It’s always a special moment for us when mastering engineer Chris Pavey writes a feature-piece for our website.
Not only can we relate to his captivating content from within the music industry, but todays’ topic is one that continues to affect musicians and creatives across the community. ‘Imposter Syndrome’ – The endless struggle to accept achievement and continued self-doubt within a creative space.
Cheer up Chris, ‘Creative Doubt’ what a negative title for an article! True, but if you are reading this, I’m pretty sure you understand what I mean. The creative industry and all its different avenues are a huge cluster of driven, productive and talented folk. All of us different and unique but I know that we all share a lot of the same fears worries and challenges. When Stefan at Insight asked me to pen a few articles, I knew I wanted to tackle this topic. I knew it might be a tough one… so here we go.
Low confidence, low self-esteem, fear of the future, fear of failure, fear of if I should even be doing this. This can all lead to the big question of – Imposter Syndrome. And so there you go, a lovely collection of mental states that all creatives have experienced. And if you’re lucky like me… sometimes they can arrive in a perfect storm all together. Whenever you undertake anything creative, there is the moment where you stop and look or listen to what you’ve done, and the analytical part of the brain tries to justify the worth of what you’ve accomplished.
Now, that’s not always negative, it’s actually really great when your brain releases some of that dopamine. Feel deep down that you have created something good, and we then thrive on that success and it spurs us on to create again and develop those skills further.
The problem comes when the opposite happens. You look at what you’ve done, or even just your motivations to why you have done something, and you start picking away at it – perhaps slowly at first, then suddenly you’re ripping it apart.
“In a split second we judge, and pass sentence on our self or our creations, and after a while it can become second nature and even a subconscious thought process.”
So this flip side isn’t so pretty is it. The spiralling thoughts of inadequacy or failure arrive thick and fast, and often I’ve found stick around far longer than that dopamine release!
Imposter Syndrome has taken me on a journey over the last 6 months, and talking this through with friends and colleagues of mine, the more I’ve discussed it, the more I’ve come to realise how many times in my professional (and personal!) life, Imposter Syndrome (of which hence forth I shall refer to as ImpSyn), has affected me.
Should I do something?
“Should I? Could I? Am I allowed? Am I qualified enough? Do I have enough experience? Who am I to say? Nobody will want to hear me? What on earth are you doing? I should just not do this? Yeah…let’s just leave it.”
How often does that crop up in your mind when you’re presented with a creative opportunity? I’m sure that internal conversation is very familiar to many of you.
Let us just be honest and say again, this can happen so fast can’t it. You can go from “Should I?” to “Let’s just leave it”, in a split second. It can just become second-nature with ImpSyn. From owning my own business and working as a mastering engineer, which is a job explicitly about making definitive choices and involves people looking to you to make the final decisions, I know it can sometimes be a battle to be confident; a battle to take an assertive course of action, even when it is your job to do so.
Another example could be when you’re an artist/creative, you create art and then stand at a crossroads when you have to play or show it to someone for the very first time. Or when you submit the new track to your distributor, and you begin to think how it will be received by your fans.
It can feel like the agency over your music gets slowly taken away. The negative thoughts might even stop you hitting that submit button.
“Nobody other than YOU should make choices about what you should do. Get advice, get help, ask other people, yes, but you should be the commander of your choices.”
ImpSyn stands in the way of that and makes you feel that you shouldn’t be there. It’s the persistent feeling that you are literally an imposter, and that you don’t have the right to be doing this or being in that situation. The phrase “the more you know, the less you know” feels very appropriate to bring up here. It just epitomises the feeling that the deeper you understand something or work at something, often the less confident you feel about doing it. You feel that are 100’s of reasons you shouldn’t do that thing or take that job or follow that opportunity.
Ok – it’s been a bleak article so far hasn’t it, however I wanted to cut to the core with this. If you don’t or haven’t had these problems, fantastic, but I really wanted to be honest and open here so any creatives who do, can know that they are 100% not alone. So what’s the positive Chris!
