Dealing with Imposter Syndrome

I’ve had some wonderful news this week. Two of my paintings have been selected for a local exhibition. This is amazing and I’m over the moon. I have to drop the paintings off at the gallery on Feb 20th, the exhibition launches Feb 28th and runs until March 10th. I am so happy. This is all so exciting. This is all so real. And yet I am all so terrified!


So many negative thoughts are now swirling around my head. Lots of “what ifs”. What if when I turn up on the 20th and they see the paintings they are disappointed? What if they think the paintings are not as good as the photos? What if they tell me they’ve changed their minds? Or even if they don’t do that what if on launch night every other painting is better than mine? What if I’m stood there looking and feeling stupid for even thinking I was good enough to take part whilst everyone else’s art has people gathered around it, excitedly talking about it and jostling to buy? Yes so many “what ifs”.


I know this is all imposter syndrome of course. I’ve lived with it all my life but it’s really hitting me now at what should be an exciting time.


I know as an artist it’s natural to feel a sense of imposter syndrome. We often feel that our art is not as good as our peers. Instagram allows us to scroll through photo after photo of beautiful art produced by artists who seem so much further ahead than ourselves – they are more successful, they have more collectors, buyers, followers.  The endless scroll can feel like endless self torture where you tell yourself, “Here take a look at how well everyone else is doing, aren’t they all doing so much better than you.”


And of course all these thoughts are so detrimental to our creativity. This fear of not being “good enough” and all these negative comparisons between our art and that of others can cause us to simply stop producing art, to grind to a halt and just give up. And sometimes this happens just when we’re at the tipping point of something great. Sort of where I am now I think. This exhibition is a great opportunity and could lead to great things, now is not the time for self doubt and self sabotage but I know now is the time where these things could really happen.


For me I think imposter syndrome makes me want to stay in my safe zone. I see it already in the way I was painting yesterday. I’m working on a new piece that’s not even in the exhibition but as I paint I now feel invisible eyes scrutinising it. I’m scared of getting this painting wrong. In the future I might want to show other paintings to the gallery, this might be one of them so I need to get it right, it needs to be as good as the two accepted for the exhibition and this makes me tentative. I feel myself trying to recreate the paintings already accepted instead of allowing this painting to speak for itself. This  new fledgling piece of art has a lot riding on it in my head now! So I’m at risk of playing it safe. Way too safe.


Thankfully I know there are things we can say to ourselves when we start to disappear down the imposter syndrome rabbit hole.
In terms of comparing my art to others I need to remind myself that everyone has their own individual style and that it is ok to be different. In fact we should be different if our art is an authentic expression of our personal self and vision because each of us is a unique self with a unique vision. It’s pointless comparing our art to the art of others. Each piece is different, each exists in and of itself as a unique expression of what we, the artist, want and need to express. Comparison takes us nowhere.


I know that what I should focus on now as the doubts set in is my own creative process. I need to focus on how I best use my skills to create the art I need to create. And yes I might compare the art I make now with the art I  made earlier in my journey. That’s natural and helpful. When I look back I see huge developments and improvements. I can’t believe I shared some of the art I shared at the start! But clearly at the time I loved it and was proud of it. It’s just that things have moved on now, my skills, abilities and eye for what works have grown. When I look back and see the gap between where I was then and where I am now I feel proud – that gap is a measure of how far I’ve come. And I think that’s the only comparison that really works, the comparison between where you are now and where you were then. Comparing your art with other people’s is fruitless –  everyone else’s art is their own thing and cannot be compared to mine.


Seeing the journey I’ve travelled should also now give me the confidence I need to continue to push myself and test my own artistic boundaries. Creativity can and must grow and expand. It cannot be constrained. If I try and play safe because I’m scared of getting it wrong I know I will fail.  I’ve pushed myself in the past and made what one of my followers termed “quantum leaps”. I need to continue with that same mindset with my current painting. It needs space to speak for itself and I need to trust that when it does I will love what it has to say.


And I also need to push forward in terms of showing my art in the exhibition at the end of the month. I need to be ready to stand beside my pieces. I need to talk about them on launch night, share my inspiration and welcome the collectors I know will come, the perfect collectors for my art who will feel excited about taking it home to hang on their walls and look at every day. I cannot grow as an artist unless I take this next step. It is the natural next step in my journey.  So I need to go for it. I need to allow myself to feel excited about it and I need to let that excitement feed my creative self so I am motivated to push myself further and create even more art that perfectly expresses what I need it to express in that given moment.


And at least I now recognise these negative thoughts and feelings when they arise. That’s important and again is another indicator of growth – in this case mindfulness growth. And recognising these thoughts gives me the opportunity to remind myself that imposter syndrome helps no one, all it does is limit growth. I need to focus on my process and I need to stop comparing myself to others and I need to stop being scared of success. I think that’s the case for us all.


So today I’m celebrating the fact I’ve been selected to take part in an exhibition and I’m celebrating all the progress I’ve made over the past few years. It’s been amazing and I’m so excited about where I am now in my art career and what could happen next. But most importantly of all I’m allowing myself to be happy, to simply enjoy the moment. I’m putting aside all the negative anxious “what ifs” and embracing the positive ones – what if they all love my art, what if I meet the perfect collector who will want to collect more of my art in the future, what if this is the start of something bigger. These “what ifs” are so much nicer, they bring a smile to my face and make me excited about the future.  I think I’ll stick with them for awhile.