Imposters and Discomfort

I’ve spent a lot of time lately with creative people; hundreds of writers at a conference, and in my writers group, and in the seminar I’m attending for teaching artists.

And, of course, everyone I work with at Multnomah Arts Center is an artist in their own right; clay and steel and paint and dance and movement and theatre and music and poetry. And that’s just the people in the main office.

The shades of difference between discomfort and safety, between conflict and challenge have jumped to the front of my mind, as I’m struck with that old feeling of being an impostor. Like I don’t belong here among these REAL artists, like I’m hiding my inadequacy under the scrim of jargon and copying behavior. Like they’ll find out any moment, or they already know and they wish I would just beat it and let the real artists get back to work.

I’ve heard it’s called impostor syndrome. It rose up this week in my thoughts about my writers group, in which I am the sole member among eight people who does not have an MFA in writing. What the HELL am I doing here?

It came again in my teaching artists seminar. There are professional teachers in this cohort, and accomplished artists, people who have made their living with the expression that rises from deep within them. I get a little thrill calling it a cohort, but this again reinforces my fear that I really don’t belong among this group of experienced, knowledgeable professionals.

To my shock, many of the same artists I’ve been around lately express the same fear; that they’re in over their heads, they don’t know what they’re doing here, they see everyone else as far more competent, and they do not belong. There are artists here that I have seen on stage, captivating an audience over 5000 strong; people who organize
city-wide listening projects around calling out white fragility; people who paint murals on walls as tall as a city building. And yet some still feel like they are hiding out, fear they’ll be discovered, think they might just be faking it well enough to go undetected but they’re terrified that everyone already knows what a joker they are.

I have a friend who has worked for the DA in a large city for years and says he still feels like an impostor sometimes. Decades into his work.

I’ve decided to grab that feeling of being a fake and throttle it until it can’t make any more noise in my head. I’m a writer; I write. I write for you here, I write articles about music and theatre and sports and they are published all over the place, and I write fiction. I write. My characters and settings live in black and white, in letters and words and sentences, outside my head. I write.

This is my art. I’m still learning the art of what I do. I’m still learning how to organize that art to share it with other people in a classroom or other setting. I want to share that art, which is why I’m in the teaching artist studio.

My doubt comes from the discomfort I feel when I’m doing something that is challenging, something different and new. It’s discomfort, not based in fact.

I’m here. I’m doing what I love and I’m learning. And if you feel like you’re hiding out, like someone’s going to discover your secret, just know you are not alone. In my assessment, everyone feels like this to some degree either some of the time or all of the time.

If you’re doing your art, if you’re learning and growing, if you’re open to the challenge of making yourself better, you’re no impostor. Tell that lying voice to fuck off and keep moving. You belong here. I belong here.

I’m here.

Postscript–I was awakened last night by a hollow-pointed fear, a syringe straight into my confidence, sucking it clean. My beliefs is misplaced, it screamed. Look at this evidence! And proceeded to call up a memory of an interaction I was unsure about, something I wrestled with. This fear decided to this tiny bit of data was important to use to admonish me awake, to shake me out of dreams and push me to the edge of the self-destructive abyss. But I’m clear-thinking enough to know, even at 3 a.m., that just because it comes from my subconscious doesn’t mean it’s right. I went back to sleep.

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