Do you think you are an impostor? Are you what you claim to be? Or do you think that you just have the rest of us fooled? There have been many real impostors throughout history, and many are still running around today. The whole identity theft problem has people pretending to be who they are not at its core. But my topic isn’t about them. Those people forge credentials and know exactly what they are doing. The impostor syndrome, ironically, uses their hoax to identify a problem many successful people deal with. It is also something I think I see in a lot people who do things such as art and writing. I may suffer a bit from it.
Imposter syndrome is a term used by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes for high-achieving people. It is marked by an inability to internalize self-accomplishments and fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Many of these folks are quite good at what they do, and it often comes easy to them. For whatever reason, they feel like phonies and worry about it. This is not a diagnosable mental illness. It is a syndrome – a complex condition with characteristic combinations of opinions, emotions, or behaviors. I want to apply this at another level. If you do ‘x,’ are you an ‘x-er?’ If ‘x’ is art, are you an artist?
I have been certified to teach high school social studies since I graduated from college back in the dark ages. I have never taught as faculty for even one day. Am I a teacher? I am certified, but to me, unless I actually teach, I am not a teacher. So why is it that the people who do the art, take the classes, make things that are art, will not want to say, “I am an artist.”? I also know people who have not produced a piece of art in years, but will not hesitate to call themselves artists. I have no issue with that. If I can, but chose not to, should I call myself? I think the answer is yes, but it’s up to you.
I’ve taken dance lessons, practiced and practiced, then more lessons. I danced often. People would come to me and complement me on my dancing. They would say, “I wish I could dance like that.” I would look at them and ask, “What makes you think that you can’t dance?” Some people come by it naturally and learn quickly. Not me. But I did it.
If you want to be a dancer, then dance. If you want to be a writer, you only need to write. If you want to be a runner, then go run. Poof! You’re a runner. I’m not immune to this syndrome. I have no problem calling myself a writer, but I balk at identifying myself as an author or novelist; even though I have written (but not published) a novel. To me, the nuance is in published, even though I have been published in a short story and a journal or two.
Unless there is an identifiable standard or required credential, we should feel free to identify ourselves by what we do, if we so desire. If we are novices or students, we are not disqualified. We’re learning. I understand being humble. But there is a difference in doing art and saying you are not an artist, and doing art and saying it the best art there ever was (but why not?). And certainly, if you are naturally good at something, and you do it, then we do not consider you an imposter.