SOS! Posts: Quick tips for getting through creative crisis.
We struggle for so long in obscurity—constantly falling short of our ideals—that we get used to the feeling that we’ll never be good enough. We’ll never be as good as our idols. We’ll never be good enough to feel satisfied with our work. We struggle for years in the “Taste Gap” where our taste is developed enough to know what we’re trying to achieve, but our hands can’t yet achieve it. The development of an artist often takes so long, and can be so discouraging, that when we do finally start to be successful we actually can’t recognize it. It feels like we’re fakes who are undeserving of any praise we might get. This is called imposter syndrome, and it is more common than you think.
- Imposter Syndrome Strikes All Skill Levels. We set goals for ourselves, saying we’ll feel “like a real artist” when we land a certain commission, get printed in a certain book, or make a certain amount of money. These arbitrary milestones we create do nothing to dispel this feeling of “faking it” — and we often find the goalposts moving as soon as they’re in reach. As an Art Director who works with some of the most successful artists living and working today, I can tell you that even your idols feel like imposters sometimes. It just comes with the territory. So if you’re waiting for that feeling to go away, forget it, because it never does. All we can do is turn down the volume of that voice in our head that says we don’t deserve praise, or success, or someone is going to pull the rug out from under us at any moment.
- The Better You Get the Worse You May Feel. There’s a cognitive bias called the Dunning-Kruger effect, that states the less ability we have, the more likely we are to overestimate our abilities. This can sometimes be referred to as “illusory superiority” or “delusions of grandeur”. As we come to learn more our taste develops and we can see the difference between what we want to do and what we have the ability to do. This is the “Taste Gap” that I mentioned above. It might sound backwards, but in this case feeling worse about your work might actually be a sign that you’re getting much better. Just accept the paradox and power thru. In fact, the further you get in your career, the more chances imposter syndrome will get to run amok. Accept those awards. Take those speaking offers. Keep making art.
- Humility Can Hurt Your Career. No one likes arrogance, but being overly humble can hold you back. Learn to graciously receive praise without letting it make you feel awkward. Say thank you to compliments. Accept awards. Promote your work. Show your humility by praising the people that helped you get where you are — but don’t deny the hard work that got you to where you are.
- Don’t Fear the Fraud Police. You don’t need permission from anyone to make art, no matter what skill level you are at. No matter what skill level you are at, you are an artist. No one walks around bestowing the title “artist” on people, so no one can take it away. You are an artist when you believe you are, simple as that. Sure, there are trolls who sit on the internet waiting for someone to make something so they can make fun of it…but who cares what they think? Your actual peers are not going to ridicule you, or call you out as a fraud. They are way too busy making their own work.
- Promote Others to Learn How to Promote Yourself. Why is it that when a peer does an amazing piece of art, we can share it all across our social media without worrying for a moment whether it’s “good enough” or whether people will think that artist isn’t worthy of praise—but as soon as it’s our own work we freeze and can’t get past worrying what other people will think? Take a step back, remember that joy of discovery and enthusiasm for sharing the work you liked and realize that other people feel that way about your work too. If you don’t share your work then you’re denying other people the enjoyment of appreciating it.
Realize that no matter how skilled you get, no matter how many jobs you get, imposter syndrome is never going to go away — all you can do is accept it as a sign of success, put it to the side, and keep on doing what you were doing anyway. Don’t let fear of judgement from some vague “others” out there hold your artwork back.