How to tackle Imposter Syndrome
5 tactics to restore creative flow.
Did you know that up to 82% of people experience imposter syndrome? If you’ve ever battled with a feeling you haven’t truly earned your successes, that you’re actually incompetent, and any day now, you’ll be ‘found out’ and labelled a fraud, then you’ve experienced imposter syndrome. When this feeling hits, it can lead to increased anxiety and depression, prompt a pivot into perceived ‘safer’ career choices, and even cause burnout. It often strikes when the pressure to repeat a past success becomes too much, resulting in an overriding emotion of relief instead of pride upon completion. Imposter syndrome can rear its head at any stage of the creative process, or permanently skulk in a corner of your mind. If unmanaged, it can even lead to poor health. If you can relate to any of the above, you may have, or be experiencing imposter syndrome.
Although a lick of self-doubt can motivate us, and is often a healthy way to learn and grow, too much can lead to stunted creativity. You might suffer from imposter syndrome it you can identify with some or all of the following:
Praise makes you uncomfortable. You feel as if you don’t deserve it.
You insist on reaching for extremely high—potentially impossible—standards.
You feel as if achievements are a lucky break, not the outcome of your hard work and talent.
You have a crippling fear of failure, and don’t perceive it as a tool for growth.
You avoid or refuse opportunities for growth and development as you feel you’re not worthy.
Past successes only demand more of the same, and you feel more is unachievable.
You apologise when unnecessary, and those who know you comment on how your confidence has waned.
Your inner voice is critical and harsh. You would never speak to a friend the way you speak to yourself.
It takes more than a rousing self-talk to shake off imposter syndrome. While a positive mindset is certainly crucial, overcoming negative behaviour calls for serious self-examination. Like any habitual behaviour, it takes time to get to grips with the root cause before changes can be made. Here are five tactics on how to tackle imposter syndrome.
The Bigger Picture
Typically, with imposter syndrome, the mind distorts our perception of self. One of the ways to overcome this is by stepping back and examining the bigger picture.
Within your role, what facts support your position?
Consider qualifications first. It can take years to earn a proficiency. By reflecting on the current position compared to that of a few years ago, note all that has been learned and practised. The you of five years, five months, possibly even five weeks ago, has gathered a vast amount of knowledge and experience. Acknowledge these accomplishments.
What would a close friend or colleague say about your doubt?
Speak to peers or mentors, and allow them to describe how they see you. Listen to the language they use and compare it to your own internal dialogue.
Would you speak to others in the way you speak to yourself?
If you’re internal dialogue grinds down your confidence by dismissing or minimising your successes, learn to catch the thoughts before they can fully form and turn them around. Remind yourself of your proficiencies, talents, and skills. Talk to yourself the way you would to a colleague or friend.
“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.” - Author, Poet & Civil Rights Activist Maya Angelou
How often do you finish one creative project only to jump straight into the next without pause? Many of those who disregard their successes tend to struggle with imposter syndrome, finding it easier to move onto something new instead of acknowledging a success and congratulating oneself on a job well done. This tendency to brush aside accomplishments only compounds negative thought patterns.
Learn to practice self-applause no matter your gain. Whether its publishing a book, finishing a painting, earning a new client, or simply overcoming an obstacle within your creative process, congratulate yourself. If praise comes from an external source, accept it with grace. The more you acknowledge successes, regardless of their size, the more you can develop positive emotions around your work. Keep a record of positive feedback, reviews, or customer testimonials, on a days where positivity wanes, look at these reminders as a way to boost confidence and reassert your self-belief.
“You think, ‘Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?’” - Actor, Meryl Streep.
The drive for perfection can often result in perceived success as an always just-out-of-reach goal. Consider your standards within your creative field, and examine where they can be adjusted. It’s not about lowering the bar, but being honest and practical about what you can truly achieve. Basing success on achieving standards beyond your abilities, or straining to refine a process and ultimately choking the life out of it to make it ‘perfect’ thieve the joy and inspiration of creativity. Sometimes, perfection cannot be achieved, and we have to accept our efforts are good enough. On the occasions when, for whatever reason, you don’t meet your standards, avoid treating it as a failure, or ‘proof’ of your inadequacy. Instead, reshape the outcome as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Self-compassion comes into play when learning to let go of a perfectionist mindset. Imposter syndrome roots in the unconscious, whereas mindfulness is very much a conscious thought process. If you can learn to recognise the instances where you speak negatively to yourself about perceived failures, practice using mindfulness to flip those thoughts into positive ones. It’s also important to accept yourself as you are. Learning and progress take time. Instead of berating yourself, pause to reflect on what you have accomplished, and how you have progressed over time.
“The exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.” - Theoretical Physicist Albert Einstein
Engage With Peers
With imposter syndrome a common struggle within the creative community, reach out to others to share your experiences. This is particularly helpful in situations where you battle to see your own self worth. If others can share what they see in you, it can reduce doubt and help to rebuild confidence. Choose those you engage with wisely. If a fellow creative’s work already provokes imposter syndrome, reaching out to that individual could exacerbate the need to compare and therefore prove counterproductive. Unless you can chat to a trustworthy peer, engage with those outside your specific field or professional circle, as their neutrality may be of more worth. In this safe setting, be open about perceived failures, as shared discussions can assist with setting more realistic goals, especially if perfectionism is an issue. It’s also comforting to listen to others’ struggles, confirming you’re not alone in your feelings.
