Dealing with Impostor syndrome?


#1

So I’m a Stand Up Comic. I started doing it two years ago and I immediately fell in love. I mostly talk about the weird encounters I have with strangers because of my disability and everyday racism in Switzerland. I’m in a wheelchair and I party a lot, so basically when drunk people ask me stupid questions I just give them stupid answers.

My number of shows have been slowly increasing to about eight shows a month. This is a lot for Swiss standards, since the Stand Up community is still in it’s infancy and consists of about 30 people. However it is rapidly growing and the number of newcomers keeps increasing along with the demand for it.

Right now I’m on a summer-break and won’t be doing any shows until the end of august. I enjoy it a great deal. I’m write blog-posts and or poetrly every now and then, but stand-up-material-wise I’m not doing anything. thought I’d be able to write all of these new ideas during the break, but I don’t seem to be able to come up with any. Slowly but surely there’s this growing sense of dread and doubt forming in the back of my mind:

“Is this it? Are these all the stories that I’m able to tell? Did I overestimate my abilities?”

I’m probably just to harsh on myself, but I just can’t seem to let this feeling go. Do any of you guys go through this every now and then? Do you have any tips on how to deal with it?


#2

I often teach classes at a local community center. They are often about blogging even though I’ve never had much success with any of my blogs. Before my first few classes, I always felt imposter syndrome because I was not making money as a blogger. In fact, I spent a year after college living with my father and trying to blog professionally only to quit and get a low paying job at the public library. So when I started teaching classes, I was petrified that people would call me out for being a fraud.

However, they didn’t. As it turned out, most of the people in my class were absolute beginners and anything I taught ended up being new information. I actually had to simplify a lot of my classes because I was getting into topics that were to advanced. For my last class, I even stopped using computers and made it a lecture, and it was the best reviewed class I’ve ever taught.

I also feel like a fraud when I’m not actively working on my fiction. Everyone knows that I’m a fiction writer, but none of my friends or family have read any of my fiction because I self-published a novel in 2012 that I rushed and ended up hating. Ever since then, I’ve sworn not to let anyone read anything until it’s edited, revised, and polished. I’ve been working on the same novel for about three years now, and even though it’s in its final revisions, I feel like I’ll never finish it.

So yeah, I totally sympathize with you.

Also, I recommend watching Tig, which is about Tig Notaro’s career after her “cancer story” went viral. She definitely feels imposter syndrome during that movie. It even has clips of her bombing in front of crowds, so I recommend you, as a stand-up, check that out if you haven’t already.


#3

Impostor syndrome is the pits.

“Fake it til you make it” isn’t really good advice, but it’s perfectly functional advice for keeping the Terrors at bay.

Here’s my good story:
I taught my first college class the September after I graduated from my undergrad. I was still 21. And baby faced. My students were 18. The goddamn athletes might have been 19. This isn’t some TA stuff or observed teaching - right into the deep end. I walked into that room convinced I was going to be laughed out of it, that I was gonna pee my pants, that my voice was gonna crack, that I wouldn’t know the answer to a question, and that the students would stage a revolt. At least a couple of those things happened, of course! It turns out there’s, like, always questions you don’t know the answer to. Sometimes I lied and pretended I knew. More often, I figured out a way to keep the conversation productive, usually by admitting I didn’t know and asking more questions or investigating answers as a group.

I faked the hell out of that class. I even implied I had been at the school for at least a prior year. I figured, what the hell, why not. And it helped me feel confident. And when I was confident I stopped worrying and did a thing it turns out I kind of kick ass at. I love the classroom now and it’s one place I never feel like an impostor (that’s just everywhere else, hahaha).

Oh and all my worries about being so young? My students felt playful on the last day of class and I was feeling less cranky than my usual teaching persona, so I let 'em goof around and draw on the board. Some hung around and played a guessing game about my age right near the end of class. Consensus eventually developed: I was 30. That was what they thought. I was not 2 or three years older, I was closer to a decade older than them. Turns out my source of anxiety was utterly invisible to them.

Me? I just smiled a Cheshire Cat smile and told them to have a great winter break.


#4

I deal with this pretty often as a musician with very little talent at playing instruments (I compose through a computer). I will constantly worry if I’m really a musician if I can’t sit at a piano and just make magic happen, even though I know that not everyone who plays piano well could turn around and do what I do.

You know, little things just grind you down, like going to a family reunion and telling people that you make music only to have them say “well, we have a piano upstairs, why don’t you play us something?” or pretty much anyone you casually mention your job to asking what you play and then kind of ending the conversation once you say it’s mostly done digitally. There’s an image of “musician” that most people have that just doesn’t line up with what I actually do, and that ends up affecting me.

