Change the perspective. It’s extremely unlikely anyone can know every single thing about any subject. I like to think of expertise as a combination of incredible knowledge, passion, and a willingness to find answers. Whatever you’re an expert in, you can probably think of a handful of people in your life who don’t share that same level of information and excitement. In other words, compared to some people you probably ARE an expert.
As a part of our series about how very accomplished leaders were able to succeed despite experiencing Imposter Syndrome, I had the pleasure of interviewing Phil Machi, a cartoonist and entertainer who produces and hosts “Stay ‘Tooned!”, a podcast that talks with animation industry professionals about their craft. For years, Phil Machi has explored his creative passions through comic strip series such as “Livestock” and “Retail Sunshine.” The latter of which now consists of three independent book publications under his Livestock Productions company name. Machi holds a BFA with a focus on traditional animation from Bowling Green State University.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
Absolutely! I’ve always had a passion for telling stories. It’s taken many forms, from comic strips to animated films, and more recently with podcasting, but the thread that runs through it all is the art of entertainment through storytelling.
I grew up with a heavy tradition in community theatre. This developed into a pursuit of independent filmmaking which includes animation. Reading comic strips, superhero books, and dissecting animated films consumed my childhood and helped to shape who I am today.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
In April of 2018, I took a leap of faith on a major dream. Many artists will tell you the ultimate goal is to support oneself solely through the creation of their art. This is one of my most sacred hopes and ambitions in life: To create and be financially sustained by those creations.
I left corporate America so that I could devote my full-time attention towards “Stay ‘Tooned!” In about 20 months’ time, I experienced undeniable personal growth.
My ‘takeaways’ (thus far) are: to look inward every day, seeking to understand what it will take to satisfy my soul. And above all, to be devoted to something I believe in no matter what happens. If you don’t believe in what you do with everything you have, the road ahead will be that much more difficult.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I’m a firm believer in pursuing the legacies we create. When I make anything, I always ask myself if it’s a project I can truly get behind. This may sound a bit heavy-handed but I think it’s important to make work that honors your personal beliefs.
For “Stay ‘Tooned!”, a big part of what inspired the show’s genesis was my desire to pay respect to the people who are already overlooked in the animation industry. As an artist myself, one of the things that make Livestock Productions stand out is my sincerity and empathy which comes through in my interviews.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I moved to Austin, TX from Ohio in the summer of 2013. This was a massive undertaking and something I had dreamed about since I was a teenager (moving to a new state, but not necessarily Texas).
One of the first things I did upon arriving was the search for local networking events centered around the entertainment industry. I knew I wanted to pursue a more art-centric lifestyle so meeting people in that field seemed like a great place to start.
The Network Austin Mixer proved wonderfully helpful, particularly because I met a woman named Judith Ruder. I lovingly refer to her as my local “stage mom.” She believed in me right from the start and wasted no time introducing me to other attendees with enthusiasm. Judith has remained one of my most sincere supporters and friends ever since and have even helped volunteer when I put on the First Year Anniversary Celebration event for “Stay ‘Tooned!” I am so grateful to have her in my life and appreciative that I met her so soon upon moving here.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the experience of Impostor Syndrome. How would you define Impostor Syndrome? What do people with Imposter Syndrome feel?
This is such an important topic because it’s increasingly being experienced in this social media-based culture, we’re living in. Impostor Syndrome is the fear a person has regarding their expertise. It’s the belief that they aren’t good enough for respect or praise and that somebody will “find them out”, potentially leading to their ultimate humiliation.
Self-promotion is a vital piece in being a successful entrepreneur — whether you’re a photographer, business owner, performance artist — you have to be your own loudest voice. But at the end of the day, we are all still very flawed people. We may project a confident persona but that doesn’t mean our social media accounts accurately depict the whole person behind it.
The dilemma here is: we don’t want to bog the world down with our problems. On top of that, doing so could tarnish our branding, and yes, for entrepreneurs in the public eye, congratulations… YOU are a brand.
Showing the most appealing elements of your life while being faced with the daily grind and the uphill battles that come with the territory, can produce Imposter Syndrome.
If you’re like me, it manifests in lots of negative self-talk.
Let’s be honest, when you sell yourself to the world, what you’re saying is: “I’m an expert in this.” Or “I have something so amazing, it’s worth parting with your hard-earned money for!” But if you’re struggling to hit sales targets, or get enough attention on YouTube, Twitter, or any social platform, your brain tells you “Who died and made YOU the expert here? Clearly the world isn’t buying it so you should just quit.”
What are the downsides of Impostor Syndrome? How can it limit people?
The problem with Impostor Syndrome is that it naturally becomes a gateway to negative thinking, which leads to negative conditioning. Whether it’s systemic of our culture or perhaps just part of being human, we would rather put ourselves down than assume we have authority on a subject.
