Remember that Talking Heads song, ‘Once in a Lifetime?’ You know the one – it starts with a long monologue telling you that you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife – but, the Talking Heads explain, we might find ourselves thinking that this isn’t our beautiful house, nor our beautiful wife, and frankly, how did we get here?!
That’s kind of what imposter syndrome is like. No matter how astronomically talented a person is, they’re also a human being, with all the funny little nuances and quirks and insecurities that come with it, and everyone – no matter how successful – has a tiny voice in their head that expresses all their innermost doubts. Many people learn to control and supress this voice, but it’s still there like a little heartbeat, beating its drum: ‘you can’t. You can’t. You can’t.’
In spite of this little voice – or perhaps to prove it wrong – you’ll soldier on, working hard to create the life you want and establish yourself in your chosen field. After a while, other people will start to notice your hard work. You’ll begin to gain a following – a small one at first, and then, maybe, a much larger one. Now the voice isn’t saying ‘you can’t’ – it’s saying ‘pretty soon they’ll all figure out that you’re winging it.’
How do you know if you’ve been afflicted with this pesky phenomenon? Think about these statements – if any of them apply to you, you’re part of the gang:
One or more of those sound familiar? You’re certainly not alone. Imposter syndrome is an enormously common phenomenon, and the annoying thing is that it doesn’t go away, necessarily – instead, you just learn to work it to your advantage and laugh it off. (Really, you’re in good company – between all of us here at the Training Barn we’ve won plenty of awards and picked up amazing contracts, and we all still have it!)
“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 out.” – Maya Angelou
Studies show that imposter syndrome affects over 85% of working adults, but only about 25% have ever heard of it. Interestingly, it’s found to be more prevalent in women, particularly high-achieving ones – so if you’re still working on your 2020 resolutions, may we suggest conducting yourself with the blind confidence of a mediocre man? (Gents, we’re only kidding – we love you really!)
There’s a pretty consistent cycle that imposter syndrome follows. You’ll be presented with a task – for example, a shoot with a new client – and after that initial buzz of booking it in, you’ll suddenly feel the self-doubt creeping in. How can you come up with enough exciting ideas to fill the shoot? Will you be able to capture the emotions? What if you don’t find a single nice location?
Then, you’ll do one of two things: you’ll either avoid that self-doubt by procrastinating, and ignoring the prospect of the shoot until the last minute, at which point you’ll have to do all your prep in a last-minute panic. Or, you’ll overprepare like mad, driving yourself insane by covering every possible eventuality.
In the first case, you’ll then attribute the success of your shoot to dumb luck. In the second, you’ll reason that you got it done because you worked hard. In neither situation will you praise yourself for simply being bloody good at what you do. In effect, you’re cheating yourself out of that great feeling of pride in what you do.
Another common symptom of imposter syndrome is trying to be a total superwoman in everything you do. You’re so desperate to prove a point that you’ll take on a million jobs, trying to balance so many plates that you burn yourself out. This one’s not great, either – you might wow people with your diligence, but you won’t enjoy it. And photography? Well, it’s meant to be enjoyed.
So how do you fix it? Look, we won’t lie to you – there’s no one-step process. It’s a slow-burner, and it’s all about changing your mindset and attitude. But there are some sure-fire ways to get yourself on the right track.
What are we leaving in 2019? Self-doubt. How are we doing it? By embracing our strengths AND our weaknesses, because they make all of us totally, wonderfully unique. Go do your thing, without reservations – you’ll surprise yourself with your own greatness.