Overcoming imposter phenomenon in the singing studio.
I remember this sunny day two and a half years ago, when my photographer snapped the above shot of me sitting on the balcony of my new singing studio. I had recently packed up my teaching business of 8 years and moved the entire studio across the road into my brand-new, dream premises. Alongside the launch of my new umbrella brand (my now company), Vocal Hub Enterprises (check us out here www.vocalhubenterprises.com), I had recently enrolled in my speech pathology studies and had won a fringe award for a show I had workshopped and developed over four years. I had a full timetable of amazing coaching clients. It was a time where I should have been celebrating my recent career achievements and the hard work I had undertaken. I should have been feeling confident and fulfilled. And to everyone on the outside, I was. So why, in the very moment when this picture was taken, did I feel nothing but self-doubt and inadequacy? I look at this picture now and realise how much my mindset has changed since this shoot.
Despite the number of professional photos I have collated over the past few years, I never allowed myself to enjoy photo shoots. There was something about standing in front of a camera that forced me to face my insecurities head on. I remember an array of negative thoughts running through my head as I was posing for pictures that day. Things like, ‘How lucky am I to be up here on this balcony?’ ‘I can’t believe I lucked out with this premises.’ Rather than feelings of gratitude, these were feelings of disbelief. There was something within me that didn't believe I was worthy of such a building. Some other thoughts were ‘Am I even experienced enough to head up an overarching brand?’ ‘Do I know enough to mentor my new team members?’ ‘Am I ready to be promoting myself as a mentor?’ These thoughts were circling, even with 18 years of vocal coaching experience behind me and 8 years of experience with running my own singing studio. I feared that my self-doubt and lack of confidence was going to somehow be captured in my photos, exposing the fraudster I believed I was. I think back to this now and am stunned as to how I let my self-destructive thought patterns control my sense of self-worth for such a huge portion of my working life. This way of thinking had become a part of my subconscious mind, influencing my decisions and behaviour daily, without me even realising it. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had been my own victim of the imposter phenomenon for years.
What is the imposter phenomenon?
Put simply, the imposter phenomenon (also known as imposter syndrome) is the fear of being exposed as a fraudster. Imposter syndrome shows up as feelings of self-doubt coupled with the belief that an individual’s career achievements are derived from luck or circumstance rather than the result of acquired skills, knowledge, talent, or ability (Gupta & Najeeb 2022). The inability to take credit for successes is also a sign you may be riding the imposter train.
What causes it?
The imposter phenomenon is linked to perfectionism and anxiety. Research has shown that 70% of the working population have experienced the imposter phenomenon at some time during their career (Gupta & Najeeb 2022). The imposter phenomenon is becoming a common occurrence and one I have personally noticed among singing teachers of today. And no wonder - with our exposure to social media a prominent component of our daily lives, constant comparison is inevitable, resulting in feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy across many careers in the performing arts industry. We are frequently bombarded with messages to learn more, do more, be more. We are made to feel like we aren’t enough, and any past achievements and acquired knowledge is overlooked or no longer relevant. We live in a fast-paced society, struggling to keep up with the information overload. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for the growth mindset and staying up to date with the latest voice science and teaching techniques – in fact, growth is one of my needs – however, when does the intention to grow your career become counter-productive, obsessive, and just plain exhausting? Imposter phenomenon can lead to psychological distress, anxiety, depression, and burnout and can have a negative effect in the workplace (Cleveland Clinic).
So as singing teachers, how can we break the habit of self-doubt?
10 steps to overcoming Imposter Syndrome (adapted from Adam M Persky)
Here are some simple steps to help you get off the imposter train.
Step 1: Acknowledgment. Recognise your thought patterns during certain situations and make a conscious effort to acknowledge your negative thoughts. Is there something specific that triggers these thought patterns? Find the trigger, let it go.
