..I borrowed that title from a collection of short stories by writer Miranda July, (which I still haven’t read!) but I’ve always loved it. How many of us have needed to hear that now and again?
Today I want to talk about imposter syndrome, a silent epidemic of self-doubt that effects many performers, both professional and otherwise. It’s the belief that you don’t really deserve the success you’ve had. Perhaps you feel that you’re going to fail publicly if you take a risk?
I probably don’t need to point out how counterproductive this is to giving an honest performance. It’s impossible to be truly present in the moment when we are second guessing ourselves. I have witnessed this phenomenon with singers who freeze when they hear their own voice through a PA system. It’s so easy to over-listen to your voice, and fall down a rabbit hole of analysis- this distracts us from (our true task) of communicating with our audience!
This is true for all of us– life is a pitch after all! Perhaps you need to give a presentation in your office job, but you freeze, cotton mouthed while you have an out of body experience (and not in a good way!)
Harvard professor Amy Cuddy describes imposter syndrome as feeling like a fraud. “impostorism causes us to overthink and second guess. It makes us fixate on how we think others are judging us (in these fixations, we’re usually wrong), then fixate some more on how those judgements might posion our interactions. We’re scattered- worrying that we are underprepared, obsessing about what we should be doing, mentally reviewing what we said five seconds earlier, fretting about what people think of us and what that will mean for us tomorrow.”
Phew. sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s a link between perfectionism, performance anxiety and impostorism.
Ironically, those who feel like frauds are often the most successful!
However, external markers of success do not make you immune to feeling like a fraud.
Writer Neil Gaiman suffers with impostor syndrome and has shared this anecdote with a fan who also suffers with impostorism. He talks about how he met Neil Armstrong:
“Some years ago, I was lucky enough invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.
On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of,” I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”
And I said,” . But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.
And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.”
If this is something you’ve ever felt, I hope you will find reassurance that you’re not alone.
About 6 years ago I was offered a place on a group training program for music leaders. This was great news- but as a singer that couldn’t read music I was racked with self doubt.
Despite my anxiety, I went along, made friends, and had the best time. Most of the musicians there were from leading conservatoires, and could play multiple instruments. I initially felt intimidated, but then I realised I wasn’t alone- there were other singers like me in the group. Singers from pop, rock and gospel backgrounds who learnt to sing by ear.
We were split into small groups, and asked to devise a short composition together. To our surprise, many our formally trained classmates were in awe of our ability to improvise and create melodies out of thin air (even if we couldn’t say what those notes were!).Of course the admiration went both ways- but I learnt a valuable lesson from it.
That’s not to say I won’t ever have those moments again- but I now know that it has a name, and that I’m not in terrible company either!
So what is the solution?
Well, the first step is realising your not alone- there are others feeling just like you, but most people don’t like to share their insecurities. Being aware you have imposter syndrome can help you to ignore those doubts in the future.
So keep singing, and know that no-one belongs here more than you!