Imposter Syndrome & Comedy

Imposter Syndrome – a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success.

Almost every creative person I know suffers from Imposter Syndrome. I do on a fairly regular basis. I’ve learned to deal with it or at least ignore it enough to where I’m able to keep creating, but for others it can be crippling.

Maybe they stop a project too early or even worse, never start it to begin with. People who want to try stand-up never do. Those who want to write never put a word on a page. Those that just want to make stuff up, worry that their made up stuff will never be as good as someone else’s made up stuff so they never make stuff up.

Imposter syndrome really has nothing to do with talent or more specifically, a lack of talent. It’s a brain disorder. It’s a malfunction in our wiring. It’s probably the same things that brought us into comedy and art to begin with. It’s insecurity in its most unproductive form.

I’ve been writing comedy for almost five years now. No, that doesn’t make me an expert, but you would think it would allow me to write more confidently more of the time. Yet, even today whenever I write a sketch there comes a point where I think “Is this any good?” I doubt myself, my sense of humor and any success I’ve ever had. I look around at SketchPAD meetings and think “Are people just being nice to me?” I worry if the next thing I create will expose me as a fraud. I worry that people will stop coming to shows, laughing at my dumb jokes and ultimately, stop being my friend.

Imposter Syndrome is powerful psychological stuff.

It’s the reason that, if you’ve ever complimented me, I probably made a self-deprecating joke or just looked the other way and thanked you.

Those that are amazingly funny CLEARLY have something that I don’t. THEIR comedy is art and is meant to exist in this world. THEY make everyone a better person by their mere presence. That can’t possibly be ME.

But, truthfully, in my heart of hearts, I know this to be bullshit. I know this is Imposter Syndrome at work.

I’ve read stories of how Bill Hader, one of the best (and my favorite) SNLers of all time suffers from it. You hear actors tell you they’re not as good as the people they were nominated with as they’re accepting their Oscar. You see it on the face of performers all the time after a show. Imposter Syndrome is that overlapped area where being humble and being full-of-shit meet.

I’m getting better at recognizing when I do this to myself, but I still suffer from it. I judge myself much more harshly than I’d ever judge anyone else. Thoughts of “I’m not that talented” or “I got lucky this time” exist because I’m preparing myself for that fall where all my fears become reality.

Whether it’s right for the world or not, I’ve become a leader in an incredible community. The things that come out of my mouth are often taken to heart. I get texts, DMs or emails from people (some who know me and some who don’t) where my words are repeated back to me or they used an article I wrote for inspiration to take action on a creative endeavor. The words I say on this page seem to mean something to some people.

I have really talented and funny friends. If they decided to let Imposter Syndrome take hold of them and stop creating, it would break my heart. Doesn’t it make sense then, that if I were to do the same or continue down this self-created path of beat-myself-ups-Ville then their hearts may break for me too?

Everyone who feels a need to create also has a purpose to create. It’s not selfish to make something exist in this world because you think it should. I would bet that there are other people around you who also think it should exist and whose lives would be touched greatly if you created it. If you don’t create, that is when you are being selfish. That is when you are being a terrible friend and terrible human being.

Keep creating. Keep writing.

Stop feeling like an imposter.

-Jason, STL SketchPAD

PS – Is there a time where you worried that you weren’t good enough to create something? Is there something out there you want to do, but these feelings keep you from even attempting it? Let us know in the comments here.

This article was inspired by this NY Times article on Dealing w/ Imposter Syndrome