When Getting Naked Isn’t Any Fun…
It isn’t always easy to tell the Naked Truth. Sometimes the Naked Truth is boring. Sometimes it’s embarrassing. Sometimes it’s just plain hard to tell, for any one of a dozen different reasons. Usually, the telling of the Naked Truth requires that I open myself up in some way, be vulnerable, and that isn’t always effortless. Most of the time, I couch it in humor, which makes it easier for me to write, and easier for you to read. Today is not one of those days.
The fact is, this has been a challenging week for me for a number of different reasons. I won’t bore you with a list. Suffice it to say that once my imagination stops conjuring worst case scenarios, everything will be fine. There are no life and death situations going on, just me being me, battling back the Bully of Self-Doubt yet again. He rears his head periodically and, unfortunately, this was the week. Turns out, it isn’t all bad. I’m actually in pretty good company.
Let me explain. During the RWA conference I talked to a lot of people, some published authors, others still working toward that end. A theme emerged, a Truth that threaded through the eye of many comments and appeared woven into the general fabric of people’s self-view. It was the underlying belief that in spite of their talent and accomplishments, their inclusion into the writers’ tribe was due to good luck and wishful thinking. Don’t misunderstand, please. Writers are a hardheaded and motivated group, and none will discount that their own hard work propelled them forward. No, what I mean is that in spite of that success, however great or small, there was the niggling fear that they didn’t deserve it. As if all that pounding away at the keyboard was somehow just play-acting, and all that followed a fluke.
On a good day, most writers and other creatives think they’re hacks, and on the worst of days, we’re worried everyone will find out we’re total frauds. This self-deprecating view is not unique to me, I’ve learned. I can’t speak for every writer out there—you may be one of the lucky ones that never has a doubt—but I’d hazard a guess that most feel the heat of Self-Doubt at least some of the time. There are those upswings, of course, when we read a passage we’ve written and deem ourselves flippin’ brilliant, but those are few and far between, and don’t last long after the big glass of wine that improved our self-confidence has worked its way out of our system.
This horrendous Self-Doubt in the face of success has a name: Impostor Syndrome. I’m going out on a limb here, but I bet most creatives suffer from this, at least at some point in their careers. Throw into the mix negative comments from a trusted source, and the insecurity becomes a dragon that will eat a creative spirit alive if allowed to smolder.
I’m here to tell you, do not allow it to smolder. And if you must, remember that the only good to come from that slow and steady burn is the forging of a thicker skin.
Impostor Syndrome is not limited to writers, though if you count the number that suffer from this psychological phenomena you could build an army. Let’s look at a few quotes by some people whose names you might recognize:
“I still believe that at any time the no-talent police will come and arrest me.” —Mike Myers
“It’s almost like the better I do, the more my feeling of inadequacy actually increases, because I’m just going, ‘Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud, and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved.’” —Emma Watson
“You think, ‘Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?’” —Meryl Streep
“I don’t know whether every author feels it, but I think quite a lot do—that I am pretending to be something I am not, because even nowadays, I do not quite feel as though I am an author.” —Agatha Christie
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’” —Maya Angelou
Can you imagine? Meryl Streep, for heaven’s sake! The brilliant Maya Angelou!
As creatives, we need to remember—we must remember—that opinions about our work are subjective. Some will love it, some may hate it, and others will be lukewarm. And that’s okay. Really.
If you’re any kind of artist, the next time you feel like a fraud, or someone renders an opinion that knocks the wind out of you, remember that you aren’t creating your art for them. You’re creating it for those who need it, who will appreciate it, who will be touched by it in some positive way.
The Naked Truth: Our art is subjective and won’t speak to everyone. But it will speak to someone. Believe that person will find it, and do your best work for them.
For each one of you who has taken the time to tell me that Love Built to Last made you laugh, made you cry, made you feel—I thank you, from the bottom of my angst-ridden, self-doubting, but completely earnest heart. 🙂
Have you experienced self-doubt in your career, Impostor Syndrome? If so, how did you overcome it? Please leave a comment.
See you Friday –
P.S. I’m six “likes” short of 300 on my Facebook Author page. If you haven’t yet “liked” it, would you mind doing so now to help me hit the target?