When You Feel Like a Fraud…

Posted on Posted in Motivation

The most corrosive thought to ever threaten the creative soul is deceptively simple: “I am a fraud.” High-achieving students, artists, and business professionals alike find themselves believing these false words. The sense that you are pretending to be as talented as others is so prevalent that it has a term: impostor syndrome. Experiencing the feeling that everyone around you is better than you is almost like a rite of passage. I’ve been through it, as have many, many talented game designers, writers, artists, and CEOs.

Academics and journalists have kicked ideas back and forth, trying to zero in on the root of impostor syndrome. Scratching their heads, they say “why do talented folks feel like frauds?” I’ve not found anything conclusive yet online, so I’ll posit my own ideas in lieu of the absence of others’.

Creativity is seen as a magical black box from the outside looking in. Few people think about how it feels to be Stephen King making every keystroke for his many novels. Few people think about how it feels to be Pablo Picasso making every single brushstroke in Guernica. When you start creating something on your own, the mysticism fades away into the banal reality of simple steps.

Pablo Picasso's Guernica is a classic painting - one of the most critically loved ones of all time. It was made one brushstroke at a time.
Pablo Picasso’s Guernica is a classic painting – one of the most critically loved ones of all time. It was made one brushstroke at a time.

Making a board game involves hundreds of play tests and a lot of subtle tweaks. Writing is a bunch of outlining and proofreading. Painting is a series of minute hand movements to delicately introduce oil to canvas. Taking a long road trip is a long chain of gentle steering wheel movements, toe taps on the gas and brake pedals, mirror checking, GPS setting, radio fiddling, gasoline purchasing, and coffee drinking. When you break down big goals into tiny steps, it’s easy to say “anybody could do this!”

To some degree, I agree with that statement. Anybody who clearly defines their goals, takes time to reach them, and reiterates their work until they get it right can do almost anything they want. Here’s the truth of it, though: hardly anybody puts in that effort. If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance that you’ve at least started creating a game (or other creative project). Awesome! You’re already doing far better than most people.

Yes, it takes an enormous amount of work to make something worth making. Yes, it’s a long, difficult road that will require a lot of rework. Every once in a while, though, think about what you’ve done right. Give yourself a pat on the back for getting as far as you have. You’ll need self-compassion to compel yourself to finish the rest of the hard work, to travel the rest of the long road. Remember that even the most magical creation in the world was made through a lot of un-sexy work. Even the dullest work you do might create “magic”.

You’re not a fraud.

You can do it.

Keep the magic alive.

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