Imposter Syndrome: Let's Talk About It
By Joanna Carpenter
Imposter Syndrome: that lurking, insidious voice that sounds an awful lot like your own (or maybe it’s Mom’s? Just me?) that creeps into the back of your psyche like a noxious gas. It whispers things into your ear like, you just bombed that audition, their smiles were absolutely fake (when you actually belted the f*ck out of that E); or not sure why that cute human complimented you at the coffee shop, have you SEEN your face today? (when you walked out of the house feeling fierce); or everyone’s favorite it’s laughable that you actually think you deserve this job/role/opportunity/boyfriend/girlfriend/pasta/etc.
Yes, I joke. But in reality, not only does the voice in my head absolutely sound like my mom, but I have the audacity to speak for all of us when I say that imposter syndrome is one of the most debilitating things we creatives experience. Much like its ugly stepsisters, anxiety and depression, imposter syndrome can sneak up on you right when you’re riding high after landing a dream role, making it official with a significant other, or getting offered a day job that is flexible, pays you a lot of money, and doesn’t involve refilling ketchup bottles.
Carrying the weight of the inherent belief that we somehow do not deserve success (or good things) often feels like an impossible dichotomy to navigate. These are things that we work, study, train, manifest, and pray for— things that we desire so much it hurts. What’s more, imposter syndrome can become so intense that it basically throttles even the ability to enjoy the things that we do have.
There is not a single person, especially amongst us artists, who has not at least once been pulled under by the tidal wave of feeling as though they did not deserve the abundance they achieved. The very structure of the entertainment industry consistently re-triggers that gnawing fear: a show closes, and you feel like it was a joke that you got the job in the first place and you’ll never work again. An offer comes along, you look at the cast list, instantly compare yourself to the rest of the group, and tell yourself that everyone else on that list is “soooooo amazing” and there’s no reason why you deserve to be in the same room. You’re suddenly rescued from an awful temp job by a commercial gig, but it must be a joke, right? You probably weren’t even first choice, but somebody bailed on the contract and production got stuck with you.
Having sufficiently antagonized (or maybe triggered) everyone reading this, my question for all of you (and for myself as well) is this: How does imposter syndrome truly serve you?
Does it keep your ego in check? Does it act as a reminder to never let your guard down? Does it help make the other people around you more comfortable as you demoralize your own achievements, even jokingly? Does it take you back to when you were a little kid trying to steal the spotlight at your cousin’s dance recital and you were told not to be so annoying and loud?
The answer: imposter syndrome does not serve you. It has never served you, and it never will. Like Ursula, it cracks open that shell and steals your voice while taking you out at the knees, even in the quietest corners of your own worthy journey to self love.
What’s more— imposter syndrome (unlike Ursula) will never go away. It is almost a mark of our own humanity, to experience these moments of fear and anxiety about stepping too far forward or succeeding “too much.” It’s only in recent years that we as a society have become more empowered and willing to speak out about it, especially for those of us that identify as women.
I believe, however, that imposter syndrome is a closer relative to fear than it is to anything else. I wonder what would happen if the next time it showed up you simply paused, acknowledged that feeling, thanked it for its concern, and put it to rest.
Not permanently, of course, because that’s impossible.
But in those moments that can become so crushing if you allow the feeling to feed, try not to scream it away or give in to the compulsion to despise your own journey. Instead softly show it care and love. Why? Because that little monster known as imposter syndrome is a part of you, and every part of you, even the darkest parts, deserve love.
That is what artists inherently do— we give. We give love. I hope we begin to give to ourselves as much as we give to others while we put our fears of not being worthy or “enough” to rest, even for a moment or two, to make space for gratitude in this storyteller life.
Joanna Carpenter hails most recently from the world of craft spirits brand management. She is an industry leader in beverage/ brand relationship cultivation, and designing niche bar concepts. A seasoned hospitality veteran, Joanna has helped create cocktails for some of New York City's most recognizable spaces and is a proud, active advocate for creating equal visibility and support for women and persons of color in hospitality. Joanna is a singer, actor, and director, recently seen as the Baker’s Wife in INTO THE WOODS with NAAP/Prospect Theatre Co and “Run the World (Gays)”.