How I Got Over My Imposter Syndrome

Photo by Emily Grace Photography

Photo by Emily Grace Photography

By Ekaterina Popova

When I first started putting myself out there with both my own artwork and in the early stages of Create! Magazine, I had to overcome a ton of fears and limiting beliefs about my place in the art world. Eventually, I realized that it simply takes time to get used to selling my paintings and launching a creative business. It’s uncomfortable at first, often feels unnatural, and you may even feel like a fraud in the process. But after your first few sales or other successes, you will start getting into the swing of things.

Though imposter syndrome may never entirely go away, we learn to build confidence by doing our work and sharing it with the world. The truth is, if you live with the mentality that humans are created as equals, then you will believe that we each have the absolute right to pursue our passion, put ourselves out there, and make a life and career we love. A lot of what holds us back is not a lack of time, money, or materials, but our feelings of unworthiness. Some of my biggest obstacles in the early stages of my career were being scared of silly, made-up problems, such as “what if this is the last good painting I make or sell?”, “what if all this money goes away?” (spoiler alert: with that mentality, it definitely will) and “what if something bad happens as a result of my success?” I even worried about not ‘looking like’ an artist (what does that even mean?).

Of course, I still have my share of anxieties and insecurities when taking risks and putting myself out there, but by continuing to pursue my dreams despite my fears, I’m learning that it’s usually much less scary than I initially imagine. There is more than enough room for all of us creatives to find success and our place in this industry. The only way to fight fear of doubt or disapproval is by staring it straight in the eye and doing it anyway. Share your artwork, submit that application, or write a grant proposal that terrifies you (or at least makes you a little uncomfortable). In so many instances, we’re the only ones who think that an opportunity, show, job, or gallery is ‘out of our league’ when it’s actually not. Show up exactly as you are right now, not when a fancy critic approves of you, when you get signed by a gallery, or when someone buys your work. Show up exactly as you are at this moment in time and be proud of what you do and who you are.

When I first started selling my art, it was priced ridiculously low. It was almost embarrassing how cheap I made my paintings, but I kept going and pushing myself. After each sale, I would slowly increase my prices, feel more like a professional, and upgrade my artist profile. Nobody can do this for you. Take your time and grow at a pace that feels natural, but I urge you to never wait for anyone’s permission or approval. You are the only person responsible for elevating yourself and lifting yourself higher in your life and career. I had to learn this the hard way.

Several years ago on a trip to Miami during Art Basel Week, I had one of my favorite experiences that illustrates the lies of imposter syndrome. I was completely broke. At this point in time, I had already left my day job but was in the process of rebranding the magazine after a business partnership breakup. With about $80 to my name, and a hefty credit card bill to top things off, I packed my bags and headed to the airport.

I was fortunate enough to be nominated by my mentor Bridgette Mayer for an exhibition at Art Miami Fairs. I was honored to be included, but literally had to scrape together every last penny I had in order to travel. The exhibition was sponsored by Diamonds Unleashed and I was invited to come to their cocktail party before the fair. Insecurities about my outfit, a few extra pounds induced by stress, and my lack of money, felt like rocks in the pit of my stomach. But I mustered up the courage to go and used my last few dollars to Uber to the event. Even though I did not feel ready or good enough, I knew that for me to climb out of the current pit that I was in, I had to start showing up for myself and become the person that I wanted to be.

When I arrived at the party, it was even more extravagant than I imagined. I surveyed the scene of this large, oceanview apartment complete with white leather couches, an impressive collection of contemporary art, and trays of champagne floating around the room. I was sure I didn’t belong. Much to my relief, however, the attendees were some of the friendliest people I had ever met. I began chatting with designers, art dealers, artists, and art collectors who were all brought together through this organization for their love of art. Nobody cared that I didn’t wear a designer dress or that I was an emerging artist trying to make things work. They just wanted to see my paintings and hear my story. I will never regret stepping out of my comfort zone to attend this event.

Of course, not every situation in life will go this smoothly, but it’s important to remember that even intimidating individuals, who appear to have everything you don’t, had to start somewhere too and would never have arrived at where they are now if they didn’t face their demons head-on. It’s often our own insecurities that prevent us from putting ourselves into situations that can help us the most. I got so much confidence from the simple fact that I could have a conversation with a famous art dealer that evening.

If you are worried about all the things you are not, or all the skills you don’t yet have, I urge you to take a moment and see yourself for everything you are. Ask yourself, what have you accomplished so far? What are you most proud of? Where do you want to go next? Don’t leave any room for doubts and negativity, especially when it comes to your art. Imagine the person who needs to experience what you create in yourself and don’t deprive them of that joy. Say yes to showing up and sharing your gift and watch the magic unfold in your life.

P.S. If you enjoyed this article, you may like our podcast, Art & Cocktails. You can listen to it for free on iTunes, Spotify and more.