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What is Imposter Syndrome? Can It Ever Be a Good Thing?

Anyone who knows me or my entrepreneurial journey knows that I often struggle with imposter syndrome. This overwhelmingly negative feeling is new(ish) to me as I only noticed these thoughts when I became a creative business owner about six years ago although as you read my story you'll learn it started way before that. It wasn't until I was put into the position of having to call myself an artist and entrepreneur instead of a teacher and librarian that I realized I wasn't comfortable doing so. Why? Imposter syndrome.

Hand Lettered Hello I Have Imposter Syndrome Illustration by Letters from Elliott Iowa Chicago Midwest Calligrapher

Let's start with what the internet says imposter syndrome is. Verywell Mind, a mental health website says this and is cited below. "Imposter syndrome is the internal psychological experience of feeling like a phony in some area of your life, despite any success that you have achieved in that area." Web Md, a trusted online medical resource defines imposter syndrome tendencies this way, "If you tend to doubt your own skills and accomplishments, despite what others think, you may have imposter syndrome. It's not an actual mental health condition. But this term (also known as imposter phenomenon, fraud syndrome, or imposter experience) describes someone who feels they aren't as capable as others think and fears they’ll be exposed as a fraud." Many, other sites also mention the tendency to be an overachiever and perfectionist Oh, and also a super high to those who have admitted to suffering from imposter syndrome is a woman. Yep, that sounds about right and I know I am not alone.

Being a woman business owner in the creative realm can be really tough. Owning your own business in any sense is challenging enough and comes with it's own set of unique problems but trying to navigate those problems while feeling the pressure to be creative and continuously create can be incredibly difficult. In order to compete in today's live event and luxury brand activation market and in an effort continue to grow my business, doing what I love most, there is a need for consistency which isn't always easy. While there is an ebb and flow to the calligraphy and engraving business with busy seasons and slower ones, most of the time, professional calligraphers never really know what our future will hold. I believe that is true for any creative business owner and probably any business owner. Add in the feeling of not being good enough and a fraud in the space you occupy and that job becomes even more difficult.

While I have always been interested in art and specifically calligraphy and hand lettering, most of my professional background is in education. Growing up I took many art classes and of course created just for fun but never took anything very seriously. After high school, I went to Iowa State University and got my bachelor's degree in elementary education. I returned to the school district I went to and graduated from and taught in the classroom for 5 years as a reading specialist and a 4th grade teacher. When an opportunity presented itself, I went back to school to obtain my master's degree from the University of Iowa in Library and Information Science. Ever since, I have been my school district's teacher librarian. I am part time now so that I am able to have flexibility in my schedule to run my calligraphy and engraving business and have the time to plan for and travel to luxury brand activations and live events in Chicago and throughout the midwest.

I distinctly remember the exact day I decided to focus on becoming a teacher rather than becoming an artist. I went to Iowa State for a college visit to check out the campus and try to decide on a major. I had an appointment with the college of design which is one of the premier art schools in the midwest. I was immediately intimidated and as soon as I found out you had to be accepted in to the program after your first year I knew the pressure would be more than I could handle. So I made another appointment, this time with the college of education and the rest, as they say, is history. The point being, imposter syndrome and not thinking I was good enough to go to college for design has led to imposter syndrome as a creative business owner because I don't have a background in design. The cycle (and the struggle) is real.

There are ways to overcome imposter syndrome but since this is something that I struggle with regularly, I don't believe I am the authority to tell anyone how to do so. It would be a bit hypocritical of me to tell someone how to overcome imposter syndrome when I clearly haven't figured out how to do so for myself (yet). I have linked my resources below as well as the images I included from my research so please feel free to dive deeper if you feel so inclined. For the purposes of this blog, I would like to focus on what I feel are some of the positives of having imposter syndrome, specifically as a creative business owner working as a freelance calligrapher and engraver. Mindset is also something I am continuously working on in both my personal and professional life which will be another blog topic for another day. So shifting my mindset to focus on the positive aspects of imposter syndrome is something I believe has helped my business tremendously.

Five Positive Aspects of Imposter Syndrome

  • It improves performance. When I am focused on a calligraphy or engraving project and am dealing with thoughts of imposter syndrome, it inherently makes me work harder and at the same time try to prove myself and that I am worthy of this work. While I am not the type of person to ever slack off on any professional project, the pressure to succeed and do as well as any of my colleagues in this creative industry would do continues to push me and in turn fine tune my craft.

  • It increases attention to detail. I am already a very detail oriented person and creative business owner. I think in order to be a successful calligrapher and engraver attention to detail is a must and luckily that skill comes naturally to me. When I'm having thoughts of imposter syndrome, the focus on my work,and the work of those I'm comparing myself to, increases greatly. While comparing myself to others is not a positive attribute of imposter syndrome, the increased attention to detail generally affects my work in a positive way.

  • It increases self awareness. While it may not always be in the right mindset, some aspects of imposter syndrome allow for an increased sense of self and then the conditions are right for deeper introspective thinking about how I can better myself and my calligraphy business.

  • It helps retain humility. My mom has always taught me to above all else remain humble and kind. While I have been given so many incredible opportunities to showcase my art and grow my ideal clientele by working with luxury brands at their activation events, it is not in my nature to brag or to toot my own horn too much. As a professional calligrapher, you must have a balance of humility as well as the confidence to talk to people about what you do and pitch to brands you'd like to work with. I have found that as I continue in this entrepreneurial journey, a little bit of humility goes a long way and is the perfect partner to a little bit of confidence.

  • It allows for better relationships. Due to feelings of inadequacy that imposter syndrome can bring on, you inherently become more aware of those around you including their feelings, making you a more empathetic and understanding person. I have always been highly empathic and very aware of how other are feeling and also having the deep down desire to want to make everyone happy. Classic people pleaser tendencies. I believe those tendencies, while exhausting, make me who I am and make me a better person and creative business owner.

If you've made it this far, thank you for reading my blog. If you made it this far I can only assume that you are my mom or possibly someone who resonates with the feelings of imposter syndrome. If you're the latter, please know you are not alone. I hopefully made it clear that I do not have the answers of how to completely overcome imposter syndrome, but rather proved that while imposter syndrome can be challenging, there are also some pretty neat positives out there too. My calligraphy business is one of the most important things I feel that I have ever done in my life and nothing worth having comes without it's challenges.

Works Cited

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