Have you ever landed a bid that you didn't expect, from a client that you never thought in a million years you were qualified for, only to have your excitement and thrill of achievement completely destroyed by thoughts of self doubt? Are you anxiously waiting for something to go wrong, for them to google you and find that horribly embarrassing music video you shot back in film school and go "Oh.... this guy/girl isn't who we thought they were. We thought they were actually talented." It's almost as if we're all waiting for Toto to pull back the curtain and reveal to our clients and the rest of the world that we are.....
Yep. I share in your struggles oh fellow creative one. It can completely consume me during the initial phases of a project. I've often times used the "fake it 'til you make it" approach and found myself among giants, which can admittedly make you feel unprepared and if you're not careful, it can completely paralyze your creativity and harpoon your project. Yet when you are adequately prepared, you can still find yourself feeling phony, fake, and like someone who isn't meant to be there, and it can leave you feeling quite out of sorts...
Two American psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, gave this a name in 1978: the impostor syndrome. They described it as a feeling of “phoniness in people who believe that they are not intelligent, capable or creative despite evidence of high achievement.” While these people “are highly motivated to achieve,” they also “live in fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds.”
First of all, realize you are NOT alone...
Tina Fey - "The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: “I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud! So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud."
Chris Martin - "It's helpful to have some arrogance with paranoia," Martin said. "If we were all paranoia, we'd never leave the house. If we were all arrogance, no one would want us to leave the house."
Michael Uslan - "When he's on the set Uslan says, "I still have this background feeling that one of the security guards might come and throw me out."
(Producer of arguably the greatest Batman Trilogy of all time)
So the thought process that I have is this... If these people (who many of us view as "legit" creatives) struggle with this, then who is safe? It's as if we're all in some George RR Martin written storyline, and the spoiler is NOBODY IS SAFE! So how do we deal with this insanity?
STEP 1: GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION
The biggest lie that I ever believed in my professional career was that I needed permission to create. Every time I tried to sit down and write something, or communicate an idea, I always felt like people would just call me a fake, a fraud, a phony... you get the idea. I can almost hear Maury Povich now, saying to camera "THAT is a lie." (haha) We need to give ourselves permission to be creative, to believe in ourselves, and to sit down with our computer and write a story. We need to have the confidence to pick up a camera and go shoot something, anything... tell a story! The best thing you can do to keep yourself sharp is to constantly create.
STEP TWO: CONFIDENCE VS HUMILITY
Often times in my own struggles, I feel like an imposter most when I feel like I'm more important than I really am. This is a result in an excess of confidence, not coupled with a proper balance of humility. On the flip side, impostor syndrome kicks in most when I have an overload of humility, without any sort of confidence. These concepts BOTH need to play equally to allow you to have the humility to make yourself tolerable to be around, and the confidence to be bold and try new things creatively, without feeling inadequate as a creator.
STEP THREE: GIVE YOURSELF AWAY
To be clear, this doesn't mean give away your time and creativity pro bono. What I mean is doing something like what I'm doing; writing a blog that hopefully will help bring clarity to my fellow creatives, as well as inspire them to get back to what they're great at. Maybe there's something you can contribute to the greater conversation, or maybe there's the next inspiring film inside you that needs to be told. Even when you feel you're not worthy of telling it.
STEP FOUR: FILL YOUR LOVE TANK
Every time I work on a project, or serve a client and they post something nice about me on social media, or even better, send me an email or hand-written letter thanking me, I keep them all in a little folder. When I have moments of self doubt, when I feel like I have nothing to genuinely offer, when I feel like I'm literally incapable of doing my job, I go back and read them. I remind myself of my successes, and dwell on them. This refills my creative "Love Tank" and gives me a quick confidence boost, and it always comes in clutch like the last can of Celsius in the cooler at the end of a 12 hour shoot day.
STEP FIVE: GET NAKED.