Well, in a recent discussion with a few friends, we came to a conclusion. ImpSyn can also be a sign that you care (massively!). To have the genesis of these thoughts, you have to have seen the value of what you’ve done, are offering, or are in charge of. You have to appreciate the value of the ‘thing’ you are the creator or custodian to have these moments of doubt. The two go hand in hand. In the discussion we agreed the opposite to ImpSyn could be seen as being big headed, arrogant and self-important.
I’m not saying if you don’t have ImpSyn you are these things. What I’m saying is if you do have it, you very often can’t be these things. You are self-aware of what could be a failure, or the negative judgement other people might say or cast on to you. But to have those self doubt feelings, you must then understand the true value of the situation. Believe that this then drives you to be the one who checks and double checks. You go above and beyond to make sure the things you do excel. The battle against ImpSyn almost bolsters your own efforts into your art, or at least this has been my experience.
So perhaps if we flip the thinking, it can have a positive effect. It’s just some mental gymnastics to get your head around, and don’t worry – I’m working on it too.
Yes that old problem again, it’s a battlefield out there. Photos and videos of carefully curated content that is there to only show one side of someone’s physical and mental state.
“I’m not saying don’t use Social media. I am saying control the urge to compare and use it as a valid metric for success.”
“This person seems to be doing better than me, thus I must be doing worse as I’m not doing what they’re doing.” – Chris Pavey’s Inner Monologue 2022. Another head space setting I’m sure we have all found ourselves in. This type of thinking can be prime fuel for ImpSyn, and this is a slow burn in the background for many of us. If you train your brain to constantly look left and right at others progress, no matter how much you may achieve and create, you’re setting a standard that isn’t helpful or even relevant to you and your situation. So if you have that state of mind and spend 10 minutes every morning checking everyone else out, after a few weeks you might have a very negative view of what you’re doing or your position – even though the metric you are basing this all on could be complete false.
I will just say here – there is no judgement here by the way. I have done this to myself and I know I will do this to myself again! You just get a little better at catching yourself out when doing so. But, I’m not saying don’t use Social media. I am saying control the urge to compare and use it as a valid metric for success. It’s really not. How many of us post our failures, rather than just our successes? Keep these thoughts of mine with you when you are on your socials next. Don’t let it fuel a negative state of mind.
Did I get ImpSyn writing this article?
Yes – of course I did! Cut to that list of questions above, and that was my initial thought process for this article. But I was encouraged to write this article by other people. That right there is the biggest defence and attack, in my opinion, against ImpSyn. Surround yourself with positive people who support what you do, I can not overstate just how important that is. More specifically, people who do what you do. I have close friends who are mastering engineers like myself, mix engineers and producers. All of which share a lot of the same day to day industry anxieties that I do. They can identify with me and my worries, but also praise and support me in my goals, and vice versa.
Having a network of people who support you and better still ‘get’ what you have to do and contend with each day is so vital I’ve found. What I’ve also come to recognise as well is this. I often choose to be around people that maybe are not always the most confident people, but are always the most honest about their feelings and most importantly – failings. Why? Because that’s real. That’s reality, and once you start living the reality of how people in a professional creative environment people really are, you start to realise that what you feel is normal, and common place. I expect if you’ve been reading this you are a music creative. An industry that hypes and exposes these thoughts and feelings to a much higher degree than some other industries.
So if you’re an artist making/producing/recording/mixing/editing/mastering or performing music, your career is about taking emotion and expressing it, that’s tough and I mean really tough. So I’m here to say, get people around you that support and help you maintain the truth that – You CAN make this art, you SHOULD make this art and you are ALLOWED to make this art.
“ImpSym has no place in the mind of a creative, please don’t allow it to fester.”
About the Author: Chris Pavey
Chris has been a dear friend of Insight Music for over 10 years. He is the founder of Chris Pavey Mastering which established in 2012 and has mastered several Insight releases such as our 10th anniversary album ‘X’, ‘Crystalline‘ by Autumn Glow, ‘Freedom‘ by Nare and many more.