Eight years ago I was studying to become a physicist.
Back then I was a lowly freshman, and I knew very little about physics. I was surrounded my older, wiser students, brilliant faculty, and my very bright classmates who always seemed to be raising their hands in class. I felt like I would never get a handle on the material and it was only a matter of time before the administration would find me out.
Every semester I would get my grades back (which were the definition of average being pretty evenly distributed between A’s, B’s and C’s) and every semester I would breath a sigh of relief that I had somehow made it through.
When asked by friends and relatives what I was studying, I would be met with comments like “you must be smart!” when I would tell them. I would always reply “no, not smart, just resourceful.” I was sure that my success in university was due to my ability to sneakily find out answers from textbooks, TA’s, or fellow students. It never occurred to me that answers weren’t apparating in the heads of my classmates, and that they were going through the exact same problem solving methods as me. I just thought I was deceiving my way through the program even as students fell away and our numbers dwindled to a mere handful.
This pattern of thought is called impostor syndrome.
When I made the switch over to music I brought a lot of these negative patterns of thought with me. I didn’t feel like I was deceiving anyone necessarily, butI felt like a lot of my accomplishments were the result of luck or natural ability. Specifically I had a lot of trouble claiming identities like “artist,” “songwriter,” and “composer.” I always considered myself a singer, but I felt like I didn’t know anything about songwriting even though I had been doing it since I was a teenager.
What helped me come to terms with my neurosis, apart from naming it, was talking. Talking to other physics students helped me realize that I wasn’t different from the other successful students and talking to other artists showed me that all artists struggle with doubt, creative blocks, and burn out, and walk a long and winding path towards finding their voice.