paralyzed. You pick at your own ideas and workflow, and realize: you’ve got impostor syndrome.
You’re experiencing what artists, writers, scientists and entertainers have experienced since time immemorial. Impostor syndrome, also known as the impostor experience, impostor phenomenon, or fraud syndrome, is part of creativity. It’s been known to make creators second-guess themselves to the point of complete inactivity.
However, if you address it directly, you can use it to gain momentum on your project.
There are several different ways that this phenomenon works on creative people. Each can be unpacked and rebuilt into a tool you can use to get back to work and improve your project.
As soon as you notice you feel fraudulent, admit it to yourself. Then figure out why, and how you can fix it. When we make something new, there’s always uncertainty. This can lead to fear and feelings of inadequacy.
Let’s take a look at some of the frequently-heard statements that creative people cope with during a bout with Impostor Syndrome.
1. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Sometimes, you don’t know enough about a topic to move forward confidently. This gap in your knowledge can disguise itself as feeling like someone who is bluffing their way through a project. In that case, it’s a good idea to take a step back, do more research, or break it down into parts that you do understand.
Working on a large project in smaller parts can make goals simpler to achieve.
2. “One more thing needs to be fixed.”
Perfectionism can make a creator stick in place like a car spinning its wheels in the mud. The need to fix punctuation, brushstrokes, volume levels and so on, is often a desire to not let the project into someone else’s hands.
Give yourself a deadline, a concrete goal, and stick to it. It might not be perfect, but it’s met the goal you set out to achieve.
3. “They will find out that I’m no good.”
Who? Are you making work for an army of enemies? Is there a rogues’ gallery of cartoon villains, sitting on bleachers, eagerly waiting to tear your work to shreds, sneer, jeer and laugh?
Those cartoon villains hate everything.
Instead, remember that when you do make your work, there are people you haven’t met yet, for whom it will have meaning. This is one of the beautiful things about podcasting. Your work can reach people all over the world, with all kinds of life experience, not just the kind of people you know in your home town.
4. “Someone will call me out for a particular detail.”
If there’s a gap in your research and/or technique, own it. As theatre practitioners and fiction writers say, “hang a lantern on it.”
For example, in the musical Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda was compelled to write a song about Eliza Hamilton’s reaction to her husband’s infidelity. However, historians know little to nothing about how the Hamilton family coped with this because the family kept their pain private. The lyric, “Let future historians wonder how Eliza reacted” is a moment where the author gives the character agency over her own privacy. By highlighting the gap in historic detail, Miranda left the audience feeling more sympathetic toward the characters.
5. “I don’t have enough…”
Fill in the blank. Is it that you don’t have enough time? Physical strength? Ink? Paint? Battery power in your Zoom recorder?
What would it take for you to have enough resources? Or, how can you get around it? Fill in those empty spaces, and make strategies, so nothing gets between you and completion. Get help where you can.
6. “If I’m good at it, it must be not that big of a deal.”
A cruel and inescapable facet of impostor syndrome is that creators can’t always let themselves enjoy their own success. When all your peers are doing work similar to yours, achievements don’t always feel unique.
Remember that your peers are your allies. If you’re stuck on something, share strategies, or at least commiserate. When someone among you succeeds, congratulate them. The podcast community can be very good at building each other up.
Collect your praise and save it. If someone writes something nice about your work, take a screenshot or cut it out, and keep it in a clipping folder. Remember that we are all good at different things, and not everyone can do what you do.
7. “My ideas just aren’t any good.”
This happens more often than people want to admit. Sometimes you have to let a concept go. Keep notes about it, in case you want to revisit it in the future. Sometimes you don’t have a choice if you’re working on a commission or a collaboration. In that case, here are two ways of dealing with falling out of love with your idea. You can:
- Go back to your original notes. Look at what made you want to explore this topic in the first place. What was it that initially made you enamored with the project?
- Turn it around to find a new interesting element. If you’re writing fiction, revisit it from the point of view of the most minor character in the story. If you’re frustrated with a sound technique, try doing the opposite of what you’re currently doing.
Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt created a deck of cards called The Oblique Strategies Deck, for when they felt stuck on creative projects. It’s a deck of plain white cards, each with a simple strategy to try. They include such statements as “Abandon Normal Instruments,” “Use An Old Idea” or “Try Faking It!”
If all else fails, go for a walk.
In 2014, a Stanford University study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology stated that the act of walking, whether outdoors or indoors, on a path or on a treadmill, enhanced creativity and generated new ideas. Even just pacing can help you get perspective. If nothing else, it’ll improve your circulation.
Feeling like a fraud, or inadequate, is a normal part of trying to make something new. Because what you’re making has never existed before, it’s reasonable to expect some insecurity. Using strategy and creativity to conquer your negative feelings allows you to take control of your work, and see it through to completion. Impostor syndrome helps podcasters, as long as they can use it to their advantage.
Coping With Impostor Syndrome: What Next?
Are you still unsure about making a podcast? Have those negative voices not shut up yet? Take a look at Will Williams’ article, “Who Should Not Start A Podcast?” and see if the negativity is giving you misleading information.
You might also find this article useful – 5 Ways Podcasting Improved My Confidence & Self-Esteem.
Finally, be sure to check out our Confident Podcaster Series which deals with common impostor syndrome thoughts like “my voice sounds bad”, “I’m boring”, and “why would anyone listen to me?”.