Do you sometimes feel that what people see of you is a fake? Like you are hiding behind a mask? Or you just don’t have confidence in your skills as a photographer? Is this self-doubt is holding you back in your photography? If you said yes or just thought ‘maybe’ – then you are not alone!
For this week’s blog, I want to discuss something a little different. While it is not specifically a photography topic it is something that I have come across in my career as a photography tutor on a number of occasions. And I bet you have too – but perhaps you have never had a name for it.
I am an imposter… maybe
I know many of you who read this blog and/or receive my email newsletters have heard me speak (perhaps on a cruise ship) or teach photography (perhaps at my studio, or in one of my YouTube videos). Like many people who do public speaking or teach, I am naturally an introvert. Like many introverts, the way I deal with those situations is that I hide behind a persona that I adopt when I’m on stage. That apparently confident, knowledgeable person you see addressing a group of 200+ ships passengers is not me – it’s a character, albeit one based on me. In many ways, it’s the person that I want to be in real life, but I’m just too shy to be.
While this approach to communication and teaching is effective, it does have one big drawback: Because what the audience sees isn’t the real me – it is easy to feel that I am a fraud when I am on stage. This is commonly called Imposter Syndrome or Imposter Phenomenon
Imposter Phenomenon was first identified in the late 1970s by Dr Pauline R Clance and Dr Suzanne A Imes, when they did a study of 150 high-achieving women. In a short blog post, I can’t go into details about what they discovered. But things like not feeling qualified for the task, questioning the criteria on which they are appointed are mentioned. So are connections to things like anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and being a perfectionist (yeah, I’ll hold my hand up to that last one).
Actors have a different name for this: “Stagefright”.
It is important to remember that this is not a mental illness and that 70% of people experience this at least once in their life. For many of us just knowing what it is, is enough to deal with it.
Photographer’s Self-doubt and lack of confidence
Dictionary.com defines Imposter Syndrome as:
“anxiety or self-doubt that results from persistently undervaluing one’s competence and active role in achieving success, while falsely attributing one’s accomplishments to luck or other external forces.”
It is the first part of that definition that I often see in photographers that I am teaching or mentoring: “self-doubt” and “undervaluing one’s competence”. And while Imposter Syndrome is much more than doubt and a lack of self-confidence, it is that aspect that I want to talk about because it can be a real barrier to some photographers.
I’ve seen photographers being reluctant to move on with their photography because they think they haven’t yet mastered what they are currently trying to learn.
I’ve seen photographers who are worried about attending a workshop because they don’t think they are good enough to attend. In one case a photographer booked, paid and never turned up for exactly this reason.
I’ve seen photographers who make false comparisons between their images and those of others. They see only the imperfections in their own work and only the good in the work of others.
So how do we deal with imposter syndrome, self-doubt and a lack of confidence?
For me, it’s all about being objective. That means putting feelings to one side and taking a hard look at the facts. At times I may feel like an imposter when I’m speaking on a cruise ship, but I know that if I really was the fake that I sometimes feel I am, that people wouldn’t come back for subsequent talks and the cruise line wouldn’t keep booking me – I think I’m coming up to my 13th cruise as a guest lecturer now.
For photographers who lack confidence, there are some very simple steps you can take.
Firstly, find a photographer whose opinion you value and trust – someone who will tell you the truth about your images. Get them to give you honest feedback: the good and the bad. You don’t want someone who will tell you all you produce is wonderful – that won’t help you with your doubts. But when someone tells you what is wrong and what is right you know you can believe it when they say something is good.
Secondly, learn to critique the images of others. Look for what works and what doesn’t and take the time to write it down. As you identify the things that work in the images of others start to look for similar things in your own work. You will find over time that you will become more objective about your photography.
Finally, why not keep a ‘feel-good file’ – when someone does praise your work. Maybe you get an email about some photography you have done, or someone has posted a comment on-line praising an image you have posted. Print this out, or take a screen shot and file it all away somewhere. This is your “feel-good file”. When have those moments of self-doubt open that file and have a read, be encouraged and try to move on in the knowledge that 70% of the world feels just the same as you do about themselves.
Until next time, keep MAKING great images,
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