For days when you feel like a fraud

I was standing a few feet away from the podium, and getting all nervous as I waited for my turn to be called up. Some minor tinkering needed to be done for the projector settings, as I included videos in my lecture, and so I needed sound, but right now there was none. As seconds trickled into minutes, my hands felt all clammy and I could feel the trickle of sweat come down my forehead although the room was comfortably cool against the sweltering heat that I had evaded before.

As I waited for the technician to wind up their trouble shooting efforts, I looked at the audience – about 40 to 50 fresh faced students and faculty were staring at the screen eagerly – waiting for the presentation to begin. Anytime now. I bet they were wondering who the heck I was too, I thought to myself. And at that moment, I thought to myself, why me? Why did I get a chance to stand up here and deliver a speech to a batch of wide-eyed students who would soon graduate with a degree in graphic design & illustration? I didn’t study illustration or graphic design while I was in university, although I did spend most of my time in a studio, designing spaces. What I did do was to study the subject intensively though, on my own for the past 5 yearsI had no right to be up there.

I was gripped with fear all of a sudden. All the things that I wanted to reach out to students to tell them about – the fact that everything is a process instead of a one-off experience – study, exams, career, passion, life. That there isn’t a such a thing as doing it wrong. That the process isn’t a linear trajectory. I wasn’t there to tell them what to do. I only meant to share with them what I had learnt throughout the past 5 years when I threw myself headlong into studying what I was passionate about. I didn’t need a degree to prove to others that I love illustration and to share what I’ve learnt, certainly. Or do I?

Perhaps it was also due to the fact that I was certain that I had the simplest slide show on earth, compared to the other speakers who went before me.

I had slipped in to see the other speakers present a few hours earlier, and what I saw were slides after slides with dizzying effects (and music to boot!), peppered with cool animation sequences – fun to watch when I was part of the audience, but since I was looking at them before I was due to give my speech, it only made me want to curl up into a ball and slink away silently. My slideshows had hardly any animation at all. Simple big words up on the screen. Even bigger images that filled up my presentation, single ones, mostly. I felt small. Tiny. Insignificant. What was I thinking?

I could hear the emcee speak. And then I’m up on that podium. Staring. Looking. Fumbling. Forgetting. Then I began. Deep breaths.

And then it was done. Just like that. In that split second when I quieted I hoped that I wouldn’t have to hop down the stage cringing at how I sounded in my head. I had gripped the edge of the podium with my fingers, steadying myself, hoping and waiting to hear the responses to what I had delivered. I was prepared to close my eyes, because I’d dread what I’d find: bored faces of students with glazed eyes, or worse, if I had laid my eyes on those who fell asleep.

But no one was sleeping. Their eyes were fully open, wide awake. I heard a first applause. And quickly, another. And within a split second the room thundered with pairs of hands finding each other in a raucous rhythm. And all that fear inside me dissipated. Dissolved. Melted away like it never happened at all. But it did. And I remembered. I also remembered why I stood up there, despite how my tummy was filled with the wings of a thousand butterflies, and how I doubted myself and cursed my boldness a few hours before.

There wasn’t time to think. The next thing I knew, came a flurry of questions and answers. There were laughters ringing in the hall. Kind teachers and students who put up their hands and stood up to remark about how they enjoyed the speech, and they loved the fact that I “kept it real”. There were thank you’s, hugs, and even tears. Hope, love, happiness. There were bright flashes of light too – people who wanted to be photographed with me! Although I can never have fathom why (up to this day), but I wasn’t one to argue. Smile, hug, click. I certainly didn’t expect any of it at all.

I truly didn’t.

Amy @ Pikaland

The One Academy students

SHARE YOUR STORY:

In the comments below, tell me:

Have you ever felt like you’re not worthy of something? Accolades, fans, praise? Or even just a nice word that someone said about your work? Have you ever felt like you’re a fraud and that one day you’ll get discovered, and then everything will come crashing down (even though it hasn’t, and you’re not really one!) How did you move past it?

