“A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman. It’s only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and overthink and hesitate.”
― Steven Pressfield, Do the Work
I got an email newsletter the other day from someone I’d consider a peer in my industry. She explained how she’d been busy with a new baby, and shared her top tips for managing work and overwhelm. When she got the the ‘I schedule me-time, and treat myself to a massage every week’ my mind flipped a switch.
She’s not talking to me. She’s talking to those other people. I’m not the kind of person who schedules me-time. Who gets massages. Who ringfences that time in her diary.
Yup, she’s talking to that invisible layer of people in the room. You know; the ones who have their shit together.
The rational brain knows that there is no invisible layer. So, what’s really happening when these feelings arise? Could it be that the real issue is legitimacy? What about that prickly thorn called impostor-hood? You know, that thing that nobody mentions because everyone’s so busy with doing great work and having their shit together?
Let’s just stop for a minute and call bullshit on this. Ask your closest self-employed peers via Facebook or email or phone; actually call them up and ask them. “Is it just me, or do you feel like a fraud sometimes. You know, that sense that some day you’re going get found out, and get herded back into a nice safe day job?” What do you think the response will be?
Even Seth Godin feels like a fraud. In his radically inspiring new book The Icarus Deception he writes a chapter called ‘You’re a Fraud and You Know It:’
“That’s at the heart of the artist’s fear of shame. Deep down, we’re worried that we will be discovered as the frauds that we know we are.
You’re not typing at eighty-nine words per minute or mixing together the same chemicals you mixed yesterday. You are daring to fly close to the the sun. You are doing the new thing, the thing no one has ever dared to do before. You are saying what hasn’t been said, touching what hasn’t been touched. Of course you are a fraud. What could possibly qualify you to do this?
If you don’t stand out, you’ll never need to stand up. And no one will call you on what you say or what you do or what you believe. You’re back in your comfort zone, but as we’ve seen, there’s no safety left there.
Everyone is lonely and everyone feels like a fraud. I feel like a fraud as I type this, as I brush my teeth, and every time I go on-stage.
This is part of the human condition. Accepted. Now what?”
When Seth talks about the artist, he doesn’t just mean paintbrush-artists. He means anyone who seeks to create new work, to take risks and to subject their work (whether it’s coaching or writing or therapy) to public scrutiny and the possibility of failure. Brave people like you and me.
And he makes a wonderful point. When you were at school, did the careers adviser call you into the room and explain just which qualifications you’d need to get to be a multimedia-blogging health coach? Bullshit. She didn’t know what either of those things were and neither did you. How could we possibly expect to feel confident that we know what we’re doing and how to do it, if we’re entering new territory every single day? Your job title didn’t exist five years ago. You may have invented the work you’re doing. Yes, you’re going to feel a fraud. Accepted. Now what?
Seth points out in the book that in the English language we say ‘I’m afraid,’ in the same way we might say ‘I’m hot’ or ‘I’m hungry.’ But we say ‘I have a headache,’ not ‘I am a headache.’
So, let’s go French for a minute. Do you know what ‘I’m afraid’ is in French? ‘J’ai peur.’
I have fear. Not I am fear. It’s much more accurate, right? My fear is like a little pocket gremlin. It’s there, but it’s not me. I can sling it in my bag with my MacBook and my sketchpad, and it keeps me from ever getting complacent. It acts as a compass. When the resistance and fear rears up, then I know that I’m heading the right way.
So, how to make better art (or writing, or coaching, or computer programming)? This is Seth Godin’s advice:
1.Fly closer to the the Sun (i.e. make bold work – go where others haven’t been)
2.Become naked and vulnerable in front of those you give your art to and
3.Seek to make a connection
Over to you: Have you ever felt like a fraud? If so, what helps you get over it? Do any of the three points above resonate? How?