How to conquer imposter syndrome as a filmmakerOct 25, 2022
How to develop your documentary - Part 3: Conquering Imposter Syndrome
Every time I begin work on a new project, doubt sets in. Anxiety-inducing questions fill my mind, like: “Do I have the knowledge to pull this off? Is this idea actually worthy of making a film about? Will people be interested enough to go see it?”
These thoughts are unhelpful and downright disruptive. But even after 15 years of making and distributing impact films (quite successfully too, if I can toot my own horn), they creep into my head. I push past them eventually – of course I do, I couldn’t continue to create visual stories if I let these internal struggles get the better of me.
But as I move forward with my next project – it’s still under wraps, but I’m looking forward to sharing updates with you soon – I started thinking: Do other filmmakers feel this way too?
Turns out, yes – absolutely. In fact, these unhelpful thoughts, feelings and questions actually have a name: Imposter Syndrome. And after speaking to some of my colleagues –both experienced and emerging – I discovered that almost everybody has dealt with Imposter Syndrome at some point along their filmmaking journey.
It made me think that you might be as well, which is why I wanted to write about it today. Because if you’re serious about making a film, you need to be armed with the right tools to ensure you actually finish that film, see it on the big screen (or wherever you intend to publish it) and generate the impact you’re hoping for.
In part 3 on my mini series, which is designed to help you develop your documentary and take it form an idea to a ready-for-release motion picture, I’m unpacking Imposter Syndrome. So that it doesn’t take hold and paralyse you during the creation process.
I’ve already covered ideation and planning, but if you missed part 1 and part 2 in this series, you can catch up now by clicking the links below (watch, listen, read – choose your own learning journey).
How to develop your documentary - Part 1: Ideation
How to develop your documentary - Part 2: Planning
Up to date? Fantastic! Stick with me as I examine Imposter Syndrome and give you a few helpful tips to ensure you conquer yours, fast.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
If you think Imposter Syndrome was coined by an up and coming Gen Z-er fishing for praise, you’ll be pleasantly mistaken (I was surprised too). Imposter Syndrome was actually first identified in 1978 and is defined as: The feeling that you’ve only succeeded because of luck, and not because of your skills or experience.
In short, it’s making you feel like a fraud and preventing your ability to get on with the project you’re so eager to make. And you’re not alone.
An article published by the International Journal of Behavioural Science revealed that over 70% of individuals experience Imposter Syndrome at least once in their career lifetime.
Even prolific creators like M Night Shyamalan and Maya Angelou have suffered from Imposter Syndrome. Often it stems from the need to create something that’s perfect. I’ve definitely been guilty of this myself in the past.
But for one – “perfect” is a completely arbitrary term that no one (not even big time Hollywood directors) reach. And secondly, all those feelings of self doubt are stifling your creativity, which makes it really hard to create anything. Let alone something that you may or may not deem “perfect”.
So how do you conquer your imposter syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome often stems from thinking you’re simply not good enough.
Which is why I love the idea of creating a ‘hype file’. Marie Forleo came up with this concept and it’s essentially a folder where you house all of the accolades, testimonials, awards etc you’ve received over the years (they don’t necessarily have to relate to filmmaking either) that will remind you that you are worthy. Because you didn’t achieve all that success by sheer luck – it was damn hard work.
It’s also important to tell yourself that you and your projects are unique. Which is a good thing! You’ll bring your own distractive signature to the films you produce. Because if you’re drawn to the story and you’re willing to invest your energy, efforts and passion into creating it, it’s going to be amazing.
Try to seek out a cheer squad too. And by that I mean turning to your trusted friends, colleagues or family members whose opinions you value. Share your doubts or fears about your abilities and see how they respond – it will mostly likely be with high praise and support. Which will help to rev you up and get your creative juices flowing.
You should also reflect on why you want to create your film in the first place. What triggered the idea in your mind? Was it to entertain people? To change behaviours? Influence policy makers? Remind yourself the impact you’re trying to achieve – and what’s at stake if you don’t follow through. Shift the focus away from you as an individual and put the spotlight on the positive changes your film is striving to make.
Another key piece of advice is to avoid comparing yourself with your peers. Comparison is the thief of joy after all. And you probably don’t have a genuine understanding of what other filmmakers are dealing with, what barriers they’re facing, how much funding they’ve received or the intricacies of their project. Remember, the grass is always greener. What someone is doing may look awesome. But it’s probably not what you’re truly passionate about.
Learn to enjoy the ride
If you’ve ever had that “I’m in over my head and any minute now they’re going to find out” feeling, I hope this article has helped.
It’s often reassuring to know that other filmmakers go through those emotions too – but that doesn’t mean you have to sit with all that noise running through your head.
Try out some of the techniques I shared above and let me know what worked. Or if you have some advice of your own, pass them on to [email protected]
And now that you’ve kicked that Imposter Syndrome to the curb, you can get excited for part 4 of this development series. I’ll be sharing tips to help you stay motivated when the going gets tough.
You won’t want to miss it so be sure to tune in next week.
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