Let’s talk about impostor syndrome.
“Are you scared?” She said.
I was on the phone to the illustrator who was going to help me design the cover of my first book. It had taken me almost a year to get on the phone, brainstorm a design, put down the 50% deposit and commit to a contract. I kept thinking, who am I to write a book? Who am I to actually pay an illustrator? Even when I told my dad, who was visiting from Australia, that I needed to ‘go call my illustrator’ I felt like someone was going to leap out from behind a door and be like YOUR “ILLUSTRATOR?!” WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? JK ROWLING? STEPHEN KING?! HAHAHA And then they’d laugh and that crowd-laughing soundbite from old sitcoms would start playing and I’d roll into a ball and die.
“Just to put it all out there,” she said to me “I have impostor syndrome too.”
“The imposter syndrome is a psychological term referring to a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.” says writes Megan Dalla-Camina for Psychology Today
Impostor syndrome is just that; feeling like an impostor. A fake. A pretend version of the real thing. No matter how many people commission you for your work, no matter how much praise you get or opportunities that unfold before you- you always believe that you’re kind of faking it, and one day someone will realize what a big fake you are, and point it out to you, and your world will effectively explode. Or something.
I have been in love with this woman’s designs and illustrations for years. She combines women and nature motifs with mystic details and touches in a way I haven’t personally seen before, and sometimes I go on her insta to scroll her designs and just leave feeling, like, good all over my body. More sensual. More open to the mystical in the topside world. I knew she had to be the artist that went with this particular story of mine.
Impostor syndrome is all too common in female creatives.
In the last seven days alone, I have spoken to three more female creatives who have asked themselves this week; who am I to make this thing? There’s my writer and poet friend. She writes like the rivers she surfs, powerful and moody and explosive at times. Sometimes contemplative and slow, sliding glass-like over the smooth rock faces in the riverbed, reflecting yourself right back to you. Her pieces always, always make me feel something, like a deep stirring in the furthermost corners of my psyche, or a homecoming.
Or there’s the photographer who has a secret language with light and catches dreamlike landscape scenes that capture a paradise on earth. When she shoots people, she captures candid moments of sweetness and strength that the person would never have seen in themselves otherwise.
Or the podcast host that talks about self growth from a really grounded perspective, that reminds the listener it is okay to be human and messy and whatever.
I’ve spoken to all three of them in the last week.
And it’s something we all seem to be asking; is anyone listening/ watching / reading?
Is there a point to any of this? Am I just throwing stuff into the void? Does my stuff even matter? Am I really the right person to be doing this work?
There are some benchmarks to show us if someone is listening. Instagram likes, for example, show a clear demonstration of how many people have responded to your work.
This is kind of futile and in my opinion not something you should get attached to. Remember, a like takes a one-second screen tap. You could have 200 people who held your work in their head for a second, clicked the button, and moved on. Or you could have one person who really, really needed your art today. They needed to hear it, or see it, to convince them to finally step off the ledge of a big scary decision, or not go back to a shitty relationship, or to remind them there is beauty and magic here on earth.
Is anyone listening?
I am inclined to say this:
Yes, people are listening. Wether your following is 20 people or 200,000. But also:
I adore and am so thankful for my readers. I’ve had the luck of writing for a small community of readers that are so engaged and loving and supportive. They’re incredible. And. What if they weren’t there?
Would I stop writing?
Here’s a secret about writers, we’re not writing about you, or to you. Even if it is directly addressed to you, the reader. We’re not giving you advice from a high up place of mastery and experience. Most times, we’re writing to ourselves, something that we ourselves need to hear. We’re writing to hear our experiences echoed back to us, to mark that some time has passed and hopefully confirm in some tangible way that we’ve grown. That we’ve learned. That somehow all the bullshit that made us able to write whatever we wrote, was worth it, if only to be able to alchemise it into a poem, or a passage, or a sentence.
I write for me. Like Joan Didion said;” I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking.” It’s interesting and fun to me. It fills me up. I find the questions of, is anyone listening? Or, could someone do this job better than me? Or, am I a real creator of a fake creator? Actually pretty irrelevant and uninteresting.
Am I the right person for this job?
I understand that when we do this professionally, there is an added pressure. Someone has given you their money and they’re expecting a high quality product on a deadline. But if they have decided you are the right person for the job, isn’t it kind of rude to undermine their intelligence and be like ‘I’m sure you’ve picked the wrong person.” They’ve chosen you for a reason. And not even a future you with more practice, more knowledge, more experience. You, right now. Now say thank you and give them the best you’ve got.
My partner’s niece decided one day she was going to make a house for our black cat called Fin. She is thirteen. She set to work, drawing up the plans, listing the materials. Then she came and slapped down a handwritten contract in front of us. The exchange was this; one cat house in exchange for two Granizadas. If you’ve never been to Guatemala, a Granizada is a like a shaved-ice clusterfuck of sugar and syrup and condensed milk and fruit and salt and lemon-lime and pumpkin seeds. They’re a mess. They’re so good.
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We signed the contract.
Did she care about wether she was the right person for the job?
Wether someone else could do it better? Wether she was worth the Granizada? Nope. She just made it cause it was fun. Enjoyed the process, finished it, gave it to us, and started on the next thing. And trusted that we also believed she was the right person to do it, with her exact skill set and passion and ideas.
You think it’s any different with you cause you’re an adult and your contracts are real money contracts for real businesses? It’s really not.
We just complicate it for ourselves.
Make the cat house, girl. You are worth the granizada.
Feature image: Oui Surf