How I Handle Imposter Syndrome as a Musician

It happens to the best of us, but we shouldn't let it get in the way of our creativity and well-being.

Twin Sails/ Shutterstock
Twin Sails/ Shutterstock

Like most people, when I begin a project, I’m confronted by a blank computer screen.  Mine has a virtual mixer, every instrument you can imagine, and thousands of digital and physical gadgets to manipulate sound.  In order to deliver a finished product, I have to set these thousands of gadgets in just the right way. It seems like an insurmountable task and I often feel like I’ll never be able to figure it out.

Once I get started, the process is slow, but after a few hours, I usually have something presentable. I’ve probably finished several thousand pieces of music, but I have this feeling each and every time I start a new one.

Here are my strategies for overcoming my imposter syndrome:

1. I ask for deadlines.  

Nothing focuses the mind like a deadline.  I learned this working in television where If I miss a delivery, even by a day, it can throw the whole production off.  So there’s no time to think about if I can or can’t do it. I just have to get it done.

2. I set aside specific times where I won’t be interrupted, even by emails and texts. 

I work from home;  so for me this means closing the studio door, leaving my phone and non-musical devices outside, and just working for a set amount of time.  I usually come up with something; though sometimes I need to repeat this process a few times.

3. I brainstorm until I find the right idea. 

I think it’s worthwhile to try things out even if the deadline is tight.  A good idea is easier to finish than a not so good one. I think that the time spent finding that good idea, is saved when finishing it.

4. I’m undeterred by failure.  

A good project is like an oasis.  It’s lovely when I can stay a while; but I’ll eventually be tossed back into the desert.  So when I get kicked out of the oasis, or when I knock on the door and they won’t let me in, there’s no time to feel sorry for myself.  I just have to move on and find the next one.

5. I always try my best. 

I think the most pernicious side effect of imposter syndrome is the propensity to give a project less than 100%.  There truly is nothing worse than putting my best work into a creative project only to find out that it’s good enough.  To avoid this pain, it seems rational to never give anything 100%. If I didn’t try my best, and I failed, at least I was in control of my destiny the whole time, right?  The way to overcome the fear of failure is simply to fail more and get used to it. Success is a muscle that is exercised by failure.

This is a difficult topic to write about because, as my opening line suggests, I felt like an imposter for even attempting it.  Then I thought, “If I can get that line published, it’ll serve as tangible proof of it’s own flawed logic.” 

I hope that someone struggling with a new project will procrastinate their way to this article and find it helpful.  If that’s you and you’d like to procrastinate for just a little while longer, I’d love to hear your strategies for dealing with imposter syndrome in the comments below.  Then, get back to doing the great work you always do!

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