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How to Handle Impostor Syndrome

“I’m not as good as my classmates.” “I have no talent.” “I don’t deserve this.” “I’m never going to succeed.” “If people knew how bad I really am, they’d laugh at me.”

All of these great comments, and more, brought to you courtesy of Impostor Syndrome! The insecurities-recommended way to talk yourself out of a career in music! Try it today!

Impostor Syndrome is, to put it in scientific terms, a great big ball of dumb. It’s that feeling of somehow being less “legitimate” than everyone else who’s doing tht thing you do. It’s the feeling that somehow, you aren’t good enough to do this thing that you do.

It’s the feeling that you’re gonna be found out, that someone is going to come up to you and yell “HEY GUYS, LOOK! THIS PERSON HAS FAKED EVERYTHING THEY’VE EVER DONE AND HAS NO IDEA WHAT THEY’RE DOING! LET’S TAKE THEIR STUFF!” And then people will show up and take all your stuff and laugh at you.

Guess what? It’s also completely baseless.

Impostor Syndrome is your brain trying to talk you out of doing stuff that is hard and might not work. It is your brain looking around at people who are faking it JUST AS MUCH AS YOU, and doing their best to hide it, and concluding “They look like they know what they’re doing. Why don’t I know what I’m doing?” It is dumb, and it is one of the result of not being able to read people’s minds. However, it is a thing that most of us – especially musicians – face a lot. With that in mind, here’s how to fight it!

Look at what you’re comparing yourself to. Impostor Syndrome relies on you A) thinking people currently look at you a certain way (if you don’t think people see you as a Real Musician then you can’t really feel like you’re a Fake Musician Impostor) and B) thinking about your peers a certain way. If you place a high value on being a Real Musician, think your peers are both Real Musicians and Basically Perfect, and think other people also see you as a Real Musician then you’ll have problems. You’re not perfect after all. But if your peers ARE perfect, and Real Musicians, then you can’t be a Real Musician! And then boom, you feel like an impostor.

Newsflash: Your peers are not perfect. There’s a musician who just graduated from my school who, for two years, I kinda idolized. If I could just be as successful or as talented as her, THEN I wouldn’t be an impostor! Then one day I saw a Facebook post about how she’d fallen asleep in the music lounge and woken up there the next morning, late for class and with late homework and poof, she was suddenly human. With flaws. And in that moment, I felt both more legitimate than I had in a while, and also a lot better about my own late homework.

Talk to people. Similarly, if you go out and talk to people about this feeling, I can GUARANTEE people will know what you mean. Most people are more than willing to talk with their friends about the last time they felt silly or like a fraud. Just tell your music best friend about how you feel like a bad musician because you only practiced X hours last week, and many will IMMEDIATELY try to one up you with talking about how last semester they practiced for half an hour every two weeks and they felt so gross. No one feels legit, my friend, except for people who are not as legit as they think they are.

Collect compliments. Every time a professor or friend compliments your music-making, write it down! Have a notebook dedicated to compliments. Then, when you’re feeling fraud-like, go back and look at these compliments. Teachers, especially, are there to make sure you AREN’T a fraud, so they’re not going to lie to you! And hey, if you can fake your instrument well enough that a doctor of music buys it, you might not be faking it.

Acknowledge your faults. Hey, no one is perfect. I cannot trill for the life of me. It’s like trying to get my Honda Civic to do one of those car commercial swerving-between-traffic-cones things. It’s just not gonna happen. Does that mean I’m a fraud? As much as it feels like it when I’m practicing, failing at trills makes me nothing of the sort. It just means I’m a singer with something to work on, is all. Take account of your weaknesses, look at them in the harsh light of day, and then put them in perspective. Other people have weak spots too. These are just yours.

Look at worst-case scenarios. Now, say that people look at those flaws and DO call you out on them. What’s going to happen? Well, I can guarantee that it’s not going to ruin a career. If you have career-ending flaws, you probably have not yet really STARTED a career. So someone calls you out, maybe in a public and embarrassing way, for having a weird embouchure. That person is a bit of a jerk, and now you have a really great reason to fix your embouchure. (That reason is to prove jerk-face wrong.) If someone calls you out for not knowing enough music history, then they are again, a jerk. Ignore them and brush up on music history. You’re not going to lose anything, and you’ll gain some knowledge. Plus, spite is a great motivator sometimes.

Relax. You’re not an Impostor. You’re who you are, and that is a musician, as long as you play music and love it. Take a deep breath, grab all the spite you can muster, and go practice to prove the Fraud Police wrong.

Links to go read!

The Most Motivational Article I’ve Ever Read (lots of swearing! Lots! Sorry!)

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