The most revealing question I ask my individual coaching clients is, "what do believe about being an artist?" Although there are myriad ways to answer, most people tell me something like, "Oh... uh... I'm not sure that I would call myself that, actually. I mean, I'm pretty creative, I guess... but I don't see myself as like, an actual artist."
News flash: no one gives it to you. You have to take it. Like, for yourself. Right now.
If you are drawn to the arts as more than just a profession, if you feel it as a calling, then you are an artist, even if you have not yet achieved what you aspire to. Beyond that you're simply in development: you're a young artist, a working artist, a mature artist of vision and wisdom, or any stage in between. Whatever; you're an artist. Own it!
Easier said than done. Impostor Syndrome is the bane of artists everywhere. It's the feeling that no matter how dedicated we are, how much work we produce, and how much success we may achieve along the way, at some point we're going to be "found out" and exposed as a hack, or even a fraud. This underlying fear can cause tremendous anxiety and make our life much more difficult than it should be. If we are afflicted by impostor syndrome, external success and validation might not cure it. In fact, our anxiety might worsen as we become more visible to the world and our work comes under greater scrutiny.
So how do we overcome Impostor Syndrome and become who we truly are? Here are 6 ways to kick its ass and rule the world with your art:
1) Become an advocate for your art
- Artists, more than anyone, have to advocate for ourselves and our work. Advocacy is about publicly standing up for something that you believe in. It's a valuable skill that you can use in other parts of your life according to your values and beliefs, but start with your art and make it count. Help the world understand why your work matters, and be quietly relentless about it (see #2 below for help getting started). Let people know you take it seriously, and keep your community updated on your hard work and progress. One valuable way to advocate for your work is to get right back up after you've taken a hit: did you get a bad review? Did someone name-check you in a public list of has-beens? Were you left out of an important show of local artists' work? Release something magical that you've been working on. Make some noise about it on social media. Celebrate your release publicly with friends. Now get back to work!
2) Write the best elevator pitch ever
- A creativity coach can help you with this one (actually, with all 6 of these things!). Your elevator pitch is your front line of advocacy, so make it count. Keep it short, sweet, and current. Practice it with friends and get used to the feel of it in your mouth. Make a list of action verbs and potent adjectives to describe what you're working on, and have them ready for updates on your pitch. Use it often, and be friendly and sincere when you deliver it. Be prepared to answer any questions that may result from your pitch, and understand how to gage someone's interest level. Remember to follow up with people by phone, email, on social media, or in person according to their preferred method of contact.
3) Spend time with your greatest champions and thank them
- Who are the people in your life who reflect your vision of yourself as an artist? Hang out with them often, and get used to the feeling of being your authentic self in public. Keep them updated about your work, and take a genuine interest in their lives and what they do. Support their dreams as much as they support yours by showing up for their successes and being fully present. Seek their counsel and listen when they talk. Share resources, alliances, connections, and opportunities with them. Be kind, loyal, and forgiving, and let them be the same way with you.
4) Find your critical voice and use it to advocate for others
- Here's another way to use your advocacy skills: you are a real-live artist with real-live opinions, obsessions, and loves. Whose work do you love and why? What is most valuable about their work? How does it compare to its competitors? You don't have to write a term paper, just point out hidden gems and help them sparkle. Curate your choices, and understand that they reflect your larger aesthetic in the eyes of the public. You never know who might be watching... magic happens when artists support and promote each other's work!
5) Be your own ferocious editor
- No one is more of an expert on your work than you. That's not to say that you shouldn't ask (or hire) others to help you edit and curate; feedback is essential for your growth and progress. But strive for a good level of objectivity, and be brave enough to see which parts of your work are connecting with the public, and which ones should be strengthened (or left behind). Avoid becoming a substance-less content machine. Develop a sense of how your work is being received by the public, so you don't give them more than they can digest. Provide quality over quantity, and thank those who recognize your efforts to do so.
6) Become a body language master
Fake it till you make it, artists! Not convinced? There is genuine science to support this maxim, and if you read Amy Cuddy's book and use her techniques you'll be amazed at how well it works. Part of overcoming the feeling of being an impostor is grounding yourself in your body, and using it to help you become who you truly are. This isn't about working out or strenuous yoga, although the book suggests a few specific postures that may feel strange at first. Give it a try and let the results speak for themselves. AUTHOR'S NOTE: I've road-tested many of these methods in my own life and career, and I still use them and recommend them regularly to clients.