by Miriam Schulman
What is impostor syndrome?
If you’ve ever thought to yourself “I don’t feel like a real artist.” It’s okay. We’ve all thought that at one time or another.
Another variation of impostor syndrome is “Who am I to…”
It can be:
“Who am I to paint?”
“Who am I to write an article?”
“Who am I to teach this class?”
“Who am I to sell my art?”
That is all part of impostor syndrome. This usually goes along with another fear which is “What will they think?” What will your kids think if you start selling your art? Or your former boss (if you leave a job)? Or your spouse? Or your mother? Whoever it is, what will they think?
Maybe it’s your inner critic, but sometimes it’s more than just your inner critic. We’re really just imagining somebody criticizing us. It’s what that person is going to think.
Let me share a story with you.
I suffer sometimes from impostor syndrome too. We all do.
This month I worked so hard on putting together this online course called Garden Party that I didn’t get around to painting that much. I started to feel like maybe I wasn’t a real artist. Maybe I’m just an art teacher. Many of my art students also share, “Oh, I’m not a real artist. I’m just an art teacher.” Well, that’s impostor syndrome. Truly, I believe everyone who creates art should be able to call themselves a real artist. It doesn’t matter if you make a living from your art or not, you’re still an artist.
If you do feel like you’re not a real artist, I would love for you to share in the comments below if you feel the same way.
My hope is by the end of this post you’ll change your mind.
Celebrities have impostor syndrome too.
If you have the feeling that you’re not good enough, everyone experiences it at one time or another. There are some strategies that you can use to overcome it.
It’s all about fear.
If you think about it, impostor syndrome is more about us being worried about that other people think. If you really think about it, when she says “People are going to find out I’m a fraud,” what she’s worried about are other people. You’re worried about what other people will think.
When we were young, we spent all our time worrying about what other people think. I don’t know about you, but I did. I had to dress like other people. I had to wear my hair like other people. I was worried about what would come out of my mouth and what other people would think about that.
As we get older, we don’t care so much about what other people will think. This is part of the beauty of getting older. Then, when you get really wise, you learn that they were never thinking about you all along. They were too busy worrying about themselves.
Let’s dive in and talk about what to do about impostor syndrome. Here’s the 5 steps for overcoming this.
Are you ready? Let’s go.
STEP 1 : Commit to creating consistent, original artwork
When I was starting to feel this month like all I was doing was creating teaching and marketing videos, what really helped me was creating the sunflower painting you see behind me in the video (I know, it’s far in the background). That made me feel better. That makes me feel like a real artist. When you are struck by impostor syndrome, the best way to overcome that is taking action. If the problem is you don’t feel like a real artist, create art. That’s the definition of being a real artist: creating art.
What I actually did with my sunflower painting was I actually kept it on top of my worktable in plain sight. Every time I walked past, I just grabbed a pen or paint and added a little bit to it. Even though it was like 5, 10, or 15 minutes, it just made me feel better.
I know not everyone has the luxury of a permanent art space, but if you can carve out a little space in your home where you just keep your sketchbook, you’ll find yourself a little more motivated each day to create.
Here’s something that you should know. We know that we should create consistently, but what happens is EVERYTHING else becomes more important. We’re always putting ourselves on the back burner, and something else becomes more important, whether that’s your job or your kids or whatever. It’s not that these things aren’t important, but you’re important, too. I’d like for 2018 to be the year where you can claim a little bit of “me time” and some creative time, because you consider yourself and your creative time important.
STEP 2: Create in a series
The problem with trying to create consistent art is that many of us put so much pressure on ourselves that when we finally do find that time to paint that we get stuck and don’t know what to do.
If you’re creating in a series, then what happens is you eliminate the decision-making obstacle. You can say, “Okay. This week, I’m just going to paint flowers” (or this month)
Maybe it’s not even a time bound thing. Maybe you’ll say, “I’m going to paint ten flower paintings until I’ve completed them,” and then you’ll move onto the next thing. That’s why creating in a series is so important and helpful to artists and why you see Monet did the haystacks and then the waterlilies. That helps you with the idea of what to paint, and it also takes off the pressure of just one of those paintings being the masterpiece. If you paint ten flower paintings, you have ten opportunities for one of those paintings to turn out to be your masterpiece. It takes off the pressure of if you only paint one for that one thing to come out really good. You have ten chances.
