Have you ever had a nagging feeling that despite all your years of hard work, dedication, and accolades, you still aren’t good enough to be a “real” musician? Maybe you won an audition, got a teaching position, or some other awesome post (congratulations!) but feel like your colleagues might think you don’t deserve to be there. Perhaps you chalk up your success to mere luck or factors beyond your control.
That, my friend, is called the imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome can happen to anyone, but musicians seem especially prone to this phenomenon. Perhaps it’s all those years of ingrained sky-high expectations and fierce competition for opportunities. Whatever the reason, this is a vicious thought pattern and should be quelled immediately.
Here are a few of my suggestions to help musicians fight imposter syndrome:
- Realize that everyone experiences this to some degree. Being a professional musician, whether as a performer, teacher, or other career path, requires an infinite skill set. The expectations for musicians are limitless – there is always another piece/style/technique/something to learn, and you will probably never feel 100% ready for any job. That’s part of the excitement (and fear) that makes music so fun and alive. Know that you are not alone and everything you are feeling is completely normal.
- Cut yourself some slack. Part of imposter syndrome stems from our desire for perfection, but realize that perfection is just a myth. You should never apologize for having high expectations for yourself, but make sure that they are realistic. Everybody makes mistakes, so try to cut yourself some slack if you don’t immediately meet your expectations.
- Stop putting others on a pedestal. I have some startling news – even the greatest musicians in the world – your absolute idols – are mere human beings. The more distance you imagine between yourself and other musicians more “worthy” of their positions, the more likely you are to succumb to imposter syndrome. Try to humanize (instead of idolize) your favorite musicians by learning more about them as people instead of music-making machines.
- Turn your insecurities into strengths. Try to locate specific insecurities to work on your perceived flaws. If your imposter syndrome spikes every time you have to play an auxiliary instrument, use that as incentive to practice your auxiliary skills so you will boost your confidence.
- Celebrate what makes you unique. One of the unusual challenges that musicians face is playing with individuality, but not so much that they can’t adapt in ensemble settings. This is a fine balance to achieve, but it certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t celebrate your unique musical attributes. Take time to reflect on your strengths – they can be performing (great tuning, beautiful sound) or tangentially related (personal branding, recruitment skills, or anything else). Every single musician at every level has something unique to contribute, so find yours and flaunt it.
- Share your experiences with others. Most musicians experience imposter syndrome, but very few share their experiences with others for fear of appearing unqualified. Chances are, your colleagues have probably felt (or are currently feeling) the same way you are.
I hope these tips help other musicians fight imposter syndrome and eager to share your hard work, energy, and music with the world. Leave a comment below with any tips you have to overcome imposter syndrome!