Sitting in a meeting, I am straddled by two behemoths of creative design. Across from me are others who craft incredible worlds. Here I am during my first week of joining the Orange Nebula team dumbstruck by the realization that they have allowed me in. In the back of my head, I heard that nagging voice chipping away at my confidence, “You have nothing to offer these people and once they figure that out, you’re gone.”
That lie – is impostor syndrome.
The crazy thing is, 70% of Americans admit to having it. That isn’t to say only seven out of ten experience it, just that a majority admits to it. While labels are not the best for people, if you’re curious about how bad your impostor syndrome is, there’s a test for that.
So if most of us battle feelings of inadequacy how do we overcome it? How does impostor syndrome affect our creativity? Of course, I need to mention I am not a therapist, licensed or otherwise. I merely struggle with this myself and compiled some research to attempt to manage my own case. Perhaps these resources are useful to others.
Types of Impostors
Before diving into it, apparently, there are different types of impostors we can identify with. It’s not surprisingly most of us mask our insecurities. We attempt to outwork coworkers, obsess over details and study to absorb all the information we can. Which type resonates with you?
The Perfectionist –
Do you set obnoxiously high goals for yourself? Often perfectionists use goals to compensate for the amount of worry they experience. Many perfectionists have trouble delegating tasks as they want to ensure things are done correctly. This drive tends to make them control freaks.
Typically perfectionists fail to celebrate achievements, always believing they could have done better. Often they micromanage. They can feel like they aren’t achieving their best design work – simply cranking it out.
This continuous drive to move the needle while not pausing to celebrate success leads to burn out.
Convinced they don’t measure up to others they push themselves to work harder than everyone around them. Unfortunately, this bandaid for their insecurities creates mental and physical health issues.
This group tends to become workaholics, gaining validation from their accomplishments in the office. This need for external validation misplaces self-worth. Constructive criticism tends to hurt this type as a result.
The Natural Genius
Like perfectionists, the natural genius also sets a high bar, but they feel the need to have all appropriate knowledge for every task. This group judges themselves based on their speed at which they can accomplish something.
If members of this group can’t get results quickly, it results in their alarms sounding.
As achievers go, they typically tried to get straight A’s or rewarded themselves with the gold stars of their choice. They feel shame when they don’t get the results they hoped for.
As the name suggests, they like to go it alone and do things without help. Soloists feel asking for help is a sign of weakness.
Reminding me of the natural genius type, this group feels validated when they are knowledgeable about a subject. A key differentiator between the natural genius’ they don’t feel the need to accomplish tasks quickly, they want more knowledge and rarely feel like they have enough.
This type is always learning about their field to mask their insecurities. Typically they shy away from applying for a job posting unless they meet every criterion for the role.
Combatting Impostor Syndrome
To beat the lying voice that causes us to feel inadequate, there are several things you can do to rise above those feelings and tamp down that noise.
This article by Arianna Orland, a fellow creative encourages us to chase our passions. Develop a hobby. She reminds us of the importance of play. And it makes sense – even if we are a workaholic, if we prioritize a hobby we can create a better work/life balance.
As with all things, making time to creative pursuits outside of work might be difficult, but it’s going to be better than that nagging feeling that not being good enough.
Psychology Today gives us nine ways to fight our insecurities, starting with understanding this feeling is normal. Indeed remember an overwhelming majority of people admit to feeling it. They go on to provide other tips including helping others, getting mentors, and reminding ourselves of the accomplishments we have gained.
What both articles suggest to combat feelings of not measuring up, ultimately amount to recognizing those thoughts you’re having, remind yourself of your accomplishments, and set out to reenergize yourself.
If you’ve ever felt unworthy (and dollars to donuts you have, since 70% of us admit to feeling this way), know that you’re not alone. Maybe it makes sense for you to figure out what type of impostor syndrome you have. If you struggle with workaholism, this might be the perfect opening for you to set up safeguards. You might benefit from asking someone close to you to let you know when they see you slipping into that negative pattern.
As someone who has struggled with this, I have benefited from therapy. It’s incredibly useful to have an objective person listen to my story, catch the lies I tell myself, and reframe experiences from my life into more positive patterns.
As creatives, we need to practice being kind to ourselves. Often, we find ourselves the easiest person to beat on. When we find ourselves in negative spirals, pause a moment and hear the things our doubt says. Imagine hearing someone saying those same things to a loved one. If we heard a stranger speak to a loved one, as we speak to ourselves we’d be enraged. With this awareness, we need to practice mindfulness and take our thoughts captive.
When our doubt starts grinding away at our self-worth, we need to gently dismiss it and speak the truth of the situation into our lives. If this is too hard to do on our own, we need to seek guidance from friends and mentors who have the ability to look at our situation and guide us through it.
We already know how empathy affects our creativity. What would happen if we practiced that same level of empathic care to ourselves? How much more bandwidth would we have to tackle today’s challenges, if we weren’t fighting an inner battle of doubt and insecurity?