Hey, friends. I’ve been following this group for a little over a year now and this is the first time I’ve felt I had something worth sharing. For as long as I’ve been making music I’ve struggled with self confidence issues. In my experience, “Impostor Syndrome” seems pretty common for folks in our field.
Many years ago, a talented friend who I respect and admire gave me this piece of advice:
“Fake it ’til you make it.”
His advice was genuinely offered and received, but it actually backfired for me. I’ve had something of a breakthrough while thinking about it recently, and I wanted to share it with you all. Maybe you’ll get something out of it, maybe you’ll disagree, but either way I hope it can spark an interesting discussion.
To start, I recognized some dangers in the first bit of that phrase: “fake it.”
True, faking it might help get you in the door somewhere, but it can only be a short-term career strategy. Applied long-term, I’ve found it can quickly open the door to you being inauthentic with yourself, your clients, and your listeners. I began writing emails to my clients differently in order to avoid conflict. I never brought up personal challenges or mistakes. I let my clients set my rate for me without advocating for why I was worth more. “Everything’s still on budget and on time. Everything’s fine. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.”
I made regular Facebook and Twitter posts, reassuring everyone that I was still kicking ass and taking names – that the projects I was working on were going smoothly, even when that wasn’t the case. My only concern was with looking like I knew what I was doing. My only concern was with looking good.
“Faking it” as a longer-term philosophy only made those self-confidence issues I was struggling with even worse. Because if I have to fake it, well maybe I really AM unqualified for this job. Maybe this will be the time when they finally find out.
I realize now that it’s just better to be honest about where you are in your career. Own your strengths and your weaknesses and prepare to explain them to your clients – not to keep them from firing you, but to start a conversation on how best to support each other. Communicate generously and let clients know when you aren’t getting enough feedback or direction. Consider the value of projects beyond the bottom line; how else can you make this project worth it for you, without sacrificing your integrity?
In short, fake an interview question if you have to, but don’t fake the job. Be honest with yourself and your clients and have the courage to engage in difficult conversations, especially about how much you’re worth. Go ahead and post on Facebook about how damn long your project is taking, because everyone else in the world will definitely be able to sympathize!
I realized it was so much easier to be authentic. But to what end? What’s it all for?
That brings me to the last bit of the phrase: “make it.”
How do you know you’ve made it?
My answer has always been something like “Someday, I dunno, I’ll just know.” Then, whenever I accomplished anything momentous, I would stop and ask myself, “Well, have I made it yet?” And for me that answer was always no. The finish line never came any closer. In fact, each time I stepped forward, it seemed to step with me – further away. Chasing the proverbial carrot.
This was obviously a poor way to measure success, and it should go without saying that thinking this way left me never feeling fulfilled. I was not being specific enough about what “success” actually meant for me.
So what does it really mean to you, to be successful as a composer?
Does being successful in your craft mean you have many films on your resume? Or just a few really good ones?
Does being successful in your craft mean you have an Oscar?
Or an award from a local festival?
Does being successful in your craft mean you’ve worked on several published video games? How many?
Are the games selling on Steam, Xbox LIVE and PSN?
Or are they zip files distributed for free on itch.io?
Does being successful in your craft mean you make a lot of money doing it? How much money?
Does being successful in your craft mean being recognized by your peers? Which ones?
Does it really need to be all of these things?
It was in asking myself questions like these that I realized… I don’t want to chase success, I want to chase fulfillment. The most satisfying thing for me is to enrich the lives of my friends, family, and co-workers. To be able to express myself and push myself further. To be able to make a living as a freelancer and an artist. To be making a video game! This was my breakthrough – I had already made it and didn’t even realize it.
Some arbitrary amount of money or number of credits does not and should not have any bearing on my sense of fulfillment. Some of these things can still be goals for me, but now I get to pursue them as a self-actualized music composer – instead of a composer who hasn’t made it yet.
And that makes all the difference.