Guest article by Bryce Harrisberger
What is Imposter Syndrome? It’s fraud syndrome. It’s the recurring thought that your skills and talents aren’t good enough, and it leads to an internalized fear that you’ll be exposed as a fraud. Every single person on this planet deals with it on some level, to some degree, but has either never put a name to it or called it anxiety. As musicians, we have the unique experience of facing it at every performance, every studio or writing session, and at every step in our careers because our audiences have been labeled as the ultimate judge of talent. Who labeled them? - Imposter Syndrome.
I sat down with my friend, a well-respected host and DJ, Sean Patrick Mcgillicuty about his own personal struggles with Imposter Syndrome. Sean has performed at events including Super Bowl 50, Comic Con, Disney and Marvel World Premieres, as well as performing with artists Adam Levine and Calvin Harris. Our discussion is meant to expose Imposter Syndrome for what it truly is, a fraud, and give you the key steps in order to flip the script.
Q: What is Imposter Syndrome (I.S.) to you?
Sean: “Imposter Syndrome turns your thoughts into your own worst enemy. They’ll make up stories and dramas that are just imaginary fires for you to mentally put out. I’ll never forget the first Star Wars World Premiere I did. I was introducing the cast at the beginning of the show in front of the entire Hollywood Elite and DJ’ing the after party. I had a mic in my hand and was convinced and ready for someone to say, ‘What are you doing here? You shouldn’t be doing this, get out of here!’ To which I had a response I had rehearsed a thousand times in my head, ‘Yep, thank you. I’ll see myself out.’”
Analysis: The first step is recognizing that the thoughts Imposter Syndrome makes you think are not real. They are twisted versions of a foundational insecurity/anxiety that we all have. Rihanna spoke to Esquire about why she takes a shot before every performance, saying “I have to have it. I take it very seriously, so there is a level of anxiety, always. I overthink everything when it comes to my job.”For most artists, Imposter Syndrome appears during performances. Even Adele, in a 2011 Rolling Stones Interview, revealed that she is “scared of audiences.” And audiences are terrifying. You may go up, you start playing, you look out in the crowd and… nothing. The crowd doesn’t seem engaged, they’re not all dancing or singing and immediately you start doubting yourself. This is Imposter Syndrome. It takes your anxiety asking, ‘What am I doing wrong’ and twists it into ‘I’m not good enough to do this.’ Sean continued, “Remember that your value doesn’t come from the audience response to your music or your art.” Where your value does come from is your passion purpose as a musician, and only you get to dictate that.
Q: What did your friends and family think when you decided to make entertainment a full-time career?
Sean: “Not many people gave me any grief about it, not directly at least, except for one person. He cavalierly asked me if I was worried about ‘making it’ and I told him that I was a little nervous. He responded with, ‘You should be’ and then walked away…”
Analysis: It’s an upsetting reality that most professional musicians receive little to no support from family members and friends. In a lot of cases, this is the first time I.S. appears. “Well if my family doesn’t believe in me, I must not be any good.” Mental reminder: never rely on the approval of someone who doesn’t understand or believe in your craft. There will always be people close to you who don’t believe in creative dreams, but don’t let them dictate your career path and your desire to pursue your passion. Sean went on to say, “In a way, I’m glad he said it. It’s been a motivator to succeed and a reminder that I don’t need a normal job working for or with people like him.” Turning other’s doubts into fuel for success is the same mindset needed for mastering your Imposter Syndrome.
Q: Do you have any advice for new artists suffering from Imposter Syndrome?
Sean: “The positive part of imposter syndrome is that it keeps me striving to prove to myself, and my clients that I am good enough and that I do deserve to be in the place that I am. It’s a tremendous motivator that if you can keep some mental boundaries on, you can use it to push you into new and amazing places.”
Analysis: This is the final step to mastering your Imposter Syndrome; realizing that it doesn’t define you. It is up to you to redefine it as an influence. Kendrick Lamar was able to create a whole album around Imposter Syndrome manifestation by using it to his advantage. He revealed in a 2015 Rolling Stones interview, “I’ve woken up feeling guilty, angry. As a kid from Compton, you can have all the success but question your worth.” But he proved in his album “To Pimp a Butterfly” that those thoughts don’t have to define you. Sean went on to say, “Remember that your biggest competition is yourself. The only thing telling you you’re not good enough is your Imposter Syndrome.”
There are three conclusive steps to mastering your I.S.
One: Recognize that Imposter Syndrome is just a fake, twisted version of your innate insecurity (something that everyone has).
Two: Learn that you can use other’s criticism and doubts to fuel your own motivation.
Three: Apply the same logic of step two towards your Imposter Syndrome.
It may just be three steps, but it’s a practice that will be revisited throughout your whole career. Sean ended our interview with a wise realization. “When you’re a kid, you think that all adults have life figured out, but then you grow up and realize that none of them do. It’s a lot like this professionally. Remember that no one has it all figured out.”
As musicians, we are led to believe that we have to be perfect to be successful. We don’t. One mistake, one bad gig, a stretch of having no job offers: these things do not define your talents or quality as a musician. If this pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that everyone is constantly improvising, learning, and adapting. In an always-changing industry, don’t forget to let your passion and your purpose define you, not your Imposter Syndrome.
Bryce Harrisberger is a Senior at the Berklee College of Music finishing his music business degree with a focus in marketing. Bryce has had the unique experience of working in many different categories of professional music including marketing, booking, live performance, music education and studio recording making him well-versed in many aspects of the industry. Aside from music, Bryce is also an Emergency Medical Technician for the city of Boston.