You thought I was telling you to strip down and run the quad didn't you? Shame on you. Haha. (kidding) Humans love transparency. You have the unique ability to offer the world something that nobody else can: Your perspective. Nobody can see things through your eyes the way YOU can see them. Clearly communicate that vision, openly, honestly, and as transparently as humanly possible. Don't hold anything back. Get emotionally naked. Your audience will connect with you 10x better than if they feel like you've got something to hide.
STEP SIX: BEING WRONG DOESN'T MAKE YOU FAKE.
So that short film you invested your last dollar in tanked at the film festival. Or maybe your client hated the video you made them. Maybe your boss even fired you at the firm you work at because they said you "don't have the talent to keep up with the rest of the team." This doesn't make you a fake, or a fraud. This makes you grow. Analyze what went wrong, figure out how to make it better, and get immediately started on the next idea. There's a reason that drawing board exists, and get a comfy seat, because you'll spend a lot of time at it.
Some of the most successful creatives have had tons of failures. Even some of the less-than-successful people like me have had a SLEW of failures. I would argue that I've probably had more failures than successes, but that's probably my impostor syndrome talking.
STEP SEVEN: REALIZING THAT YOU BELONG.
We are all running the creative race. We wake up every day, we go to our favorite coffee shop, or into our office, brew some coffee (or slam a Celsius) and are told "Go... create!" I recently found myself at an event in LA where I found myself around some recognizable actors, some even from one of my favorite television shows. I really wanted to completely fan boy out but I held my stuff together, and made a couple passes by the bar more-less to confirm this person was who I thought he was. As it turns out, my suspicions were true, it was Kim Coates who plays "Tig Trager" on Sons of Anarchy. Now, I was on production, so I finished up the shoot and when I had called wrap, he was standing by the door chatting with some other people. The guy who hosted my show noticed him, and walked up to him to talk to him and I immediately had the thought, I'm not talent. I don't belong in this conversation. But then I had another immediate thought: I belong here as much as he does, he's just a dude like me.
So I walked up to him and said hi, and made some kind of joke. I forgot the joke, but nevertheless gained a chuckle and being that we had wrapped and the crew was loaded out and heading back to the hotel, we had a quick tequila shot and we talked for a while about life, acting, and what a joy that moment was. Just three dudes, all talented, all with something to bring to the conversation. What he appreciated most, was that we in that moment, were just three cool dudes at a bar having a conversation about something we all shared a passion in: creating art.
Even when you're standing among a league of giants, YOU BELONG. Just keep it humble. you're no more or less important than the other creatives in the room. So join a conversation.
STEP EIGHT: SEE THEM FOR WHAT THEY ARE
Credentials are merely letters or suffixes. PHD doesn't mean someone's more intelligent than you, it just means that they spent more time in school than you did, and that they have an infinite more amount of student debt than you have. ASC, DGA, PGA, SOC, are all incredibly meaningful organizations, but they're only as meaningful as the talent that exists in their organization. What would ASC be without people like the Deakins, the Hurlbuts, the Spinotti's. What would the DGA be without the Spielbergs, the Scorsese's, the Hitchcocks, Kubricks, etc? The organizations contain the talent, yet the talent aren't defined by the organization.
STEP NINE: KEEP TRYING. KEEP DOING.
The majority of the biggest films and biggest successes in life have come from ideas that the creators thought probably wouldn't work. When Alejandro González Iñárritu shot The Revenant using only available natural light, in sub zero temps, in winter... with limited hours of daylight, THAT was a risk. That wasn't supposed to work. Yet he won an Oscar. When Sean Baker took a risk shooting an entire feature on an iPhone 5S, THAT wasn't supposed to work. Yet with clever use of FilmicPro and anamorphic lenses from Moondog Labs he was able to bring Tangerine to life, and the film went on to win a massive amount of awards at major film festivals.
We need them to keep trying. We need you to keep trying whether you feel like an impostor, or not. Life is short, and you're never too young or too old to create the next masterpiece!