Alright, not a long post, but this is something I’ve been wondering about, and I want to know if other people have different thoughts or takes on this.
Imposter Syndrome is the conviction (or, perhaps merely a nagging feeling) that one’s success isn’t something they’ve fairly earned. For example, if an artist with Imposter Syndrome wins an award, she might feel that the other nominees truly deserve it more than she does; her guilt at “unfairly” winning the award gets in the way of enjoying her success.
And it’s not just awards: Imposter Syndrome can interfere with someone’s joy and professional progress whether they get financial success, inclusion in a selective club / guild / professional association, popularity, good reviews, or even a job they applied for. It seems to be an anxiety that there is something in a hiring process, awards process, or other systems that’s unfairly weighted in one’s favor. Or, Imposter Syndrome might also come out as the feeling that one’s hard work doesn’t count, and they must’ve somehow tricked one’s friends into liking them (or partners into dating them.)
So, Imposter Syndrome seems to stem from a combination of low self-esteem and a heightened awareness of how subjective things like wealth, popularity, and critical success can be. Many people who struggle with Imposter Syndrome seem to be people who were discriminated against unfairly in the past, or who love and care for people in disenfranchised communities. Awareness of the imbalanced and arbitrary nature of success seems to make a lot of people see their own success with an asterisk. It becomes a serious problem when the weight of that understanding, combined with their already low self-esteem, create a barrier to creating new things and putting them out in the world.
This is something people discuss a lot, especially in creative communities.
What I’m wondering is, is there a term for the other side of that?
Insofar as anyone can have an accurate, “objective” sense of their own skill and talent, how do we talk about situations where someone more-or-less accurately believes themselves to be talented? They know they’re skilled; they know their portfolio is good. They believe, rightly, that what they’ve created is beautiful, innovative, evocative, thoughtful, or genuinely useful (depending on their aim). They also have average or decently high self-esteem.
But they’re not successful.
For whatever reason, they’re not reaching an audience. Or they’re not landing investors, producers, or jobs. Maybe their work is out there, they’re connecting to a degree, but they’re not selling enough to make a living. Maybe stress from their day job, or an illness that prevents them from getting a solid day job, or a lack of specific resources to execute their vision, is preventing them from creating their visionary work. And they’re so sure that if they just got a chance, or if they just caught a break, they could do great things!
It’s just, so far, they aren’t catching any breaks.
And they see mediocre, cliche artists get chance after chance. They see boring ideas get a ton of traction.
And they feel…what?
What’s the word for that?
It seems like it’s a more complex thing than simple envy. There’s something to being aware that you’re not getting breaks because you’re trapped in an unfair system– something classist, ableist, racist, sexist, or what have you. Or, heck, maybe the unfairness isn’t an “-ist,” maybe it’s a lack of emotional, interpersonal support from one’s family or loved ones that others seem to be granted.
As the person goes on in life, it becomes harder and harder to find the time and stamina to keep making their work, or pursuing their thoughts and creative spirit in a tangible, actionable way, because it’s not putting food on the table or paying for medicine or putting gas in the car.
Sometimes it’s infuriating. Sometimes it’s deeply depressing.
Sometimes it’s crazy-making. Like, someone trapped in this might think, “am I actually a terrible writer / engineer /artist and just nobody is telling me? Is everyone who sees my work bullshitting me, and I genuinely don’t have what it takes? Is my self-esteem the product of the Dunning-Kruger effect rather than earned pride in creating good work?”
How would someone even know?
The people I know in this situation, in my estimation, aren’t deluded or trapped by Dunning-Kruger. They believe their work is good because…well, it’s genuinely good? See, this is where I get stuck. What do I even say to someone? How to I prove I’m not bs-ing them if I genuinely believe they’re creating beautiful, potentially important things?
And if I can prove that, how do I answer for their sheer exhaustion, with so little success to show for it?
I don’t know.
If anyone out there has an idea (or even a term for the position), let me know.