You’re not alone if you’ve ever felt like an impostor in your creative pursuits. So many people feel like they don’t measure up to the “real” artists or are afraid to put their work out for fear of being seen as outsiders.
When faced with self-doubt and impostor feelings that hinder our creative pursuits, how can we recognise and respond to them? How do these feelings sound to us? What causes them, and how can we continue to be creative in spite of them?
We are exploring these questions in The Haven this month.
Every creative act is a step into uncertainty—no guarantees about how it will be received, interpreted, and understood.
I experience impostor feelings almost whenever I put anything creative into the world. But I’m learning to converse with them, listen to what they tell me, and respond accordingly. I’m doing that this week with my first official ambient instrumental release. Not a style of music I’ve shared publicly before. Truth be told, I feel a little apprehensive.
The Difference Between Content and Form
One helpful distinction I’ve seen is the difference between the message and the medium we use to express it.
Medium and form are what we learn from the masters and mentors. They are where we hone our craft and deepen our competency. Learning how to write, paint, perform, play, weave, bake etc., and improving our relationship with the tradition(s) we are partaking in. There are always ways to grow, develop, and enhance our experience.
I am excited to learn more about and deepen my relationship with this new-to-me genre of music. Impostor (or inferiority feelings) are positive for me in this sense. They encourage me to grow in desirable and meaningful ways.
Message and content, on the other hand, are more like the essence of the song we sing. The spirit within and vision we bring to the table. It’s the unique cocktail of a life spent experiencing, observing, and feeling. It’s the creative voice only we can express because it’s contingent on who we are in our ordinary weirdness.
I remind myself that the most remarkable artists are one small part of a tradition they could never fully embody. When it comes to the pure identity of being (a writer, artist, musician etc.), no one can fully belong.
We are explorers, custodians, and borrowers. We hold the craft with reverence and respect and recognise that it’s bigger than all of us.
Impostor Feelings and Creative Form
“The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”Steven Pressfield
The drive for confidence (fitting in) at the medium and form level can alienate us from our creative spirit. However, we can be pretty confident that we are not an impostor if we’re worried about being one.
The quest for belonging to the established order to feel worthy and accepted is a road that takes us away from the site of authentic creative expression. In other words, the real impostors believe they are entitled to be here and speak on behalf of an undefinable entity.
Creative Spirit is a Question Mark
What is creativity without vulnerability, uncertainty, and doubt?
Not much. Just more of the same. Replication. Mechanical productivity. Stuck pining for the past and dreaming of a future that will never emerge because a big padlock keeps the present behind bars. Stifled and unable to play.
This is at the heart of some questions about generative artificial intelligence. It’s an imitator of form. It looks the part. But it’s missing a crucial aspect of the creative spirit. Like Sartre’s waiter, it fits in TOO MUCH. Whereas creativity emerges through imperfection and contradiction.
Defence Against The Human Arts
In Free Play, Stephen Nachmanovitch says, “It is easy to look around us and see innumerable factors that undermine the creative life. But I think every culture contains its own defences against creativity. It is sometimes tempting to idealise or romanticise some other time and place where the creative life seems to have been more integrated into the fabric of life as a whole.”
The creative spirit is a question of those defences. What stops us from being human? What does it mean to be human?
“Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are.”Steven Pressfield
There is No There, There
To doubt is to be human. To desire, love, and dream is to embody life in all its messy chaos.
Creative spirit carries us forward as a beautiful contradiction. Where it is through the fact we don’t belong (we are all impostors) that creativity can find its place.
Creativity is courage despite doubt. Faith despite fear. It carves beauty from pain and expresses truth when all seems lost.
We might be waiting to feel safe before we create. It’s understandable. It’s human. We are wired to seek safety and belonging. But the other thing that makes us human is our creative spirit. While it is often fuelled by inspiration from the world around us, our creative flame flickers within, and only we can choose whether or not to let the light out to play.