The fact that you have an inner critic or impostor syndrome is not completely bad. There is a little bit of good inside of that self-critical voice that can help you. The point is to not let that overtake you and paralyze you from stepping into your creativity and stepping into your own creative time.
STEP 3: Wear a costume.
What do I mean by a costume? If you think about every one of the superheroes (maybe not Wonder Woman in the new movie), they had an alter-ego. They became that alter-ego once they put on their costume. In the Wonder Woman TV series, I remember Lynda Carter used to spin around and put on her Wonder Woman costume.
As an artist, you can have a costume, too. You can put on what is your painting outfit.
It’s kind of like what we put on to exercise. You don’t go to exercise in jeans and a blouse. Usually, we put on something like a tennis outfit or leggings. It’s the same thing with painting. You can put on an apron, and that is like your superhero cape. When you put on the apron, you should say, “This makes me an artist.”
STEP 4: Create an Alter-Ego
Step into an alter-ego so that you don’t feel like a fraud and you feel like a real artist. Believe it or not, I heard that Beyonce has an alter-ego which completely surprised me. I thought, “Isn’t Beyonce just… Beyonce?” Apparently, there are many performers, tennis players, musicians, who create this alter-egos. That’s part of the reason why a lot of them change their name like Marilyn Monroe and Madonna. They become this “other person” when they perform so that they can step into that and be that person.
STEP 5: Use mantras and affirmations
Let me just share with you why I use affirmations and how it helps me. All of the things we’re talking about (inner critics, impostor syndrome, and developing your own style) are all forms of fear. An affirmation or mantra can be used to overcome fear.
What are affirmations? An affirmation is a positive statement. An affirmation can be as simple as “I am an artist.” This is one of my favorite affirmations.
If you look in the mirror everyday and say, “This is what an artist looks like,” that might help you. You might have it in your head that you don’t look like a real artist and that a real artist only looks like Picasso or Mary Cassatt or Degas. If you look at yourself in the mirror and say, “This is what a real artist looks like,” that’s an affirmation.
This affirmation is very, very powerful. I shared it with my son to help him. My son is in high school, and he wrestles. This past weekend, he had a wrestling tournament, and in the week leading up to to the tournament, I told him to look in the mirror everyday and say, “This is what the champion looks like.” Wrestling is a huge mental game. When you go out on the mat, it’s 90% mental. In fact, I think most things in life, especially art, is mental. If you start using these affirmations like “I’m an artist” or “This is what an artist looks like,” this will help you. I promise.
By the way, prayer is really a form of meditation, and meditation is a form of prayer. The’re very similar. If you go to church, that is also meditating.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “Who am I to do this,” flip it on its head. Who are you NOT to? Why not? If you’re thinking, “Oh, everyone’s done this,” yes, but it hasn’t been done by you. So why NOT you? That is a very powerful affirmation.
The reason this is such a powerful mantra is because when we were children we didn’t have any of these issues. We just picked up that paintbrush, and we painted. We just picked up that crayon, and we went to work. We didn’t have any of these issues like “I’m not a real artist.” No one ever says that when they’re 6 years old. “I can’t do this coloring page, because I’m not a real artist.” Love that inner child. Bring that inner child back out. He or she is probably going to help you.
Now, I promised you a freebie. This is completely free. If you liked the affirmations I shared with you here, I have NINE of them to help silence your inner critic.
If you’re not already part of my free Facebook group, The Inspiration Place, I would LOVE to have you join my free group.
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In case we haven’t met yet, I’m an artist and founder of The Inspiration Place, where I help other artists learn how to profit from their passion or become better artists. Through online classes, business coaching programs, and a top-ranked podcast, I’ve helped thousands of artists around the world develop their skill sets and create more time and freedom to do what they love. My signature coaching program, The Artist Incubator, helps artists go from so-so sales to sold-out collections.
A graduate of Dartmouth College and M.I.T, I initially pursued finance but after witnessing 9/11, I abandoned a lucrative hedge fund job to work on my art full time. Since then, my art and my story have been featured in major publications including Forbes, The New York Times, Art of Man, Art Journaling magazine as well as featured on NBC’s “Parenthood” and the Amazon series “Hunters” with Al Pacino. My forthcoming book with HarperCollins Leadership on how to make it as an artist is scheduled to be released January 31, 2023. When I’m not in the studio, you can find me hanging out with my husband, adult kids, and a tuxedo cat named Ebony. I’d love to invite you to check out one of my free resources for art lovers (of every passion level) at schulmanart.com/freebies