To my fellow phonies,
You are in good company!
I’ve been doing a lot of reflection in terms of my career path lately. This semester has been much more “involved” than the first year of my post-secondary education, and as a result of that, I’ve been carrying quite a few feelings of self-doubt.
I can’t seem to shake this feeling that I don’t belong in my field of interest. The amount of times I’ve considered changing my major or straight up dropping out of college all together recently has been sad, and the saddest part about these considerations is that it’s not as if they’re coming from a lack of interest. I have a desire to learn and typically enjoy the classes that I take, and yet, here I am constantly questioning whether or not college and I are a compatible match.
I think a big part of it might be because I’m pursuing an arts related degree. I’m majored in film and video production, which means I’m interacting with creative minds on a daily basis. Many of my peers have been doing this since their hands were big enough to hold a camera. Combine that with the fact that most of the material has been entirely new territory for me, and you’ll have me consistently comparing myself to others and making myself feel bad in the process.
The best way I can describe the way I feel is…fraudulent. When I see talent in others, I suddenly lose any potential I have as an individual. I become afraid that others are going to see me as mediocre. I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m feeling jealous or envious of my peers, but rather I feel intense feelings of admiration for them and frustration towards myself for not meeting my standards.
Logically, I know these feelings are somewhat irrational. It seems a bit silly to be comparing myself to more experienced classmates when the whole point of school is to learn what I don’t already know. My education and somebody else’s education are entirely separate entities, so why am I continuously struggling to make that separation?
I decided to do a bit of research about why I might be having these feelings. I wanted to know if these feelings were normal or if it was genuinely time for me to consider a change in career paths. To my surprise, I was able to find quite a few people online that felt the same way that I often do. After a bit of Googling, I was able to finally put a name to what I was feeling: imposter’s syndrome.
What is imposter’s syndrome?
According to The Guardian’s Oliver Burkeman, imposter’s syndrome is “the feeling that you’re a fraud, and any day now you’ll be exposed.” It’s that experience of feeling completely out of place in your field. The experience of feeling like a total fake in a crowd of genuinely talented people.
As I read think piece after think piece about imposter’s syndrome, I came to the realization that I wasn’t alone in my feelings of self-doubt. Plenty of well-established creatives have felt the same way, and often continue to throughout their careers.
There was a Maya Angelou quote that I ran into on more than one occasion during my research. Angelou once said, “I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.'” Running into this quote as often as I did had a pretty shocking effect on my self esteem. If Maya Angelou of all people has felt like a phony, then perhaps it’s normal that I feel like one too.
Now, I’m obviously no Maya Angelou. I don’t mean that as a crack against myself, I just mean that I am still in the very early stages of my creative development. Realizing that the feelings I’ve been having are normal doesn’t mean I’m suddenly The Next Best Thing. In fact, identifying the issue only seems to be part of what’s necessary to move forward.
Why do people have imposter’s syndrome?
I think it’s important to analyze why people might have issues with feeling inadequate. Why do people have a tendency to compare themselves to others?
I think part of why imposter’s syndrome is so common is because so many people tend to feel threatened by their peers rather than empowered by them. In case it wasn’t already obvious, I’m guilty of this as well. When I see someone with talent, I admittedly compare my own work to theirs rather than simply appreciating whatever that person might bring to the table.
People strive to be the very best at whatever they’re doing. I don’t think there’s really a way to prevent them from doing that. However, I think these types of comparisons can be done in moderation, or at least in a healthier manner than seeing somebody’s talent and immediately tearing yourself down in the process.
How can one free themselves of imposter’s syndrome?
Instead of seeing someone’s work and automatically criticizing my own work as a response, I think it’s important that I start to look at other peoples’ work and focus on feeling inspired rather than overly critical. I can see someone’s work and want to “do better” as a result, but I should also take some time to think about what I’ve brought to the table as well. What’s important about my work? What potential do I have?
Sure, it sounds a bit self-centered at first, but I think ultimately, recognizing one’s achievements to balance out any work that still needs to be done is the healthiest way of growing as an individual. It might be easier said than done, but it’s a process worth working on, and I hope that someday I can feel a little less like someone that’s faking their way through life, and more like someone that’s paving a way for themselves.