Step 2: Separating feelings from fact. Emotions vs reality. Just because you feel unworthy, uneducated, or inexperienced, doesn’t mean it’s true.
Step 3: Recognising when feelings of doubt are warranted. Self-doubt is a normal, healthy response when it aligns with fact. This enables us to grow when there may be a gap in our teaching. For example, you may be required to teach a student a style of singing you are not familiar with. Participation at a relevant workshop may help fill your gap of knowledge so you can help your student get results. This is very different to compulsively signing up to an online course because you subconsciously let marketing feed into your feelings of inadequacy as a teacher.
Step 4: Focus on quality not quantity. Let go of needing all the certifications and qualifications to feel worthy. Stop feeling that you need to be an expert on all aspects of voice teaching. Focus on the areas you love, are passionate about, and are good at, and ensure you are providing quality services in these areas. Find your niche.
Step 5: Get comfortable with making mistakes. Learn to let go and not dwell on your imperfections. I’m sure most singing teachers would give this advice to their clients in lessons! Take your own advice on board.
Step 6: Get comfortable with not knowing it all. It’s ok to not have all the answers. It may be empowering in the long run and help you with Step 2. Allowing yourself to admit this to a student or mentor enables opportunity to grow and learn. I often find myself saying to my students “I’ll get back to you on that”, knowing it’s then time to do some research and find some answers.
Step 7: Develop a new self-talk pattern. This can take time and feel like constant work at first, but like any new pattern, if you do it enough it then becomes habit. Find some positive affirmations to replace old negative self-talk.
Step 8: Visualise success. Focus on what you believe a successful teacher looks like. What qualities must a vocal coach encompass to achieve results with clients? Visualise your idea of a knowledgeable singing teacher. You may be surprised to find you are not that far off from where you want to be.
Step 9: Reward yourself. Practice congratulating yourself on your successes. When someone compliments your teaching, say thank you. If someone loves your voice, let them enjoy it. Get used to praise and don’t downplay your skill set. Less self-deprecation, more self-love.
Step 10: Take risks. Be courageous and put yourself out there. Your energy and vibration will attract the right students for you at this time on your singing teaching journey. Being courageous may also lead to unexpected employment opportunities.
Before you head off......
It is important to remember that feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy are common, and you are not alone. Most teachers and coaches have felt this way at some point in their career. Working through imposter phenomenon can be challenging and it is important to engage with a supportive and knowledgeable community of like-minded singing teachers. In Australia, we have ANATS (https://www.anats.org.au) and I highly encourage singing teachers to join this fantastic organisation. Don’t be afraid to share your teaching experiences and concerns with your colleagues. You may also want to work with a qualified and experienced mentor to help you identify and nurture your areas of growth at a healthy pace. Don’t forget to enjoy your teaching journey. Be patient and present with your students. They will feed off your newfound confidence and thrive within your studio. Remember, our students are the focus, not us. Operate from a student-centred approach and let go of your ego. Allow your singers to experience the real you. The ones who are meant to work with you, will.
If you are interested to see if imposter phenomenon interferes with your life, take this self-evaluation here - https://paulineroseclance.com/pdf/IPscoringtest.pdf
Need a mentor?
I’m happy to help. Contact me for a chat. Ph: 0421 283 973
Like my photos?
Check out my fabulous photographer here – www.alicehealy.com
Cleveland Clinic 2022, Imposter Syndrome: What it is and how to deal with it, viewed 22 September 2022, < https://health.clevelandclinic.org/a-psychologist-explains-how-to-deal-with-imposter-syndrome/>
Gupta, D, Najeeb, M, 2022, Imposter syndrome and worklife, Pragyan, A Biannual Publication, vol 1, issue 2, viewed 22 September 2022, <https://ksfh.kiit.ac.in/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/Pragyan-Issue-II.pdf#page=54>
Persky, A 2018, Intellectual self-doubt and how to get out of it, National Library of Medicine, viewed 22September 2022, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5869760/>