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How to Fake it 'Till You Make It


Since this week's blogs are all about permission, I thought it would be important to touch on the elephant in the room. We're all frauds. There, I said it. We're incompetent, and lazy, and uneducated, unsophisticated, we have horrible table manners, and we probably smell bad. Any success we've achieved was sheer luck, and any day now the entire world is going to find out our secret, and everyone will know that we are all impostors.

Impostor syndrome, or the impostor phenomenon is hugely common. One article I read put the percentage at 70% of people go through periods where they feel like they are totally incompetent, and are one interview away from being outed as such. Everyone feels this way. It doesn't seem to be restricted to wealth, occupation, sex, age, nationality... though it may be more pronounced in underrepresented groups. This illogical, irrational fear tells us that we're not good enough, and that we're lying to the world about our skills and achievements. It can be debilitating, can aggravate depression and anxiety, and cause us to shy away from success, or even to self sabotage.

The good news is that it's not a disease, and most people are able to shake off those feelings of dread without much difficulty. For others, it can be more serious. And the bad news is that it never really goes away. nor can you succeed your way through it. In fact, success seems to have little effect at all. Loads of leaders, academics, entertainers, and creatives suffer from impostor syndrome. Thomas Aquinas said that his life's work was like a pile of straw. Einstein felt that he was a inadvertent fraud, and Maya Angelou never felt worthy of the praise and accolades she was given. I know I suffer from it too.

On one level this fear keeps you humble, and our society kinda likes that about people, but on another level it can prevent you from taking a course, or teaching a class, applying for a residency program, renting studios in the fancy building, or becoming friends with the artist you really admire. It can make you afraid of failing, afraid of success, lead to isolation, self-image problems and self fulfilling prophecies of failure.

We as creatives are particularly vulnerable, as we routinely open our most intimate selves when we create art, act, sing, perform... we are dependent on constructive criticism, and need the input from other creatives constantly. If we are afraid we're not good enough, or that our peers will laugh at our attempts at art, or that the critics will expose us as impostors, our artistic practice can suffer greatly.

So what do we do about impostor syndrome? We name it. We call out the thinking and feelings when they occur. It is so totally irrational to sweep away all the success we've enjoyed for fear that someone else might be better, or not like us. We have to be strong enough to face the opinions and scrutiny of others, but even more so of criticizing ourselves.

So again, I'm taking out the magic wand to grant the third wish of the week. My spell on you today is to get out there proudly, and fake it 'till you make it. Be an outlandish, unrepentant, total fraud. You don't care what people think, because your art is for you, not for them. If you have moments of praise, embrace them. If you have flashes of brilliance, bathe in that limelight for a while. So the wand is waved, and poof... you now have my permission to be a total fake. Enjoy it.


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