Even as I write this, I wonder why I’m allowed to speak with authority. As if, somehow, I’ve gained enough experience to tell others, “take it from me.” But at what point do I have that authority? At what point does someone from “He’s Legit University” send me a letter with a shiny diploma giving me permission to tell others what’s up? Is printing and framing an e-mail from a fake university tacky? Doesn’t everyone think I suck?
It’s exactly that crippling self-doubt that gives me the authority to tell you that, yes, everyone thinks you suck, and so do you.
Don’t worry; everyone thinks I suck, too. But since enough people seem to think I don’t suck that much (including the fine folks at He’s Legit U.), I’m allowed to write this piece to tell you why it’s okay that you suck, and that you can be hugely successful and still think you suck.
“It’s the idea that, no matter how much society has told you that you’re good at something, you still think you’re not.”
“Imposter Phenomenon” (aka “Imposter Syndrome”) comes in many forms, and can be very frustrating. For some, it’s actually debilitating. It’s the idea that, no matter how much society has told you that you’re good at something, you still think you’re not. No matter how many awards you’ve won, how many of your peers accept you as an equal, how much your mom says you’re special…you still suck.
And yes, I’m painfully aware of the comically circuitous fact that I’m explaining, with authority, that I have no authority, which means I do have the authority to tell you about it. Mind fuck, right? Moving on.
Even within my moderate success as a music producer, I still can’t believe they let me DJ in front of actual people, let alone thousands of them (just one time, but hey). When a fan from another country sent me a video of my song playing at a foreign music festival, I thought it must be a fake video. When my newest single topped an indie music chart, I thought the website had glitched.
“Almost every time I achieve something, my brain tries to discredit the success as pure luck or inauthentic, as if I tricked someone into thinking I’m Legit.”
Don’t get me wrong, when things like this happen, at first I’m flattered and proud. But then immediately after I enjoy it for a few seconds, I question if it’s real, and then play mind tricks to convince myself I don’t deserve it even if it is real.
Almost every time I achieve something, my brain tries to discredit the success as pure luck or inauthentic, as if I tricked someone in to thinking I’m Legit. It’s very hard for me to believe that I could actually be good at something, or at least that my hard work has helped me improve.
No matter what I accomplish, I still think I suck.
Maybe it’s because, as an artist, there aren’t as many publicly recognized accolades to let us know that we don’t suck. Yes, you can get a degree in music, but that won’t get you a record deal or a Grammy (or even a paycheck). We just have our peers’ Facebook and Instagram updates about how dope their tour is, or how well their newest single is doing (I almost wrote “lit” as an adverb and threw up in my mouth). We see that and think, “They must be succeeding! They deserve it and are good at what they do!” Then, when we finally experience similar success, we can’t imagine we deserve it, because we’re not as good as they are.
Because we suck.
Many of the world’s foremost creative people experience Imposter Syndrome, which gives me solace. A cursory glance at Wikipedia lists Maya Angelou, Tom Hanks, and Emma Watson as having experienced imposter syndrome – and Wikipedia doesn’t lie. If Maya Angelou, one of history’s most celebrated poets and activists thought she was a fake, then who possibly could be real? If Tom Hanks still doubts he’s a proper actor, then who is?
Thom Yorke says in interviews that he still wonders if his music is good enough, and I’m pretty sure everyone reading this would piss themselves if they met him in person (I met him once, and I pissed myself. Just a little, though). Radiohead hated “Creep” when they made it, but were convinced to release it despite lengthy protest. I think it’s pretty obvious they made the right choice. Even to this day, Thom and many others with his god-like public regard think they’re not good at what they do; they still think they suck. If Thom Yorke, the guy on the poster in your dorm room right now, thinks he’s not a good musician, then who is?
“Self-doubt can be productive if reworked into constructive self-criticism”
That’s why I actually believe it’s good to think you suck, at least a little bit, but only if you can manage it. Self-doubt can be productive if reworked into constructive self-criticism. If I released all of the songs I ever wrote because I thought every one was great, I would’ve released some totally shit music. I think it’s important that I frequently think, “man, I suck for writing this,” because it makes the few times I think “man, I’m awesome for writing this!” that much more poignant.
If you ever think you’re good enough, you’ll never be great.
So if everyone thinks I suck, I’m okay with that.