There’s a game my son introduced me too a few weeks back. I’ve seen memes on it before while never making the connection. It wasn’t until I asked what he was playing that it came to light. “Among Us” is a fun online multiplayer game where a group of people (up to 10) all join to fix a ship… or to be an impostor (or 1 of up to 3 of them). The goal if you are a part of the crew is to find the impostor(s) and eject them through reality TV-like voting rounds called by the players, and if you are an impostor, the goal is to kill as much of the crew as possible while appearing to be just one of them.
Going around a ship killing players while trying not to get caught or seen is hilariously stressful. Or if one is seen in the act, trying to convince the other players that it was really someone else that saw you vent (a fun way for the impostor(s) to travel around the ship — using the ships ventilation system) or that you were really on the other side of the ship and in no way could it have been you that murdered the other player.
If only being an impostor in real life was that much fun.
Impostor syndrome is a condition that infects much of the creative world. Writers, artists, musicians, and more all feel the symptoms of this ailment like it was a virus ravaging the world— yeah, kind of like COVID. The only difference is that it doesn’t kill or make one physically sick and isn’t anything more than a mindset. Basically, the creative person goes through life afraid that at any moment the world will realize that they are an impostor and don’t deserve the accolades or attention for their work. Creatives believe, not unlike the game, that an emergency meeting will be called at any time and they’ll be found out, then subsequently voted off the ship.
Until recently, I believed that the only way through this ailment was by muscling one’s way through the creative process and ignore the external results, such as praise. The goal is to embed one’s self into the process as much as possible without worrying about outcome. However, a new definition came to light to me recently that makes so much sense:
Impostor syndrome is the creative condition where the writer/artist/musician’s creative output doesn’t match up with their standards.
In other words, we don’t believe that our own work is ever good enough. We believe we can do better.
It’s a funny paradox because on one hand, we want to be satisfied with what we produce while we need to be always looking to improve and do better— meaning that what we just produced will immediately become obsolete or substandard as our standards raise.
If one were to look at it simply as a mismatch between the work and our standards, it becomes more logical a position. Of course we are an impostor! We’re chasing a moving target of ever increasing skills and taste. That’s not a bad thing… except that it fosters that feeling of never being good enough… which is the problem.
Getting comfortable, or rather “accepting” the status is likely the only way to get beyond it. Pursuing the work for the sake of the work might enable one to still function, but the emotional baggage will remain, and that is what the understanding helps with. We are the impostors, but that is OK. We know why. Might as well go kill some crewmates… err… create some stuff anyway.