Have you ever landed a great new job, signed a dream client or found yourself in a healthy new relationship only to feel like you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop?
In the wake of good things happening, are you constantly wondering to yourself, “Great, but it’s only a matter of time before they find out who I really am?”
Am only asking because I’m hoping I’m not alone here. Since the moment I started doing my own thing for work, I’ve struggled with this inescapable, very specific shade of self-doubt. Not just the kind that says “I’m not good enough,” but the kind that says “I’m not who they think I am.”
Maybe it’s because I didn’t go to school for art or design, or the fact that I don’t have any formal experience, but I’ve definitely been carrying around this chip on my shoulder. I’ve only really been putting my art out there for the world to see for less than a year, and I just want to be honest with you guys – it’s scary.
I started noticing this feeling a few months ago and one word kept creeping up in my head: “impostor.”
Impostor seemed like a very specific word, so I thought maybe I had heard it somewhere before. Sure enough, this weekend while I was curious I Googled the term “impostor syndrome.” I must’ve read it somewhere on one of my psychology reading binges and kept it tucked away in the corners of my psyche. Here’s what the definition says (from my highly reputable source of choice, Wikipedia):
“The impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved.”
I’m going to ignore how unsettling the word “syndrome” is in that snippet and just take it for what it is. But WHOA. How’s that for a dose of real talk? I feel like it speaks to exactly how I’ve been feeling.
Ever since I started designing full-time, one of my greatest challenges has been gaining confidence and letting go of this “fraud complex,” this constant feeling that I don’t deserve to make money doing this because I didn’t go to school for it.
I haven’t quite figured out yet how to move completely past that feeling, but I will say that I can sense it fading. The more projects I take on and the more happy clients I hear from, the more I feel like a valid part of “the club.” Until then I’m trying to do something positive with that inner angst and use it as fuel – as the thing that makes me want to take on projects I haven’t done before or go the extra mile to improve my craft.
I know that being this honest might not be considered the wisest business move. Maybe it would be a better idea to pretend like I have it all together and that I’m some hot shot designer. But the truth is, the people who need to believe that aren’t the clients I love working with anyway. One of the things I hated about the ad agency world was the “fake it til you make it” mentality and I’m doing my best to completely let go of that.
The point of sharing this is because you too might be experiencing this in some way in your life right now. Especially if you’re like me and you’re trying to make a living at something you aren’t trained to do by traditional standards. But you don’t even have to be chasing a crazy dream to know what I’m talking about. You just have to know that feeling of being suspicious of joy.
Dr. Brene Brown says that joy is the scariest human emotion. Why? Because joy is almost always accompanied by fear. The moment we experience true joy, we instinctively trigger fear because we’re terrified our joy will be taken away. I have no doubt that this is also what’s at play when my impostor self-talk creeps up. In a lot of ways I’m living my dream and I can’t help but be afraid that it will somehow be taken away.
But when those voices creep up, here’s what I like to think about – no one is making my clients pay me money.
No one made your boss promote you. No one is forcing that cute, smart, funny guy to ask you out. Your happiness is not a fluke.
You are talented. You are deserving. You are not an impostor.
(That was for you, but also for me too.)
Now let’s both get out there and live the lives of our dreams, shall we?
Happy Monday, friends. As always, thanks for all your support.
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