I’m so scared to admit this, but I need to come clean.
I’m an imposter.
I had never heard of the term Imposter Syndrome until a month or so ago, when I heard another creative entrepreneur talk about it. Then I read into it, and it instantly hit home.
So what do I mean when I say, “I’m an imposter”? Am I really a fraud? Have I just been faking this career I’ve been building for over five years?
The simple answer is no. I pay my taxes and have contracts and insurance and the right gear and software. I take classes and continue to learn new things. I even have a bachelor’s degree in photography from one of the best art colleges in the country. I’ve worked on all sides of the photography business—from tracking down copyright infringement to writing and selling stories to the media, from working with celebrities to photographing a book. I’ve been paid to travel around the world to places like Paris and London. I’m 100% legit.
But even though on paper I’m more than qualified to call myself a professional, some days (OK, most days), I go through a lot of self-doubt. I walk into most situations wondering if I’m going to be able to be “on” enough to know how to pose someone. Or make them laugh. Or even take one decent picture.
No matter how many weddings I shoot or how many babies I photograph, I still go into each session questioning if I really, truly know what I’m doing. It’s honestly unfathomable to me that anyone trusts me to take a picture. And yet, somehow they do.
For some reason, once we start making our art into a career, we start to compare ourselves to others and wonder, “Am i really good enough? Or is this just good luck?”
Because art is so subjective—even the Mona Lisa gets criticized—it’s common for artists to feel like any success is a fluke. That one day, someone will see through the good luck and right-place-right-timing and reveal the little rosy-cheeked old man behind the curtain.
And because I am constantly second-guessing my abilities as an artist, any mistake I make feels like a suffocating shame monster that sits on my chest for months or even years. Mistakes will replay in my mind like the moments before a car accident, and I think that if I had just done one thing differently, I could’ve avoided it. And this way of thinking keeps holding me back.
However, I recently watched Spielberg on HBO, and realized that even Steven Spielberg feels like he’s winging it most of the time:
“There are going to be moments where you get to set, and you are not going to know what the h*ll you’re doing. It happens to all of us; you’ve got to guard that secret with your life. Let no one see when you’re unsure of yourself … or you lose the respect of everyone.”
—Steven Spielberg (quoting his mentor Henry Hathaway)
This gave me an epiphany: maybe if I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, I am actually doing it the right way.
Now that I’m aware of my Imposter Syndrome, I’m learning to embrace my self-doubt. The “not knowing”, the anxiety, the tendency to focus on my mistakes—all of these things are probably why I’m successfully working as an artist.
That’s because every experience, whether it’s good or bad, helps me learn and grow. Every mistake tells me, “Well, I guess I’ll never do it that way again.”
Being my own worst critic is the reason I am just the right amount of paranoid to be good at what I do. I’ve been doing this long enough that I can predict worst case scenarios—and in some instances have experienced them.
My anxiety actually makes me better at my job.
I’ll probably always feel like some sort of imposter if I base my worth on what someone else thinks. So from now on, I’m going to focus on making more work for myself. I’m going to embrace my weird ideas and make them. And I’m not really going to care if you like it, or even if you look at it.
That’s why I became an artist in the first place, right?