Imposter Syndrome is real.
The fundamental issue with Impostor Syndrome is not being able to internalize your own success. If you have it, you might believe that where you are/what you are doing is all down to luck and nothing to do with you and your abilities.
It was first identified by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in their 1978 paper “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Interventions”. Anyone can get it, but it usually belongs to responsible, perfectionist people who aim for high standards and big goals.
So what can help you?
Here are seven things you can do to tackle the symptoms of Imposter Syndrome:
1. Dealing with the loneliness
An important aspect is to tackle the loneliness. You feel alone because everyone around seems so much more successful or knowledgeable or calm. The antidote to this is a feeling of belonging, of seeing other people like you. You are not alone! Quite a few of the singing teachers we work with have Imposter Syndrome, and I think it’s not unusual in a field where the knowledge and practice are developing rapidly. It’s easy to feel left behind, or to think that other people are so much more aware/acute/brainy/accomplished/glossy than you are. It’s why we set up our live online courses and popup workshops to help people meet, share and belong to a community.
2. Working with criticism
Learn to value constructive criticism. Here’s an odd one. Do you know that if you’re part of a team, NOT asking for support can impact them – so don’t be that selfish! I’m separating constructive criticism, which includes suggestions to help you grow, from destructive criticism which is designed to pull you down. It’s difficult for people with Imposter Syndrome to hear even constructive criticism, because you assume it’s destructive, or nitpicky, or highlighting your weaknesses. You can still feel the emotions that this creates, but you can also recognise them as very strong (often extreme) and not necessarily correct for the situation. If you know how to recognise the difference between constructive and destructive criticism, you can learn to trust suggestions and then filter them for what might actually work for you.
3. Get guidance
Tied in with the above point on criticism, find a mentor to talk to. Your peers may struggle with similar issues, but a more experienced mentor may have gone through the same feelings/thoughts AND be further on in the process. We’ve been mentoring singers and singing teachers for years and it brings us a lot of joy to share the solutions to problems we’ve faced in the past.
4. Validate your feelings
It’s perfectly possible to validate those imposter feelings and then decide to change them. Feel the feeling, acknowledge that it has value (it keeps you motivated) but also notice how debilitating it can be. If the feelings don’t support you, move you in a positive direction or work for you, you don’t need them any more. Thank them and move on.
5. Teach someone else
This might seem like an obvious one to the singing teachers reading this, but often we don’t realise how useful this is. Take something you do and show someone else how to do it, in the simplest, most straightforward way you can. When you hear yourself describing what you do, you might be surprised how much you really know.
6. Discover your FOAL area
Learn more about your FOAL area. This is the Falling Off A Log stuff, the things you think, know or do that other people think is amazing, and you go “what? But isn’t it obvious?”. Well no, if it’s your FOAL area, it’s obvious to YOU, but not to anyone who doesn’t understand it in the way you do. I created an entire quiz to determine your FOAL area in musical theatre casting in our book Successful Singing Auditions.
If you’re working or living in your FOAL area, you will be able to bring a deep, almost instinctive knowledge to the topic that, from outside, can look like magic. But from inside, because we’re so used to it, it carries no special label or feeling and we tend to dismiss it. Trust me, when you’re in your FOAL area, it IS magic. We all have our FOAL areas, you just need to recognise and acknowledge yours.
7. How good is good?
Decide how good is good enough. You want at least 100%, or to be top of the class or the best in the business. That is terrifyingly tiring, day-in, day-out. How much could you change that percentage? Would 98% be good enough?
Yes, I’ve suffered from imposter syndrome. I spent most of my music college days and early career being confused as to how people could be so confident (and often to my eyes so weirdly incapable). I’ve turned down jobs and even a scholarship, and not put myself forward even though I’m qualified for the role. I’ve always thought the epitaph on my gravestone should be…
But I learned two phrases early on that have helped me overcome the crippling effects of imposter syndrome – “Best I can do today”, and “Today, maybe 95% will do the job”.
The second phrase is obvious, I’m dialing down my own expectations, but the first phrase has more depth. “Best I can do today” says I am doing my best with the information I have that day – I’ll know more tomorrow but tomorrow isn’t here yet. Also, today includes being under the weather, tired, cranky and low. That’s important – and realistic!
I have become so much more prolific since adopting those two phrases. I’m able to start projects earlier, and move through the whole process to completion. I wouldn’t have been able to write 7 books and produce the Vocal Process Learning Lounge with 500+ of our own resources without those two sentences in my head.
What you see isn’t always the truth
Often, imposter syndrome shows up as an inability to let something go because it’s not quite good enough. Remember that what you see other people present on social media or in recordings isn’t necessarily their first attempt. There are precious few people at genius level who can open their minds and “let heaven flow through” with no intervention or corrections.
This article was written originally in a blur of typing and thinking aloud for just 20 minutes. But the version you’re reading now isn’t the first draft. Oh no! I get my thoughts out, shuffle them around, make sure the article has flow, walk away, come back and shuffle them some more, then hit “upload”.
If you like these thoughts, let me know. If you don’t like them, through that door over there are lots of other people whose thoughts might suit you better. Don’t forget to close it on your way out.
PS Because we understand imposter syndrome, we are able to help in practical ways. Our Online Singing Teacher Training Week 1 begins on August 24th – it’s helped so many singing teachers to tackle their impostor syndrome. Find out more about Week 1 here or hit reply and send us an email.
PPS If you want to read about five types of impostor syndrome (Perfectionist, Superwoman/Man, Natural Genius, Soloist, Expert), check this article out on the work of Dr Valerie Young
ADDENDUM: What’s with the spelling?
You’ll see two spellings in this article – impostor and imposter. Which is correct? Answer is both are fine as both have a long history. The Oxford Learners Dictionary has the least confusing explanation: late 16th cent. (in early use spelled imposture, and sometimes confused with imposture in meaning): from French imposteur, from late Latin impostor, contraction of impositor, from Latin imponere ‘inflict, deceive’ (from in- ‘in, upon’ + ponere ‘put’).
You can see how confusing its etymology is, but in short, the spelling seems to have branched off from “Impostor” (Latin) via “Imposteur” (French). In reality the -or ending is three times more prevalent in literature, but for some reason I prefer -er. Thanks to all the people who pointed out the discrepancy, it wasn’t one!
If you have 30 seconds let us know what you enjoy about this article and if there’s anything you’d like to find out or change.
A heartfelt thank you for being with us this far in the journey.