How to Battle Imposter SyndromeSep 18, 2023
Written By Chelsea & Cynthia
When it comes to your performance goals, what's holding you back?
Have you ever felt like, "I always wanted to perform, but I wonder if I'm good enough? My family encouraged me to pursue something more practical." Or, "I don't have the skills or training to be competitive. I just want to feel more confident." Or even, "I wonder if it's too late for me."
If any of that resonates with you, you might be dealing with a severe case of imposter syndrome.
Psychologists would define imposter syndrome as the belief that you are undeserving of your achievements and that the high esteem in which you are, in fact, generally held. But we think for musical theater performers, it shows up a little bit differently. Often, it shows up as that really nagging feeling of self-doubt or fear of being exposed as a fraud, even though you are truly talented and accomplished in your craft.
For the two of us, we are no strangers to imposter syndrome. We have felt this ourselves, witnessed it in our colleagues, and identified it in our community members. This is a real thing that we deal with in our industry, especially when we're working with something that feels kind of nebulous and subjective, like, talent or singing ability or performance skills.
One of the reasons imposter syndrome shows up so much in our field particularly is that we are constantly put into new situations with new people and new jobs, new auditions. So you can never get to a point where these people really know you, they know your work. Or even when you do get cast and you step into that rehearsal space for the first time, it's new people again. It's that feeling of like, "Oh no, is this group of people going to discover that I'm a fraud? I've been doing okay so far, but this is the new group that's going to figure it out." This experience of never quite being "settled" in one place is very different than most other jobs.
So how do we combat or at least get on the other side of an experience of feeling imposter syndrome?
1. Lean Into Learning and Practicing
Especially in an audition setting, so often we see performers using what we'd call the "cross your fingers and hope for the best" method. They are walking into a room and just crossing their fingers and hoping today's going to be a good day.
But if there isn't anything supporting that hope, then you have nothing to sort of fall back on. And so what will happen is, if it's a rainy morning, or if someone says something snarky to you right outside the audition room before you go in, or life gives you a curveball and throws you off - if you don't have that bedrock of previous knowledge and the practice as a sense of security, then it can be really easy for unexpected situations to derail your confidence.
Part of it is continuing to cultivate your knowledge in this field so that you start to feel like "I know what I know and I know what I don't know. So now I can continue to work towards learning what I need to learn". All of that is going to make it so much easier to walk into a room and let the chips fall where they may.
You never know what's going to happen in an audition room, but when you can walk in secure that you know what you're doing, that you've made a plan - that you have fully fleshed out your audition music, your character, your moment before, all of those things - it's going to be so much easier to walk into that room, know that you did your best, and let it go.
We also find when you walk into a room with that knowledge that you're ready and that you have this expectation that it's going to go well, it's accompanied by a kind of self-confidence that is appealing to witness in a performer. You never know what's going to happen in an audition, but there is a different vibe between the folks who have that security in their knowledge versus the ones who don't.
Psst...this is why we created Broadway Vocal Coach Academy! This self-guided online course takes you through seven different genres of musical theater, singing, and music. We made the course so that folks can have a tool belt full of skills and practical ways to practice so that they can gain that self-confidence. If you haven't explored the course yet, click here to learn more and access it today!
2. Never Tell Yourself No
So often in this business, we are told no by other people. If you are an auditioning actor, you've been told no. And if you haven't yet, you will be. The more auditions you go to, the more no's you're going to get. It's just a fact: Rejection is part of the process. Honestly, coming to terms and accepting that is part of being a professional or a semi-professional actor.
But the thing that we think is so damaging is when actors tell themselves no, or in other words, they take themselves out of the running before they've even had an opportunity to go to the audition, callback, or send an email to the music director that they met at their friend's concert the night before.
One of the most common ways we see this come up with clients of ours is when folks say that there are two auditions the next week and they want to go to both, but one of them might overlap with something else that they might be doing that summer - so they feel like they can't go. Or they might say they want to go to an audition, but the last time they auditioned for that director, he cast another other girl who kind of looks like them, so they just "know" if she shows up, she's going to get the job.
And all we hear is people talking themselves out of putting themselves out there because it saves them from some heartbreak. If we tell ourselves no, then the other person can't tell us no.
But the thing we'll say to that is this: You're making a choice that is severely limiting your opportunities. Don't do it.
Instead, go for it. Chelsea's great Uncle Stan has this saying that's kind of like family lore - "Don't make a decision before there's a decision to make."
And to liken that to our business - "Don't take yourself out of the running before the opportunities are placed in front of you."
Our suggestion is to go to the auditions, put yourself out there, and do your best. You've done the work, you've prepared and then see what you get back. Let yourself go for the opportunities because you truly never know what's going to happen, there could be amazing opportunities waiting for you if you would only show up for them.
Even if things don't go to plan, then we're going to direct you back to point number one. When you've been in that zone of learning and practicing, you're now going to at least have a sense of maybe why things didn't go to plan. When you start coming from that place of knowledge, learning, and practicing then you start saying yes to things. And if other people start saying no, you might be able to go back and determine what you can do more of and improve upon.
Remember, these points are not a guarantee that you're going to book every job. They're also not a guarantee that the day you do show up after you've practiced and you've walked into the audition you're not going to get that feeling of, "Oh my gosh, should I, should I be here?". That feeling might still linger in some form, but remember that courage is not the absence of fear. It's persevering through it, being courageous, and taking your next step.
The more you can follow this process, the more peace you're going to feel and the less power that imposter syndrome has over you.
If you're interested in diving deeper into this interview or exploring other interesting musical theatre conversations - check out the Broadway Vocal Coach podcast! Or check us out on Instagram, and get involved in the conversation!
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