The dangers are clear: we limit ourselves by consistently focusing on what we don’t know. By focusing on what we lack, we cultivate an abundance of nothing. For me, this turns into flat out procrastination. Instead of heading face-first into a challenge with enthusiasm, it’s more comforting to avoid it altogether. This can lead to missed deadlines or even total project abandonment.
How can the experience of Impostor Syndrome impact how one treats others?
My default assumption when meeting or listening to an expert in any field, is to take them at their word. Once I recognized Impostor Syndrome setting in, however, I started wondering how many other experts were secretly experiencing the same haunting feelings.
I wouldn’t say I treat people differently now, rather I try to keep in mind that it’s worth giving experts more than just the benefit of the doubt. I give them credit for having the courage to own their expertise enough to make it define them.
We would love to hear your story about your experience with Impostor Syndrome. Would you be able to share that with us?
I’d love to! I’m going to refer back to “Stay ‘Tooned!” once again since it’s my most recent (and intense) example.
When I started the show, it was challenging to define myself to…myself. Meaning, thinking in terms like “talk show host” or “animation historian” was potentially problematic. While I do know a great deal about the history of animated films in modern history, I also know for a fact there are other people who have more knowledge and experience.
This immediately led to heavy feelings of guilt. How could I confidently put myself out there as an expert if I didn’t completely respect my own voice?
It took a great deal of daily self-coaching to finally arrive at a place of peace. Accepting the fact that I would never have all the answers or even perhaps as many answers as other experts, was really okay. And this didn’t mean I wasn’t an “expert”, especially since that definition seems to be relatively up for grabs anyhow. Watching and creating cartoons has been my lifelong pursuit so who’s to say I’m not an expert?
Ultimately, I decided that I’m willing to accept myself as an expert who continually expands his knowledge base.
Did you ever shake the feeling off? If yes, what have you done to mitigate it or eliminate it?
I’d love to tell you that the effects of Impostor Syndrome are all behind me. The truth is it’s something I still battle each and every day.
The answer here is to acknowledge those sneaky thoughts and note when they appear as pattern recognition. Once you’ve done that, it’s time to remind yourself of what you ARE capable of.
In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone who is experiencing Impostor Syndrome can take to move forward despite feeling like an “Impostor”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Catch the “Impostor” thoughts as they’re happening. This means stopping whatever it is you’re doing the moment you feel like you aren’t good enough or qualified enough to follow your passion. Notice the thoughts and isolate them as what they are: thoughts.
- Change the perspective. It’s extremely unlikely anyone can know every single thing about any subject. I like to think of expertise as a combination of incredible knowledge, passion, and a willingness to find answers. Whatever you’re an expert in, you can probably think of a handful of people in your life who don’t share that same level of information and excitement. In other words, compared to some people you probably ARE an expert.
- Don’t compare yourself to others (too much). I know I just mentioned comparing in the last point. That’s because comparison is how we make sense of the world around us. But if you’re comparing to the point where you beat yourself down, then it’s no longer productive. You don’t have to be “the most” or even “the only” in your field. As an expert, your mission is to have a respectable amount of knowledge and experience with a unique viewpoint that only you can provide. Anything more than that borderlines unreasonable expectations.
- Celebrate your achievements. I’m not telling you to gloat and wave those awards in your friend’s faces, here. But it’s completely reasonable to take some personal satisfaction in a job well done. Even the little accomplishments count! Celebrating causes you to pause at the moment and recognize something good. Doing this enough can help turn that negative thinking dial down a few notches.
- Express gratitude. Whether it’s thanking a colleague or just being grateful for waking up each day, taking a moment for gratitude is another positive influencer. Giving a nod towards the reasons to be grateful, builds object permanence. Similar to an infant who gets confused during a game of peek-a-boo, if we continually hide the great things, it’s as if they’ve left us. When we aren’t grateful for what we DO have, we’re cultivating feelings of loss.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d like to inspire people to nurture themselves through thought. Sure, you could take a vacation or a spa day, but if you don’t get your inside life sorted out, it can be a real challenge to enjoy taking breaks. So many people have their internal default set to “failure” and I believe an abundance of issues stem from there.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Comedy has always been a huge part of my life so I’d have to say either Jerry Seinfeld or Howie Mandel. Both comedians have accomplished so much and they seem to recognize how to manage their own dark thoughts. They’ve excelled in spite of adversity and I admire that.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Patreon for Stay ‘Tooned!: www.patreon.com/philmachi
Community Page for Stay ‘Tooned!: https://facebook.com/groups/staytooners
Facebook for Phil Machi: https://web.facebook.com/philmachi
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!