Being a creative is a beautiful experience in the sense that not only can you birth ideas; you have the talent to consummate them and create amazing realities.
However, this gift of creativity is plagued with so many setbacks that it might as well be regarded as a curse.
Over the years, there has been much research surrounding the link between creativity and behavioural disorders. In the Aristotelian tradition, it was believed that the same human quality was responsible for both extraordinary achievement and melancholy. And thanks to the ‘mad genius’ stereotype, creatives are perceived to have a gloom that pervades them in appearance, behaviour and their art.
While this argument may or may not be true, every creative has, at some point in their lives, been hit by a feeling of inadequacy that made them question the authenticity of their creativity.
This pattern has been identified as Imposter Syndrome and is defined as “an individual experience of self-perceived intellectual phoniness.” by Chance and Imes.
It is a melancholic wave that has us doubting our accomplishments and feeling like imposters.
This syndrome has us attributing our wins to luck, coincidence or being able to convince others that we are better than we truly are. The effect of this is that it breeds a constant struggle to keep up the act and this struggle manifests in various behavioural forms like suppression, competitiveness, isolation, or even perfectionism.
Be it as it may, there is a science to this phenomenon. If you carry out an in-depth analysis, you will understand that it is normal to get unenthusiastic about your art, design, product or creation.
“…we often hesitate to believe that what’s natural, maybe even easy for us, can offer any value to the world.”
– Learning to Deal With the Impostor Syndrome (New York Times).
Growing up, we all had that one aunt who we seldom saw but when we did, she’d go on and on about how much we’d grown and how she couldn’t believe it but we just could not relate to her realisations. In the same manner, we cannot recognise the beauties in our works because we are too immersed in the process of bringing it to life, with each step wearing out our excitement and every feedback signifying a dent on our prowesses. We are not spectators who are oblivious to the struggles of creativity so we take a critical approach when beholding the finished product. But when the process is seamless, we discount the value we contributed because we feel like the ease at which we achieved this feat doesn’t make our efforts worth the adulation we get. Add these to the sense of insecurity we get from being spectators of the works of other creatives, and you can understand why this happens.
But how do we overcome this demon?
First, we must understand that this self-doubt is only a manifestation of a bigger demon – shame. So, what do we have to be ashamed of? The answer is nothing.
If you think who others perceive you to be is an exaggerated version of who you think you are, then you need to review your definition of what it means to be competent. You need to recognise your accomplishments and acknowledge them for what they are – victories. And if you feel that the ease at which you arrived at them do not measure up to the praise, know that the ease is a testament to your expertise.
You should also remember while beholding the works of other creatives, they also share in your experience and sentiment. A lot of them too feel undeserving of the admiration you show towards them.
“Some years ago, I was lucky enough to be 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, “Yes. 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.”
– Author, Neil Gaiman.
It might be terrifying to deal with the feeling of inferiority but you have to agree that if great minds like Neil Armstrong and Neil Gaiman share in your sentiment, then Imposter Syndrome is nothing but one big stunt. But hey, at least it shows that you are sufficiently self-aware to evaluate yourself critically. Just know that your works are worth the appreciation you get from your audience, maybe even more.