6 May 2019
Sam loves telling quirky stories about The Big Idea’s community of artists and interviewing successful arts practitioners to gather insights about funding and commercialising their art.
The imposter syndrome. You know the one - that nagging feeling that you’re just “faking it.” That feeling that while people may think you’re doing well, you know deep down that you’re just doing a really good job pretending to be talented, rather than actually being talented.
Here’s the good news: if you suffer from imposter syndrome, you’re not alone. Successful people in all different sectors have imposter syndrome - both within, around and outside the arts. The bad news is that it doesn’t really get any easier over time. I caught up with Tina Symmans to talk about what the imposter syndrome is, and how you can make it work for you.
If you ask me, Tina’s certainly no imposter! She started her career in a creative agency and went on to build a PR firm from nothing way back in the day, and is now the Chairman of the 2021 America’s Cup Event. In the meantime, she worked on lots of corporate boards and in high-powered jobs for the likes of Spark.
But yet, she still suffers from imposter syndrome. What’s going on here?
Tina didn’t have much imposter syndrome early in her career. This makes sense when you think about it. When you’re starting out, you truly don’t know what you don’t know. You might take bigger risks, and think you’re capable of more because you haven’t been around long enough to see how much is involved in what you’re trying to do - or the different ways things can go wrong!
That’s what Tina did early on in her career: she started a PR firm from scratch. “I had no track record - I just had confidence and knowledge.”
It was successful and launched her into all kinds of other things. But she reckons that if her imposter syndrome had been more powerful, she wouldn’t have taken the leap.
Tina’s imposter syndrome grew over the years. Again, this makes sense. As you get more skills and experience, you learn more about what could go wrong. You see people slip and fall because they overextended themselves, and you might even slip and fall a couple of times yourself.
All these experiences can lead to some pretty punishing imposter syndrome pangs - that nagging voice in your head that asks “what if I’m wrong?” every time you make a decision.
If your experience is anything like Tina’s, you’re probably not going to eliminate that imposter syndrome any time soon. In fact, you may well look back and realise that you have much less imposter syndrome now than you’ll have in the future.
Imposter syndrome is a good thing!
But it’s not actually about beating imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is a good thing! If you didn’t have any doubts at all, you’d probably be confident beyond your abilities. That’s a surefire way to get your fingers burned - and to burn other people’s fingers.
So it’s actually about using imposter syndrome as a tool. If you get that voice in your head insisting that you’re not up for whatever task you’ve decided to try, don’t listen to it right off the bat. But also, don’t ignore it. Rather, turn it into an opportunity to check in with yourself.
That’s what Tina does. When that imposter syndrome voice makes itself known, she sees it as an opportunity to check her thinking. That’s when she gets a trusted person on the phone and reviews her thought process with them. If everything checks out, she barrels ahead. But often, these conversations flush out things that she hadn’t thought of. She can make changes, change direction and avoid pitfalls if she needs to.
All this means that imposter syndrome isn’t really a syndrome at all! Rather, it’s a valuable tool. And like all tools, it can be super useful when used properly - and a real hindrance when used incorrectly.
So have a think about your own imposter syndrome. You may not be able to control the syndrome itself, but you can control how you respond to it. Rather than let your imposter syndrome make decisions for you, use it to help you make great decisions. That’s how Tina uses it, and if her career’s anything to go by, her approach is definitely worth copying.