My last post was the first in a three-post series discussing three common demons that get in the way between us and our best everyday performances in life. In this post, I want to talk about imposter syndrome. I’ll start by sharing my personal dance with demon number two.
My path toward a life of music started when Boyd Bennett came to visit my kindergarten class to teach us about brass instruments. He and his brother owned the local music school, Bennett Conservatory, in Croton-on-Hudson, NY. At the young age of five, I was already someone who liked things that were different. Because of that, I decided I wanted to play the trombone. It was the only instrument with a slide instead of valves.
Music came easily for me. I had my first live performance at age six, when I played When the Saints Go Marching In on the trombone at a Bennett Conservatory recital.
I so wish I had a picture of that.
Over my school-aged years, I auditioned and got into many all-county and all-state bands, once performing a solo at the beginning of a piece while standing out in front of the orchestra.
While in high school, my middle school music teacher, Mr. Godfrey, would take me with him to the elementary school to help new music students learn to play.
In college, I was a composition student, but my primary instrument was piano. This meant having to pass four piano juries and four composition juries, all critiqued by the appropriate professors in those fields.
I share these details not to impress (or bore) you, but to make an important point that perhaps you can relate to.
Despite these and other successful experiences under my belt, I went out into the world feeling like a complete music imposter.
That’s what people with imposter syndrome do.
“Imposters” routinely discount any accomplishments they’ve achieved or give the credit for their successes to others or outside factors. Imposters overwork to make up for their perceived inadequacies and when their work is well-received, believe that it’s a result of luck or oversight on the part of those giving accolades. And most stressful of all, “imposters” live with a fear of one day being discovered for the frauds they really are.
And so it was for me. It didn’t matter how many musical successes I had, or how quickly I could learn new musical things. In cover bands with musicians who were self-taught and couldn’t speak the language of music theory, I still felt like a fraud.
Now part of this is gender related. Imposter syndrome is enhanced by low expectations and cultural messaging that you “cannot” be good at something. That means it’s a little more prevalent in women and minorities. But it still afflicts more than 70% of all people.
Like every topic in this blog series, there are too many variables to specifically address your personal experience as an “imposter.” As with every personal growth goal, layers have to be peeled away by examining the messaging you grew up with, your past experiences, etc… This is best achieved by working with a coach. But I want to leave you with some tools to think out imposter syndrome, in case you can relate to what I’ve talked about so far.
So, here are some thoughts to consider as you work toward imposter syndrome management:
- Talk about it. Since imposter syndrome is so common, you may find that people you feel intimidated by are also experiencing it. Sharing can greatly lighten the emotional load.
- Get feedback from someone you trust. The worst feedback isn’t negative feedback. It’s no feedback. For many “imposters,” that gives license to assuming the worst. Positive feedback tells you you’re doing great. Constructive criticism makes it clear how you can do better. Both stop the imposter mind from messing with you.
- Out your secret shame. Think of an event or events that took place in your past, possibly something you’ve labeled a “failure,” that you have up until now not wanted others to know about. It should be something that flares your imposter’s shame and that you’ve viewed as proof you’re a fraud. If something comes to mind, out yourself about it. Tell someone or many people. You’ll find that it doesn’t define you the way you thought it did (meaning, other people won’t care) and it will lose its power over you.
Living with imposter syndrome can be exhausting and painful. Learn to manage it however you can. Let me know your thoughts…