Today I want to talk a little more about something I touched on a few weeks ago, and I’m seeing it more and more now when I’m talking to people about their creativity. We can call it Imposter Syndrome.
That is an actual clinical term, describing people who are ‘unable to internalize their accomplishments, despite external evidence of their competence.’ They remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. That sounds strange, but it is more common than you think.
The first time I noticed it was when it was a running gag among cartoonists. We joked it was part of the job, and we didn’t really see it as a bad thing. It seemed like something everyone has to go through from time to time, this crippling fear about your work and career (especially if it is also your source of income). The idea was most clearly expressed by Scott Kurtz and Kris Straub in their daily podcast from way back in 2007 when they talked about being scared of the ‘Failure Police‘ – listen to the clip here.
I always took solace in the idea, this shared burden that united us. But it wasn’t so much at the forefront of my thoughts until I heard Alec Baldwin’s interview with David Letterman on WYNC’s Here’s The Thing podcast earlier this year. Listen to the clip here, and tell me what you think that sounds like to you.
Here are two very succesful people, famous, wealthy, loved, with a revered body of work, and they are just as scared of the Failure Police! It was like a lightning bolt to my brain. Clearly everbody creative struggles with this in some way or form. And you don’t have to look far to find more examples. In Indie Game The Movie we saw the creators of some of the best indie games of the recent years profess to feeling horribly insecure about whether or not their game was any good. For the dutch readers, HollandDoc did a great documentary related to this years ago called Alles Wat We Wilden. And last week Donald ‘Childish “Troy” Gambino’ Glover instagrammed a series of notes in which he said the following things:
I’m afraid that this was all an accident.
I’m afraid I’m here for nothing.
I’m afraid my show will fail.
I’m afraid people hate who I really am. I’m afraid I hate who I really am.
I feel like I’m letting everyone down.
I’m scared I’ll never reach my potential.
I’m scared that sounds pretentious.
I got really lost. But I can’t be lonely, cause we’re all here.
Wa are all there.
I don’t think it’s a bad thing per sé. It’s not a great thing, to feel like that as a human being, but I think eventually it helps you get better at what you do.
And if you, right there, are someone who enjoyed the creative work of someone else, think about taking a minute or two to send them an email saying that. It means more than you think.