Hi Friend, Welcome to Episode 34 of Sally’s Performing Arts Lab Podcast. Today, my husband, George, my daughter, Emile, and I discuss fear of failure and Impostor Syndrome.
I’m your podcast host, Sally Adams. Every week I talk to people about creating original work for a live audience. Send an email anytime to Sally@sallypal.com. Your ideas keep great conversations coming every Monday evening.
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I’m interested in knowing what creators need as a performing arts resource. Do you need more information about venues? Do you want to know how to put butts in seats on the cheap? Would you like to connect with other creators? Do you need more practical tips? If there are things you want included in the Creator’s Notebook, let me know by sending an email to email@example.com! I read them all… challenge me. Be sure and listen until the end of the interview for Concise Advice from the Interview, and Words of Wisdom from George.
Fear of failure can be barely noticeable or paralyzing. For artists in the world of performance, the fear of failing can overpower the drive to perform. Some great ideas and performances languish in hiding because an artist can’t seem to get their work on the stage. The artist who succeeds in getting the work in front of an audience may struggle with another roadblock to full expression: Impostor Syndrome. Impostor Syndrome is defined as, “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.”
The term Impostor Syndrome was coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. According to a study out of Georgia State University, a third of successful adults believe that they don’t deserve to be where they are. Feelings of success are often overshadowed by the feeling that you are a fraud and anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know enough to recognize your incompetence.
A few weeks ago, I asked performing artists to share what they saw as roadblocks to mounting a successful production of original work. I expected to see things like, “finding a venue,” “funding a show” and “putting butts in seats.” While these received honorable mentions, the overriding responses were, “fear of failure” and “Impostor Syndrome”. I distinguish between these two although they have a lot in common. Fear of failure usually keeps you from acting. While Impostor Syndrome means you took an action but you can’t believe your success is anything more than accidental.
I’m currently reading a book given to me by my daughter Emile’s fiancé, Beckett. The book is titled The Art of Possibility. Written by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander, it exposes the assumptions on which fear of failure and Impostor Syndrome are based.
As a longtime drama teacher I was never a big fan of arts competitions. I love arts festivals, performances, and sharing programs. But competitions where the work of one group of artists is measured against the work of another group of artists to determine which group is “the best” strikes me as sending the wrong message. It’s a version of sports competition based on opinions rather than objective measurements.
Many of us believe competitions are a necessary evil to inspire student artists to push their work to a higher level. But the arts competition model is flawed and the Zanders explain why: “All the manifestations of the world of measurement – the winning and losing, the gaining of acceptance and the threatened rejection, the raised hopes and the dash into despair – are all based on a single assumption that is hidden from our awareness. The assumption is that life is about staying alive and making it through – surviving in a world of scarcity and peril.” This is where the book begins. The world we live in every day does not position anyone to reach their potential. For most of us, the opposite occurs.
The book, The Art of Possibility, goes into detail describing ways to break free from the competition construct. One quote stood out for me. It’s a quote from Agnes DeMille’s book, Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham. In it, DeMille quotes Graham as saying, “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action. And because there is only one you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
This conversation is touched on from time to time in other interviews I’ve recorded. Pat Hobbs in Episode 32 talks about imperfect perfection. He says that giving yourself freedom to make mistakes can take your performance to a whole new level. Vanessa Adams, in Episode 28 knows that being vulnerable as an artist has risks and can feel dangerous. But that authenticity can help audience members connect both to the work and to each other. Emile Adams, in Episode 31, revealed that she doesn’t attend rehearsals of her own works to avoid what she calls “backseat directing” and trying to control the expression of the work.
During the conversation I mentioned the off-Broadway production of Peter and the Starcatcherzzzz. The actual title is, Peter and the Starcatcher. It’s singular… there’s only one Starcatcher. The show is now closed but it was amazing.
We also mentioned the amazing Hamilton by Lin Manuael-please-be-on-my-podcast-Miranda. None of us thinks Hamilton is garbage. In fact, Emile and I have been a bit obsessed with the show. But even Miranda admits the early days of creating the show had challenges. And just as I have no evidence of crappy versions of Hamilton, I have no proof that Eric Clapton didn’t start out as a guitar god at age twelve. It’s just that teaching middle school students for over a decade, I can guess that he didn’t start out playing Layla or Tears in Heaven the way he does now.
When it comes to creating art for an audience, we all must start somewhere or we don’t start. Today, my husband George, my daughter, Emile, and I explored fear of failure and Impostor Syndrome.
Concise Advice from the Interview is a short version of tips on dealing with fear of failure and Impostor Syndrome. Here are 9 important bits of advice.
9) You can do this - Don’t be afraid to give it a try
8) Learn to motivate your self
7) There’s nothing about “downward spiral” thinking that’s useful.
6) You can write garbage or you can write nothing. Writing garbage means you’re still writing
5) Bragging and Sharing Your Work are not the same thing
4) To get to the place where you can create an amazing thing, you MUST create some garbage along the way
3) You won’t learn if you can’t fail
2) Let go of being technically perfect and your work will connect with an audience
1) When someone compliments your work… Just say, “Thank you”
Check out the blog, SallyPAL.com, for articles and podcast episodes. You can be part of the momentum that’s building. Keep an eye out for social media opportunities to share with the SallyPAL community. I want this podcast to give you tools to defeat your fears and share your unique artistic expressions. “If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.”
The show notes include links to some of the things talked about today. Use the links as a springboard to launch your work. And, as always, thank you for following, sharing, subscribing, reviewing, joining, & thank you for listening. I want you to pursue your dream to have your work on the stage in front of a live audience. It’s scary, but SallyPAL is here with resources, encouragement, and a growing community of people like us.
If you like SallyPAL and want to see the show continue, go to iTunes and leave a review. Also, tell your friends! Word of mouth is the only way to know about SallyPAL. Thanks to Steve, Vicki, Emile, George, Pat, Julie, Beckett, and all of you who’ve been sharing SallyPAL. The art we put on the stage really does make a difference. I want to help you create original shows for a live audience… All the performances you’ve seen on any stage once lived only in someone’s imagination… Now...keep that channel open!