What are some solutions to mitigate imposter syndrome? Nobody ever talks about it until they are successful and then when recounting their days of coming up through the ranks they might mention that their self-esteem was sometimes very low, and that it can still get them sometimes. We put on a brave face, but often inside we are shaking. We think we are unique, but we also want to belong. We want people to leave us alone so we can get our work done, but also to adorn us with lavish praise. I am not as successful as I would like to be, and feel like I am always hustling, so the imposter syndrome will hit me when I least expect it, like when I have been offered a very nice opportunity. I am writing this to find a solution or exercise to perform on those times when you feel lesser than.
We do not mean to compare or judge, but we are all doing it all the time out of habit. I sometimes wonder if any success would ever be enough, especially when I see people who are doing well and they are still complaining in public. It is never a great idea to complain about feeling uninvited or display artistic jealousy or attack hateful fans in public. Find a close friend who can hear you out and offer advice from their experience. We all have that friend, or two. Unless you are living in the Third World, a first world artist complaining about almost anything is rightfully ignored, and being ignored is most likely the source of the complaint to begin with. Feeling uninvited, feeling like you are not one of the cool kids in the scene. I say make your own scene. Spend less time observing the social media of your peers or influences, and spend more time creating. I guarantee you will feel much better and rest easier.
Nobody wants to admit that they sometimes feel they don’t belong, or that they are jealous. Self-confidence is the thing I see in many of my heroes, who then come out and say they faked it until they made it. These thoughts could be applied to many lines of work, but I tend to focus on the particulars of being a singer-songwriter. There is a certain strain of confidence that comes with writing your own songs and then expecting people to sit and listen to them. It is rather crazy, when you stop and think about it. Most of the population would simply freeze up at the very notion that they had to write a song and sing it in front of people.
Nearly everybody I associate with is a songwriter or performer, and when it comes right down to it there is a lot of ego floating about most of the time. There are usually colorful characters who are also decent storytellers, and they have often lived through some incredibly dark and also humorous moments. It certainly takes a balance.
I go in and out of retirement mode constantly, and it is a struggle for me to want to continue on when I forget why I do anything in the first place. If something does not bring you joy, then it is probably best to slow down that activity. Songwriting brings me joy. Performing brings me joy. Recording brings me joy. Coming up with a marketing plan absolutely does not bring me joy. Being on tour for more than a few weeks does not bring me joy. Not being clear about my thoughts and intentions and therefore bringing on difficult situations does not bring me joy. Encountering aggressive people on the highway does not bring me joy. Waking up at home and having some coffee and reading and writing brings me joy. Playing gigs that also involve fishing brings me joy! How to do more of that but also pay the bills? I am not in the field of writing commercial songs for other artists. I do like to write songs both about my personal life and also observational or story songs. I have never had a hit song, but does that matter? Well, it does make the financial situation a little more challenging. But even hit songs do not pay like they used to, although they do invite more work to the table. I have to remember to just lean into the work and trust that the work and the written word will take care of me. I love that quote of Bukowski’s where he asks out loud in a poem something like “is it true i can make a living off of just writing these words and making these drawings?” Is it true? I am certainly making it happen either way, because it is a bit late for me to change my path. Or is it? Anyway, it’s me here. A real songwriter, not an imposter. Flesh and bone. A school teacher told me that I was a decent poet. My brother told me if I played guitar and wrote poems I could be a songwriter. I started then and continued on. This one was based on a true story of my life, and features Jim Keltner on drums. It was our first song on that record to track together. After two takes he told me to “sit down and play it like a bluesman.” This is take three. I played it and sang it and played that solo live with the take. The overdub is Jai Winding’s keyboard part. Hutch Hutchinson is on the bass. The very true story of the Lexington Jail. For many moons I would tell people that this was "the unfortunately true story of a close personal friend of mine." Now, I'm coming clean. I am the subject of this song. It happened one night in Lexington, Kentucky after seeing Scrawl and Wilco play during the Being There tour. I'm just grateful that I didn't hurt anybody. Enjoy!
photo by Leeroy Stagger taken at Neighbourhood Studios in Victoria, BC, Canada (Leeroy just played this take of Lexington Jail on his radio show the DIRTY WINDSHIELDS RADIO HOUR )