Who is the imposter? Me, I am the imposter! Many musicians and high-powered people apparently feel like a fraud or imposter at work, it even has a name – “Imposter syndrome”. It is a condition or mind-set that is very common amongst musicians, most definitely the great ones. It’s also common amongst high-achieving woman and CEOs. It is the idea that an individual feels they are not good enough or talented enough to be sitting in the position they are. They continually work hard in order to be worthy of the ‘luck’ or ‘fortunate timing’ that has lead to their position in life, rather than their skills. Once you get under the surface you realise it is something that many of my friends and colleagues suffer from to varying degrees.
A colleague of mine in a notable London Orchestra and one of the best in his field once said to me that he was still, after a successful and amazing 25-year career, “waiting to be found out”. I found this astonishing that he of all people who had achieved so much was still working hard in order to not be ‘found out’. The nature of what we do is very self-critical and while we strive for perfection but we will sadly never find it.
When on stage we have such a heightened state of awareness and focus, it often feels like both your colleagues and the audience notice every small thing that you do or do not do. I find it fascinating that I can walk off stage feeling like everyone noticed what I did or didn’t do and yet, even the person sitting next to me didn’t notice a thing or I didn’t notice something another colleague was fretting about. We are focusing on such minute details within the music we perform that when it doesn’t go exactly the way we intended or hoped, we feel it was a disaster, when the truth of the matter is we most likely gave the audience and our colleagues a very meaningful concert, possibly even life-changing.
Last month I was working with a very fine musician who said he had a moment when he looked at our group and thought to himself “Why am I sitting here in the lead chair? These guys are really good, who am I to be telling them what to do?” He felt like a fraud or an imposter. The truth of the matter is that he is one of the greats and we all learnt so much from him in those few days. It was a true honour to be working alongside him. He is an amazing musician, yet he still had a moment of feeling like the imposter.
Who is the real imposter then? Perhaps it’s our ego trying to trick us and bring us down or perhaps the imposter is the voice in our heads that we are constantly managing to do a great job. That same voice that spurs us on to even greater heights just to prove to ourselves that we are worthy of our achievements.