This is my response to a younger L.A. writer friend who asked for some guidance re: “imposter syndrome,” gaining useable insight in his craft and the uncertainty of the long journey of a freelance creative entrepreneur:
It’s essential to get honest and constructive feedback on your work in order to grow. While classes can be helpful, it’s important to recognize that the classroom environment may not accurately reflect the real world. Teachers are often financially motivated to keep you in their class rather than guiding you towards a job. The true purpose of a good class should be to equip you with the skills needed to move beyond taking classes.
It’s not just about getting good. It’s knowing that you’re good. And it’s about who knows that you’re good. You must own and radiate a belief in yourself. If you don’t see it and believe it, no one else will, not matter the quality of your work.
The earlier years of a being a creative entrepreneur feel like stumbling around in the town square while being pelted with eggs and rotten fruit. The trick is not to take the insults and disregard personally. Don’t internalize insults or negative experiences. You are under no obligation to carry around any negatives flung at you.
When learning, mixed results aren’t an indicator of failure or inadequacy. True learning requires vulnerability and a willingness to stumble as you progress and strengthen your skills and add to your resumé.
Feeling off-kilter or undervalued is common for early-career freelance creatives. Many successful individuals have endured this for years. Some find this part of the journey unbearable, while others learn to enjoy the process, including the challenges, detours, and delayed rewards. The rest is left behind. After all, a great joke or story doesn’t start with the punchline.
Your primary focus should be on creating art that captivates. The goal of every audition is to make something that is irresistible- to others, but also to yourself. You arrive at this capacity by continuously improving your technique, by cultivating a fulfilling life, and by prioritizing your health. These are the areas within your control that deserve your ongoing attention and self-assessment.
Explore the world but keep exploring yourself. Keep excavating and refining your inner resources- the good, the bad and the ugly. Self-discovery should be an ongoing project for any artist.
The more you have to bring to your art and the longer your track record of steady application of your striving, the more you’ll attract other like-minded creatives going your way. This also draws those who hire to you.
It can be a lengthy, even maddening process even as you are in fact advancing.
Merely being present in a creative hub like Los Angeles and actively pursuing your dreams is already a significant achievement for those outside this ecosystem. If imposter syndrome creeps in, remember that being hired, paid, or praised is a valid and genuine validation of your talent. Embrace every step forward.
Callbacks, paychecks, and awards are temporary indicators of success. While they hold importance and practical value, they are fleeting. The constant element lies in the flow—a process of growth, exploration, and expanding capabilities.
Your work is the boat, your aspirational industry is the river. Don’t gauge your journey’s progress from how you feel inside the wobbly boat. Look instead to the slowly but steadily scrolling distant shore. And why not enjoy the ride?
In the vast creative market, you are the ultimate arbiter of your value and worth. The more you improve and the longer you devote to your journey, the more clearly you will come to recognizing your own competency. This self-assurance should serve as your guiding North Star.
When you truly embrace your value as an artist and as an individual, you possess ultimate power. It takes time to earn this realization. Well-placed confidence has a way of leading to employment, but that is secondary to the pride you feel towards your creative capacities.