The way I deal with it is saving some positive comments on my work to look at whenever I’m feeling like I’m not me, to know that regardless of the methods used to create it, my computer funk makes people happy just the same as music created by someone with more traditional instrumental skill (maybe even more so, as technology does give you a lot more control over your sound).

Impostor syndrome can also keep you a little hungry to keep improving yourself, if you are able to route it that way; I will occasionally start a day with panic and end up spending it all on YouTube tutorials learning new skills to make myself feel a little better.

I don’t think it ever goes away, or I’ll ever have some big moment where that part of my brain has an epiphany and promises to leave me alone. I just can’t let it convince me that I’m not doing well.


#5

I recently had a friend I work with pull me aside and chew me out for the bio I had written for myself for his site. He pointed out that the self-deprecation was too specific and harsh to be funny and that I should give myself some credit for once. It was…a weird discussion. I don’t think of myself as skilled, and I have a rather ingrained sense of imposter syndrome. I’ve had a scripty friend ask for some advice as an editor, and it felt…weird.

The only way I’ve really dealt with it is to let myself feel like an imposter and just continue doing what I do in spite of it. Sure, I could be an imposter or some kind of talentless hack, and there’s a good chance I’ll never know my worth, but I should still keep at it because maybe one day I’ll be so good or become so skilled at “the thing” that I will have no choice but to acknowledge it…maybe.


#6

I don’t think any creative endeavor can truly be free of the insecurities imposter syndrome imparts, but you can learn to minimize it and even ignore it.

For me, it was about finding the thing in my mind that makes a person “legit” in that area, and then doing it. I’ve always considered myself a writer who likes to draw, mostly because when I came to the fork in the road between the two right before college, I chose writing. Got a degree in journalism, then a masters in English education. Then started a career as a writer.

I had this formal training which made me feel legit. I’ve never once struggled with feeling like an imposter for writing. But art was different. I never wanted to call myself an artist. I didn’t have the training!

I know it’s silly, but I started taking some online art classes–not just free tutorials, but actual courses that I put my own time and money into. My art started to improve, and I started to get art jobs on the side. I started to feel like less of an imposter. I was a legit artist!

Now that’s not to say that when I made something that went viral on the internet in 2014 and I saw huge websites write headlines like, “Artist Austin Light illustrates…” that I didn’t feel like an imposter, because I super did! But I got over it faster I think because I jumped over the stupid legitimacy hurdles my brain had put up years ago.

So maybe try to find those hurdles for your comedy and jump over them…hmm, perhaps that’s not the BEST metaphor for you in particular, but you get what I mean. You basically trick your brain into thinking you’re totally legit (even though to me, it sounds like you already are totally legit).


#7

Does it count as impostor syndrome if you’ve never actually succeeded at anything in the first place.

People will tell me I’m smart and likable and I always feel like I’m fooling them, because they’ll get all excited about my potential and I will invariably disappoint them, cause them stress, and just generally drag them down with me. Then I tell them to cut their losses and leave me alone and they won’t, and then I just fail again and the cycle repeats. It seems like I’ve never been a net positive in anyone’s life.


#8

Hey Guys, many thanks for the great responses and for opening up.
@bronson I’ve been meaning to check out Tig for a while now. Thanks for the rec! The comic that convinced me to take the leap was Cameron Esposito. She’s able to educate people about her queerness, whilst also being really funny and insightful.

Sometimes I feel like my stand up limits the things that I want to convey on stage, so I turn to blogging or poetry. I have this outline for a Dnd-campaign, which I could technically also turn into a fantasy novel. It feels really awesome to finally have the courage to express myself creatively, but I also fear of becoming a person that starts a lot of things, but never follows through on any of them.

@ToasterTheModernist Your story made me grin from ear to ear. Thank you for sharing!

@2Mello Every now and then people ask me to tell them a joke, after I tell them that I do Stand Up. Most give me this really weird look, when I tell them that that’s not how Stand Up works. I’d love to hear some of your compositions! Can I find them somewhere online?

I remember the first time I talked to my mom about my Stand Up.

Mom: So I saw your comedy on youtube.
Me: Oh, what did you think?
Mom: Well… I couldn’t understand half of the jokes you made. The other half I just didn’t find funny.
Me: Gee, thanks Mom!

@austindlight I’ve been thinking about taking classes. I’m currently saving up my money for further training at my offi@ce gig to keep the lights on.

I vented to a couple of friends from the comedy scene, organized some of my upcoming shows and even managed to write a joke yesterday.


#9

It definitely does! Afer all succeeding is subjective and depends on your personal goal.

It sounds like you’re being way to hard on yourself. Failing is a vital part of being able to actually improve and get better at something. The fact that people stay with you is the biggest indicator of your worth to them, even if you yourself can’t see it.