Social media is one of the most dangerous tools when it comes to imposter syndrome. A casual comment about an achievement or a photograph showing off a huge success is just one snapshot of the process. What you’re not hearing or seeing is what went on behind the scenes, or how many failures or losses were overcome before that success was earned. If you assume someone’s ‘best’ came with ease while you struggled to overcome your ‘worst’ it only drives home the feelings of inadequacy. Find—or grow—a community where failure, struggle, or self-doubt can be openly discussed. If you can cultivate a mindset where the immediate response is to learn and grow from failure, it promotes far more positive thinking while building a solid sense of self-belief.
“The greatest obstacle for me has been the voice in my head that I call my obnoxious room mate. I wish someone would invent a tape recorder that we could attach to our brains to record everything we tell ourselves. We would realize how important it is to stop this negative self-talk. It means pushing back against our obnoxious room mate with a dose of wisdom.” - Author, syndicated columnist, co-founder of The Huffington Post, the founder and CEO of Thrive Global, and the author of fifteen books Arianna Huffington
You don’t need to take it to extremes like Jim Carrey’s character Carl in ‘Yes Man’, but when a new opportunity comes your way, challenge yourself to say yes. In the moment of decision, you’ll need to learn to differentiate between the little voice saying you can’t do it because you’re not good enough, and the one who says it will open new doors and provide an exciting challenge. Of course there are times when an already packed schedule demands you say no, but by listening carefully to that inner voice, and heeding your first instinctual reaction, you can decipher when imposter syndrome is at play. If your initial reaction came as a spark of interest and excitement, but you found yourself quickly squashing it down because you don’t think you’d do a good job, (as opposed to your plate already being overfull) that’s imposter syndrome. It can take great courage to say yes when another voice is shouting no, so train yourself to focus on the potential of the opportunity, and how the outcome could greatly impact your career, success, and confidence. Remember too, that new opportunities typically go hand-in-hand with learning. Embrace the challenge. All learning processes demand a phase of settling in, where there are more questions than answers. It’s natural to feel intimidated, but with every question answered, progress increases.
“I still have a little impostor syndrome… It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is.” Former First Lady, Michelle Obama.
Turn to Tarot to beat Impster Syndrome
Tarot is a great way to dig deeper into the emotions roused by imposter syndrome, and there are a number of different ways in which you can utilise your cards to gain clarity. Here are a few methods to consider. You can choose to work with one, some, or all.
A Meaningful Card
Go through your deck and set aside any cards that intuitively connect with you in relation to imposter syndrome. Ideally, you’re looking for cards that carry an affirming message, one which reminds you of your strengths and capability. Here are a few examples of cards that promote positive thinking:
Strength encourages grace under pressure, and is a reminder that you possess the inner strength to overcome great obstacles.
The High Priestess encourages connecting to your own inner voice and trusting in yourself. As the Wise Woman of the deck, she knows her innate power and never allows anyone or anything to knock her off course.
The Magician reminds you that you already possess everything you need to succeed. With focused willpower, you can manifest with ease. You have the wisdom and creativity to navigate all challenges.
The Wheel of Fortune is a reminder of how life moves in cycles, and change is a constant. If you can learn to move with instead of against, it will assist in adapting to challenging situations.
Aces offer a prompt for new beginnings, to shove aside all negative thinking and focus solely on yourself—no-one else. Avoid comparison as you create in solo mode. Focus on your own skills and talents, and with this new beginning, also practice positive self-talk.
Once you have a card, or even a combination of cards, here are a number of ways to engage with their energy.
Meditate. Sit with your selected card/s and focus on the message. Study the picture, and imagine yourself as wholly embodying the energy of the card. How would it reframe how you picture or talk to yourself? Where does it embolden you? Journal your thoughts, and if you can, carry the card with you or place it at your workstation as a reminder of your strengths. You can also take a photo and use it on your phone’s lockscreen, so every time you reach for your phone, the reminder is there.
Craft an affirmation. Using positive, in the present statements, craft your own personal affirmations around your chosen card/s. You can repeat these affirmations to yourself when you catch negative thoughts creeping in. Here are a few examples: ‘I am confident in my talents. I adapt to change with ease. All I need to create, I already possess. I am unique and cannot be compared to another.’
Reach out to a professional. If you don't read tarot, but are curious about how it can help, consider reaching out to a tarot professional for a reading. I've worked with many creatives who have found themselves struggling with imposter syndrome, and I know how unique our individual experiences with it can be. Check out my Tarot Services for details, or reach out by email at email@example.com Whatever option you choose, ensure you're engaging with a legitimate and trustworthy service before handing over your hard-earned cash.
How to Tackle Imposter Syndrome; a tarot spread:
Try this spread to gain further insight into the root cause of imposter syndrome, and how to move forward with confidence. Journal your thoughts, and at a set future date, do the reading again to see what changes have already taken place.
What are my strengths?
How can I learn to use these strengths more often?
What situations challenge me?
What do I already possess to face these challenges?
How can I release negative self-limiting beliefs?
What opportunities lie ahead for me?
Practice some or all of the above strategies, and you’ll soon discover imposter syndrome interfering less with your creative work. Yes, it can reappear, and for many, it never truly goes away. If and when it does rear its head again, revert back to the techniques that worked previously, and remember to reflect on your achievements since that time. Arianna Huffington sums it neatly with her comparison of imposter syndrome to an obnoxious room mate. If we can teach ourselves to push back against it with our wisdom, it will quickly retreat to its room and leave us to get on with the business of creating.
Have you experienced Imposter Syndrome, and if so, how did it impact your creativity? What tips would you suggest for tackling imposter syndrome? I'm always up for a chat, so reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org Likewise, if there's a blog topic you'd like to see featured, or you want to share your creative wonderfulness with our community, let me know!