There's a virus that lives in the minds of creatives.
An ingrained strain of doubt and dispair that makes us think that we're just not quite cut out for the life of an artist.
This is the virus of authenticity.
You see, the difficulty in impostor syndrome is that, even when there is plenty of evidence to the contrary, a person still doesn’t feel like they are fully embodying the person they wished to become. They’ve set an ideal for themselves that is so far beyond what most people are even capable of that they lose sight of where they truly stand and forget that the ideal is simply a direction, not a destination.
When we make the conscious choice to become a certain kind of person, we set for ourselves a personal standard to work towards.
We hang a flawless and glowing north star in our own sky, and once we see it flicker to life, we start our slow journey in its radiant direction.
A misstep that so many of us travelers make is how we tend to forget that we will never actually grasp that star, never hold it in our hands. It sits in the sky as a focal point and reminder of what direction we’ve chosen to traverse, but the star itself will never truly be your home.
I’ve wasted so much time not creating because for years I had the virus in my mind that I was supposed to feel like a creator.
I never did. So, surprise, I didn’t create.
That’s the paradox of it all.
You don’t create anything because you don’t feel like a creator, but to feel like a creator, you have to create something.
As creators of any kind, that virus, that thing in your mind that tells you that you aren’t the thing you want to be because you don’t feel like that thing, is just that — a virus.
The problem with authenticity is that once you’re aware of its presence in your life, it can begin to spoil your thoughts and make you second guess yourself and your actions.
Let’s look at some examples:
Alright then, so what makes a person authentically some thing?
Since most, if not all, behaviors are learned and in some way repeated, how are we to know which of our actions comes from a place of pure individuality over being simply an unconsciously copied behavior?
This is a problem with writing as much as it is with all aspects of personal progress. That virus in many people’s minds, including my own, can make us feel like if we didn’t start creating art or music, or excel in the sciences at a very young age, if we didn’t have a natural inclination towards a certain mode of being at that early stage in life, we can’t be as “authentic” as those people who did.
Obviously, the person who started playing the piano at six years old and had natural talent is more authentic than the person who started at 20 and is struggling to make progress, right? What if the former kid never really liked the piano and was pressured into learning how to play by his family? What if the 20-year-old hadn’t been exposed to famous pianists until high school and realized they really enjoyed messing around on their friend’s electric keyboard and decided to try and learn the classical basics?
What if you work at a gas station but are an amazing bass player? Are you a bassist even though you aren’t “making it big?” What if you’re not in a band and never even record your music? I think we would all agree it’s still fair to say you are.
What about a painter who throws themselves into the solitude of their art for weeks on end, splattering colors onto the canvas for hours and hours, seemingly in a trance? Their bills overdue and their refrigerator vacant of food. It seems like an authentic “starving artist”, yes?
What if their paintings are all literally only child-like smears of color? What if there was no way to determine if they had taken time to paint or had just poured a bucket of solid green paint over a canvas one time and called it a day? Is that person an authentic artist even though they have not an ounce of actual “conventional” artistic skill?
What about the guy who has a natural talent at drawing photo-realistic portraits of people but isn’t passionate about what he’s capable of doing? Who is the more authentic artist? The talented or the passionate? (Obviously, I know the perception of either sort of art is entirely subjective and either kind has its own merit. I’m just trying to bring up the distinction between the two perspectives.)
My point here is that no one should ever feel bad about what “level” they think they are at or whether or not they feel like they deserve the mantle of whatever label they wish to stick to themselves.
I say this and struggle with it all the same. Can I call myself a writer because I posted a few articles online? How many do I need to write before I can don the mantle of Real Writer? Can you only call yourself this or that “thing” because you’re getting paid to do it? I don't pay may bills with writing, but I do by being a line cook because, well…bills. Which label comes first? Writer or cook?
It probably depends on the mood I’m in when you ask, to be honest…
So, what constitutes being able to call yourself the thing you wish to be? How many times do you need to do something before you’re able to say that you are that thing? If you paint a masterpiece or write ONE amazing story, then never paint or write for ten years after, are you still an artist? Are you still a writer? Or does the adverb have to change to “were”?
At what frequency must a person’s art be produced to maintain the labeled umbrella whose shade we wish to sit under?
It’s just something to consider while you, me, and the rest of the bleeding brains out there do our damnedest to straighten the crooked pictures in our minds of how we see ourselves.
Screw the picture. Spin it on its nail or rip it from the wall. Grab a sharpie and give it a mustache, some devil horns, or make it look like the wall in a seedy bar bathroom stall. Just stop seeing that unflattering photo you have of yourself in your mind as a reference for how you, your words, or your art will come across to other people.
Never mind the frequency of creation. Never mind the label you wish to don.
When what you do what feels right, whether that be creating art, helping other people, being a stellar employee, or simply living a quiet and humble life, the world around you will begin to reflect what you feel to be inherent to who you are.
The outside world will become a mirror of your true self.
And at that point, you won’t need to fret about how you appear or who you really are.
Living as yourself will be enough evidence.
Image from Shutterstock.com