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  advice, craft, creativity, dear students, inspiration


16 thoughts on “For days when you feel like a fraud

    • Thanks Kathy! I don’t think I’m successful yet though, but I’m just thrilled at the whole surprise of it all – I think I’m just easily surprised by pretty much anything, haha! 🙂

  1. I struggled with this one several times during my school years. As a non-traditional student (see old) I was already feeling weird when I decided to go back but then after seeing the work of some of my class mates and just feeling completely blown out of the water by there work I was down right disheartened. Whenever this sort of thing happened I would pout for a bit and feel like everything would come crashing down around me but then I would remember there important things. I would remember that my style is my own and cannot be compared, that what I make comes from my experience and cannot be copied, and that the things I create come from my heart and cannot be wrong. So I remember that if what I’m doing is authentically me, I will never be a fraud.

    • “if what I’m doing is authentically me, I will never be a fraud” – spot on Cotey! And such a great thing to remember for when I have those feelings again, thank you!

  2. Great post Amy! Such familiar feelings regarding teaching and public speaking and standing up in front of a crowd waiting to be enlightened. But one always come out of those situations feeling boosted. I just don’t know why I can never remember that just beforehand!

    Love Cotey’s words “So I remember that if what I’m doing is authentically me, I will never be a fraud”, spot on 🙂

  3. This is such a wonderful articles that helps to put me at ease. I often feel odd when people compliment me on my work or even calling myself and artist because I don’t have a BFA or MFA like I see with so many other artist who do some astonishing work. This article reminded me that being an artist is more about passion and love than it is about having a degree. Thank you Amy. 🙂

    • You’re welcome Q! Being an artist isn’t about qualifications (and the same goes with a whole lot of other professions, except for doctors, etc, I would think), it’s about how you love what you do and how engaged you are when you’re doing it.

  4. I love your story and thank you so much for sharing! You’ve not only earned your success with your years of research, but with your PASSION. Enthusiasm and passion are contagious and that’s why I keep coming back to your blog! Congratulations!

  5. Amy,

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Until recently, I never really considered myself an artist but more like a “copy artist” because, if I stayed at something long enough, the outcome would look pretty close to the real thing. But then, in a workshop I attended, the artist who was teaching said, “We’re all just copy artists, because we’re just copying what we see in the way that we see it.” So, with that, I thought: I’ve been thinking like an artist all along! So, I no longer think of myself as a copy artist but Artist.

    –K

    • Good for you Kate! That’s a really great sentiment that is oft forgotten. How we translate what we see onto paper/sculpture/etc – now that’s where the magic happens.

  6. Congratulations on your courage and success, Amy. I really admire you and other creative people who have developed their skills through “nontraditional” means, all the while not knowing for sure where their artistic journey would take them. Accolades are wonderful and we all need them, but sometimes just being able to say out loud, “I am an artist” is pretty affirming, too. Thank you for sharing your personal story.

    • Thank you Dana – like I said to Kathy, I don’t think I’m there yet, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be content at what I’ve achieved. But maybe that’s what’s driving me forward, because I don’t have any boundaries!

  7. Hi Amy, Great story…. I work as a design teacher in a major educational institution. A qualification does not necessarily mean success. I have seen many graduates leave and pursue their area of specialization. This can be for numerous reasons and certainly they find other opportunities in life.

    I have always believed that passion and commitment are very important aspects of success is. We do not need formal environments to learn but there is such a strong emphasis these days on gaining a qualification. The response you had from the students was certainly evidence of your success. Congratulations and keep learning and inspiring us all. 🙂

    • Julia, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts – I’ve thought long and hard too about qualifications and the need for so many to search it out. While I have my own views that education is important, it doesn’t need to be in a formal environment (as you mentioned) or that we need to get a piece of paper after the fact to prove that we have learnt. It’s a little twisted these days, in that the learning is relegated to the backseat while the paper drives one forward.

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