Impostor syndrome is defined as the fear or worry that your peers or the public at large will find out that you are a fake or phony. It is the self-doubt that makes you feel like you don’t measure up to other professionals. It’s the sense that you’re not good enough, despite evidence to the contrary.
Yikes. Heavy stuff, right?
More frequently than I care to admit, this syndrome is nipping at my heels, especially when I am surrounded by more seasoned photographers. Irrationally, I worry that they will somehow sense that I am a fraud behind the camera. Never mind the fact that I make a living with my camera, or that I’ve put in significant time and effort to refine my craft, the fear is still there.
Have you ever been plagued by impostor syndrome?
I experienced this troublesome syndrome back in November 2015 when I attended Scott Kelby’s live seminar in Livonia, MI. There were some stellar photographers there, including Scott Kelby himself, of course. As I walked through the room and gazed at the awesome people there, I halfway expected someone to point at me and yell, “impostor!”
Of course, that didn’t happen. Instead I met some really talented, cool, down-to-earth people and found some new inspiration. By the end of the day, I left feeling like a validated, inspired photographer.
The fear and comparison game
It can be a constant loop in your head: You’re afraid that your gear is not good enough, your work is not good enough, that you are not good enough. You are afraid that everyone else gets it but you. It can be exhausting and can potentially dampen your creativity.
The effects can be far ranging. From sleepless nights spent worrying that you’ll never measure up, to passing up potential opportunities and clients. Simply because you’re afraid you can’t rise to the occasion.
One thing I’ve gleaned from my discussions with the photographers on my podcast is that your gear is just a tool. It doesn’t necessarily determine whether you make a great shot or not. The ability to spot the potential greatness of a scene, decide on an angle, or nail down a method to portray the story is on your shoulders.
Great shots have been taken with point and shoot cameras, and terrible shots have been taken with expensive DSLRs.
So, how do you rid yourself of the pesky, persistent impostor syndrome?
Punching Impostor Syndrome in the face
1. Remember: You are your own worst critic
Don’t let your inner critic hold you back. Rather, use it to your advantage to help you grow and set goals. Whatever those areas are that you’re most self-conscious or doubtful about, take steps to ease that doubt by learning more about that area.
For example, a photographer friend told me that her weakest area was taking photos in a studio setting, so she deliberately went out and found a mentor that would teach her just that skill. After years of practice, she’s a master at it now.
2. Take criticism from others in stride
Rather than crumbling to pieces when someone criticizes your work, or when a client is unhappy with the results of their shoot, take the opportunity to grow from the experience. Analyze what you did wrong, and resolve to make it better next time.
3. Take an objective look at your growth and accomplishments
Sometimes, you need to throw humility out the window, especially when it comes to recounting to yourself how you have grown over the years. Whip out some paper and a pen, and scribble down areas you have come to excel at, as well as notable achievements youve made. Write down when you’ve hit your goals.
Then, put this piece of paper where you will see it again and again. Each time a client emails you to tell you that your work is great, save that email into a Testimonial folder, so that you can revisit it during those moments of self-doubt. Print it out even!
4. Remember: It’s OK to be afraid
Be gentle with yourself, and know that its okay to be afraid sometimes. A bit of fear can be healthy when its associated with taking new, calculated risks. We should all be taking steps to stretch ourselves creatively and business-wise and push past our comfort zones.
Even the most successful photographers experience uncertainty and fear. In a sense, that’s how you know you’re pushing yourself and growing as a professional.
Impostor syndrome is not unique to you
Next time you are plagued by worry and self-doubt, take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. You don’t have to stay in that self-imposed prison.
Keep in mind: There will always be someone that you perceive as better than you at photography, and you are always better than someone else at it as well.
Have you ever experienced impostor syndrome? If so, please share in the comments below, and remember, you are not alone!