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Battling Imposter Syndrome: On vulnerability & courage as an artist

Something all creatives (and non-creatives alike) suffer - the deadly imposter syndrome.

The worst part of this is the fact that it is very much self-inflicted.

I have talked about it briefly in some of my social media posts, particularly when sharing my experience at the group exhibition in Japan at National Art Centre Tokyo last December.

At that time, I was avoidant of my emotions and even my artworks. Being overwhelmed at the self-perceived superior artistry of the other participating artists and fighting the feeling that I, perhaps, wasn't worthy to be even exhibiting at such a prestigious location.

After having processed those emotions, I knew it boiled down to the deep rooted self-belief of not being worthy enough.

When I was presented with the opportunity to exhibit at the recent Mother's Day exhibition at Design Orchard with fellow Mama on Palette mother artists, I anticipated facing the same difficulties. And I was right.

With the wisdom of the last exhibition, I made myself go forth, take photos with my artwork, talked to other mama artists (who were oh-so embracing and supportive) and it wasn't that bad after all!

Interestingly, this time round, my struggle was dealing with compliments of my artwork, "Emotional Landscape".

Several mother artists expressed how they loved the piece and even offered genuine curiosity on how I created this piece. The self-doubt in me started this internal struggle and questioning of whether they really liked the piece. Or were they just being polite?

It was when YF messaged me that she visited the exhibition and saw my piece and how she enjoyed it that I really revealed my self-doubt of whether people really enjoyed this artwork.

And all she needed to burst this internal poison was by asking "Where is this doubt coming from?"

And this gave me the chance to verbalise the vulnerable feelings I have as an artist (which is actually a very important but neglected process):

As artists or any other creatives, creating from the heart means exposing our vulnerability to the public. While I enjoy embracing and sharing my vulnerability, it does take a leap of faith and a huge dose of courage to do that.

Just the act of verbally sharing my struggles actually weakens my internal doubt system at that point in time. It really makes sense when you turn your fears into words, they seem to hold less power over you. Perhaps turning them into art would be even more powerful (inspiration for my next artwork!)

On vulnerability and courage - if you haven't already, I highly recommend you watch the Netflix documentary by Brene Brown "The Call to Courage".

I felt so loved to have someone making time, their precious time, to actually call me on the phone to check in on me. Although it was a simple act of kindness, I realised the tremendous positive impact it had on me.

Thank you, YF, for reaching out!


A few epiphanies after the call:

It was so clear - imposter syndrome is self-inflicted. The moment I shared my inferiority complex and it was counter-questioned by a very simple "but why," I realised I had no substantial evidence to back it up. How baseless are my own claims!

My main struggle was not having a professionally trained fine arts background (and feeling small around artists with better credentials) and not being able to grapple with the fact that one can still be confident and thrive as a self-taught artist too. I built a narrative that my background is of lesser value not because that is a fact but because of low self-esteem. So naturally, whatever I do, no matter how great they would be perceived by others, will always be greatly discounted by myself. In other words, self-sabotage.

And because I perceive my style to be inferior to others, I could never fully internalise compliments, no matter how genuine they may be. And it doesn't help that I perceive what I do as non-mainstream which create this sense of loneliness that, once again, exacerbates the self-doubt. Verbalising these made me realise how exhausting my thoughts are.

Yet, there is this complexity in me that truly enjoy this solo journey that is so thrilling and exciting. Exactly because it is a different experience from others that made it my unique journey to experience and there's never a dull moment as an artist cum creative entrepreneur. I always feel blessed being able to turn passion into work and having the sense of anticipation of the next project instead of dragging my feet to a job that's just a source of income.

On reflection, this loneliness is also parallel to my own motherhood journey - I had my first child when I was 26, far away and alone in another continent. Most of my friends were just kickstarting and building their career as fresh graduates while I was changing soiled nappies and singing nursery rhymes. So, the loneliness and feelings of self-worthlessness were detrimental to my mental wellbeing during the first decade of motherhood.

I felt I had to do it all by myself. I didn't know I needed help; what kind of help I needed; where to get help; if help was available, and I didn't give myself permission to seek help. That would be weakness on my part, or so I naively thought then.

There is an air of familiarity now as I embark on this new journey of finding my own artistic style, and I sense the solitude once again.

If this artistic journey is a parallel to my motherhood journey, then I should be wiser now.

I should trust that there is light at the end of the tunnel, just like now, when my motherhood journey eases as my children are older and I can regain my time and energy to focus on my passion and dreams.

I write this post to remind myself when I have another bout of imposter syndrome, that I have to break down my own myth and self-doubt system:

Caihui, you create your own imposter syndrome.

You create the environment that nurtures and cultivates your biggest enemy - yourself.

You set up the box that limits your abilities and confidence.

If you can construct these false beliefs, you have the power to deconstruct them.

Imposter syndrome is a common challenge for artists and creatives alike. We inflict it upon ourselves through our own insecurities and doubts. But by acknowledging and sharing our struggles, we can start to break down the false beliefs that hold us back. It takes courage and vulnerability to create from the heart, but it is in those moments that our true artistry shines through. And remember, credentials and backgrounds don't define our worth as artists. Whether self-taught or professionally trained, we all have a unique perspective to offer.

Let's dismantle our self-sabotaging narratives and embrace the compliments and support we receive. When imposter syndrome rears its head, let's remind ourselves that we have the power to deconstruct it. Together, we can overcome our doubts and forge a path of authenticity and confidence in our artistic journey.

So, dear readers, if you ever find yourself crippled and drowning in your own fears, take the time to verbalise them - either through a phone call with a friend (who can offer an empathetic listening ear like YF did for me) or by journaling them out.

Just so you know, I am a mere DM away if you need someone to rant. You never know what words will come out from you and how cathartic that release can be for your mind and body.

I hope my reflections and experiences resonate with you. Remember, you are not alone in this struggle, and there is light at the end of the tunnel. Keep creating, keep sharing, and keep believing in yourself.


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