“YOU CAN’T CALL YOURSELF THAT.” <— your inner voice, bringin’ ya down per uzsh.
I remember the day I gave myself permission to call myself an “artist.” I was 25 in a cramped hostel in Antigua, Guatemala sharing a sweaty caguama of Gallo beer with 7 fellow artists who didn’t feel like “artists.”
A muralist. A painter. A poet. A cellist. A filmmaker. A playwright. A dancer. And me.
And the one thing we all had in common? None of us thought we had the “right” to call ourselves artists.
Marge Piercy has a poem about this:
“Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.
Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.
Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don’t have a baby,
call you a bum.
The reason people want M.F.A.’s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else’s mannerisms
is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you’re certified a dentist.
The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.”
I see this problem with entrepreneurs, too — specifically women.
We hide behind the word “freelancer,” even though we run AGENCIES.
We’re afraid to call ourselves “experts,” even if we have DECADES of experience.
We’re waiting for the WORLD to validate what we are instead of standing confidently in our own greatness.
My friend confessed this to me on Tuesday:
I feel so uncomfortable calling myself an agency owner. I’ve been calling myself a freelancer for years but I have a team of people that help me deliver each client’s project…so I kinda do run an agency, right???”
Your inner voice likes it safe, comfortable, and familiar.
It’ll convince you that you’re “just a _____” to keep you safe (and small).
Or to protect you from your deepest fear: that someone will look at you standing confidently in your expertise and say, “WHO ARE YOU TO CALL YOURSELF THAT???????”
Like me and the the muralist, the painter, the poet, the cellist, the filmmaker, the playwright, and the dancer all worried that if we called ourselves “artists” someone from The Art Police was going to jump out of the bushes and say, “AHA! I CAUGHT YOU OVERESTIMATING YOURSELF!”
Here’s the secret, though:
Other people will treat you as you treat yourself.
If you stand confidently in your expertise, the people around you will treat you like the expert you are.
And if you shrink and resign yourself to being “just a freelancer”? People will see you as just a freelancer. They will expect less from you. They will send you “freelance” level referrals. They will expect you to charge “freelance” level prices.
Now I’m not suggesting you inflate your job title with no work to back it up.
As Piercy says in her poem, “The real writer is one who really writes.”
So overcoming impostor syndrome is not as simple as calling yourself something fancy and hoping the world believes it. It’s about doing the work AND owning the work you do.
Give yourself permission TODAY…RIGHT NOW…to call yourself what you really are and then GO DO THAT THING.
p.s. Yes, there’s an Awkward Marketing for this. Of course. Watch it here.