I recently started doing research for a new project and as I naturally allowed myself to stumble onto subject matters that inspire me, I came across Imposter Syndrome. Within minutes of reading about it I discovered that I have a demon inside me. That demon is called Imposter Naomi.
So what is imposter syndrome? Imposter syndrome is ‘a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalise their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud’. It’s not a mental disorder or a personality trait, more of a reaction to a chain of events or a response to particular situations and it’s very common in high-achieving women and recent graduates.
When I started to think about all the signs of imposter syndrome (the all or nothing attitude, feeling like a fake, working long hours and burning out, avoiding sending my work to people etc etc) I realised that whenever I look back at my illustrations, I get an overwhelming pang that I identify with of all these symptoms. Imposter Naomi will look at the work I’ve poured hours into and say ‘who did this? who’s going to like this? Does this represent me as a person? You aren’t an illustrator. Give up now.’ And even if I can overcome that flood of negativity, Imposter Naomi will swing the other way. ‘This illustration is too good for you. How will you keep this up? Are you able to be a great illustrator? You can’t take all these compliments. Give up now.’ One illustration can suddenly mean everything and nothing all at the same time and I constantly teeter on the edge of being a fantastic bomb ass illustrator and giving in to my mind-demon, Imposter Naomi.
And it doesn’t just have to be a piece of work I’ve created. Recently I went to an AOI talk about ‘Making more money’ and I left thinking I could no longer be an illustrator. I was a fraud. I seriously considered deleting my entire online presence and prayed nobody would contact me — all because I was convinced I couldn’t keep up the charade anymore. ‘Who the hell am I?’ was all that circled through my head that weekend, resulting in 3 days of watching Fresh Meat re-runs and sleeping on the sofa.
Imposter Syndrome often stops me being an illustrator. The idea of success, money or a constant flow of commissions terrifies me simply because I can’t predict my reaction to it. What if Imposter Naomi takes over at the time I get an email from a client and I crumble? How could I deal with the creative fraud within me at a time when I need to just be Naomi?
Well, even before fully learning about imposter syndrome I had already learnt the coping mechanisms. I just wasn’t putting them to use all of the time. They could be boiled down to two things:
Firstly, repeating to myself ‘if you can keep it about the work, you’ll always have a path‘. Barack Obama said this last year in an interview and it stuck with me. It allows me to have an external focus rather than only juggling with the idea that I am not who I am. I’ll say it to myself before I start work, during my work day and after making the work. I’m saying it to myself now because it has become part of life. A little crazy, but it works for me.
Secondly, time. Time is a great healer and it’s also great at helping you forget things. After my 3 day bender of being a sofa vegetable I woke up on Monday morning ready to go. My mind had obviously gotten fed up of fighting with itself, gave up and forgot about it. I worked for 10 hrs straight that day and Imposter Naomi made no appearance. I am not Imposter Naomi. I’m just Naomi.
The moral of the story: sometimes you feel like an imposter but you are not. You are just a high achieving, creatively minded person who sometimes questions themselves and needs the occasional small reminder that, that’s okay. You are okay.
P.S. Fun fact: I said imposter 16 times in this post.