Illustration: Franco Égalité
Do you ever feel like a fraud?
Do you feel like you don’t actually know what you’re doing, and sooner or later everyone is going to find out? While this may actually be the case for a handful of people, what’s more likely is that you’re experiencing imposter syndrome: the inability to take credit for your accomplishments and the tendency to attribute them to luck, rather than your own skills and talent.
Feeling this way can crush your self-confidence, motivation, and ability to perform, often leading to poor mental health and missed opportunities for growth in your career. Imposter syndrome affects people across all industries—in fact, 70% of people experience it at some point in their lives—but musicians, artists, and other creatives are especially susceptible to its detrimental effects.
In this article, we’ll go over how to identify whether you suffer from imposter syndrome, as well as share eight helpful tips for how to overcome it.
Let’s take a look!
How do you know you’re experiencing imposter syndrome?
Here are a few common symptoms of imposter syndrome you might experience as a musician:
- You have low self-esteem and lack confidence in your skills and abilities
- You feel like you don’t belong among other musicians
- You’re scared that someone is going to find out that you don’t really know what you’re doing
- You think you accomplished something solely because of luck and you’ll never be able to replicate your success
- You feel like you’re not worthy of your success
- You think you have to do everything on your own and don’t feel comfortable asking anyone for help
- You put a lot of pressure on yourself to be perfect
- You’re afraid of making mistakes or failing
- You seek external validation
- You’re sensitive to criticism
If any of these sound familiar, you’re almost definitely dealing with imposter syndrome.
The thing is, the very definition of imposter syndrome means that you can’t actually be an imposter. If you really didn’t know anything about music and were faking your way through your music career, you wouldn’t be experiencing any of these feelings. You’d actually probably be quite pleased with yourself for fooling everyone around you.
Now that we’ve established that you’re definitely not an imposter, let’s take a look at how to stop feeling like one.
1. Make a decision to beat imposter syndrome
The first step to overcoming imposter syndrome is realizing that it won’t go away on its own, and that you are the one who has to do the hard work to beat it.
Many emerging musicians suffer from imposter syndrome because they’re comparing themselves to others who are much further along in their careers. They think thoughts like:
“When I get 100,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, I’ll stop feeling like an imposter,” or, “When I release a full-length album, I won’t feel this way anymore.”
The honest truth is that as you progress further in your career, your imposter syndrome may actually get worse. You’ll have new peers to compare yourself to, new standards to strive towards, and new expectations for yourself.
Instead of waiting for some magical moment in your career when imposter syndrome will dissipate on its own, make the decision now to do the work and deal with it for good. The sooner you address these feelings and learn to combat them, the sooner you’ll be on your way to a prosperous and fulfilling career.
2. Identify the root cause
Dr. Valerie Young, a leading expert on imposter syndrome, has identified five types of the phenomenon:
- The perfectionist: You have very high standards for yourself—even when you’ve achieved something great, you think you should’ve done better
- The expert: People have told you that you’re an expert musician, so you feel pressured to prove them right
- The natural genius: From a young age, people have told you that you have a natural talent for music, so you feel frustrated when something doesn’t come easy to you
- The soloist: You feel like you need to do everything by yourself—if you ask for help, you’d be admitting that you don’t really know what you’re doing
- The superhero: You feel the need to do it all—you overwork yourself to prove to everyone around you that you’re worthy of your accomplishments
Do any of these sound familiar? They may point to the root cause of your imposter syndrome and shed some light on what you need to address before you can beat it.
For example, if you recognize yourself as the perfectionist, work on accepting your outcomes as good enough. Your aim should be to make the best music that you can make at this moment, rather than chasing an impossible standard.
3. Don’t generalize your feelings
There may be times when you feel nervous or insecure—maybe you’re walking into a songwriting session with artists you admire, or performing in front of a large crowd for the first time.
In moments like these, it’s completely understandable that you would feel nervous. However, there’s no need to give weight to these feelings and apply them to your entire identity as a musician.
You’re feeling nervous in a situation where you’re expected to feel nervous—it has nothing to do with how skilled you are or whether or not you deserve to be in the room.
4. Change your relationship with failure
Part of what drives imposter syndrome is a fear of failure—you’re worried that you’re going to make a mistake and everyone will find out that you don’t really know what you’re doing.
What if you challenged this notion? What if you saw failure for what it is: a chance to learn, improve, and try again?
Welcome failure with open arms; seek out opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them. Once you do this, you’ll have nothing to be afraid of.
5. Accept that luck is part of the equation
One of the key symptoms of imposter syndrome is attributing your past successes to luck, rather than your own skills and hard work. What you need to accept is that they’re all part of the same equation.
You may have had a bit of luck to get to where you are today, but there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, luck is practically a requirement in the music industry.
What matters more is what you did with that luck. You put in the time and you did the work, so when doors opened for you, you were ready. That’s something you should take full credit for!
6. Keep a praise folder
When you’re feeling especially insecure, it can be helpful to remind yourself of the positive things other people have said about you and your music.
Start a folder on your computer where you keep quotes and screenshots of feedback and praise. These can be reviews of your music or even positive messages and comments you’ve received from fans on your social media.
Whenever you doubt yourself, browse through your praise folder as a reminder that you have a lot to be proud of.
7. Use positive affirmations
Positive affirmations are short phrases you can repeat to yourself to help combat negative thinking and overwrite false negative beliefs. If you’ve never tried affirmations, they may feel a little silly at first, but they really do work. When you practice positive affirmations, you create neural pathways in your brain that make it easier to choose positive thoughts in a difficult moment.
Here are a few examples of positive affirmations that can help with imposter syndrome:
- I work hard at my craft and I deserve everything I’ve accomplished
- I am grateful for the doors that have opened for me
- I don’t have to be perfect
- I am always growing, learning, and improving
- I am ready for the journey that lies ahead
Feel free to use these, browse the internet for more ideas, or come up with your own affirmations that fit your unique situation. Practice them every morning, or whenever you need a little boost of confidence.
8. Practice confidence
If you remember nothing else from this article, remember this: overcoming imposter syndrome takes practice. Time after time, you must choose confidence over feelings of insecurity. Consistently put yourself in situations that require you to overcome your fears, anxiety, and self-doubt. You may need to fake it at first, but the more you practice feeling confident, the easier it’ll get.
Start combatting your imposter syndrome today
Keep in mind, too, that imposter syndrome may not ever go away completely. As you move up in your music career, you’ll face new challenges and regularly find yourself outside your comfort zone.
The good news is, as long as you recognize your imposter syndrome and take steps to deal with it, you can take away its debilitating power. You might still feel butterflies in your stomach before an important performance or interview, but that’s perfectly normal. What’s more important is that you feel confident, capable, and worthy of being there.
We hope you’ve found these tips helpful. Keep following your passion and don’t let anyone tell you—especially not the little voice in your own head—that you don’t deserve all the amazing things coming your way!
March 7, 2022