γνῶθι σεαυτόν (Know thyself)Oracle a Delphi
Feeling like a fake can be a real issue with creative expression and finding success. I get this feeling of fakeness when the art seems to come too quickly. I often think it should be more involved more complicated, more difficult. The attitude art has to be a struggle is a cultural idea of the starving artist. Bizarrely I don’t want it to be too hard either.
It’s the same with my social life, I can’t be just fake extrovert, and trying to do so would make me even more anxious. I would be afraid that people might find out I’m a fraud.
Yet oddly I didn’t fit in even when I was myself. I didn’t connect, express myself; I wasn’t authentic in my deeds. As such, I never showed up in the world as myself; I was too afraid to be me.
So it seems I failed being myself and I couldn’t see the logic of pretending to be what I was not.
The advice of ‘faking it till you make it’ comes in, it’s asking up to put on a mask long enough to become the mask. For the pretend us to become the authentic us.
Authenticity is seductive; no one likes a faker, a fraud, but I’ve found I can’t do that either, because of the fear of being found out.
Fake it but be authentic? How do I do that!? No wonder people find it hard to be themselves.
‘I feel quite strongly that the pain of life grows out of the concept of a fixed personality and the tendency to set than the rest of experience around that identity like the planets around Ptolemy’s earth.’Michel de Montaigne
Feeling like an imposter is to feel like we’re doing something wrong, acting out of character.
But our emotions can also be wrong when we don’t understand they might be based on false or outdated ideas.
Feelings of inauthenticity are grounded upon the ideas of a ‘real’ us, the ego, the separate self, who we are.
In the book by Terry Pratchett – Equal Rites, Eskarina, the budding wizard, examines the older witch, Granny Weatherwax’s hat. On appearance, it’s just an ordinary hat. She notes that it called a ‘witches hat’ and the witches robes, because Granny, being a witch wears them. But here’s the kicker. Granny Weatherwax is called a witch because she wears the witches hat and clothes.
The uniform makes Granny a witch, but the clothes are a witches uniform because granny is a witch who wears them. It’s a circular association. It shows how our identity is caught up in appearances.
When we examine our identity, we find that how we define ourselves always references external things. Your friends, your job, your achievements, possessions you could call them.
However, when you try to define yourself without the outside world, you see nothing there.
In any given moment, you are not a single thing, but an amalgam of difference parts bundled together, all in motion.
In Buddhism, they reject the idea of a fixed self, it’s the doctrine of no-self or Anatman. Perceptions, thoughts, feelings are then mental objects that change. They arise, they dissolve. As a consequence, who you are, what you are, is always evolving.
The fixed self is reductionist folly. It’s like asking which contributes more to a rectangle area more, the breadth or the width?!
Our memories aren’t fixed either, and they also form part of our identity. It’s not like they are a filing cabinet where you can access the necessary file. Instead, our memories change as we remember them; they’re altered, embellished to end up as edited highlights.
You are not the same person you were ten years ago, and you will be somewhat different in ten years. This idea of identity is nothing more than a narrative you tell yourself—a story you have built up, refined and edited over time.
Given all this who is the fake you and who is the real you!?
If there is no fixed self, what do we mean by an authentic or fake self? If there is no fixed self, they lose their meaning.
One way you do this by reframing your place in this world. The past doesn’t define you. We’re all slaves to our past, yet don’t let it be a ball and chain holding you back, but the springboard to greater heights.
Imposter syndrome is an illusion, a perception, a feeling based upon false ideas towards how we work as people.
We have to let go of such false ideas of fixed, and separate selves, recognise we change.
You can’t fake you
‘I must also have a dark side if I am to be whole.’ ― C.G. Jung
Faking it to me is a bad idea but trying to be authentic is also a bad idea because there is no self to be authentic or fake.
Perhaps it’s best to give up on such notions of fake or real and accept our persona changes, even from moment to moment. It’s not about public persona vs a private self, but they are all just different facets of identity in flux. Spouse, parent, artist, friend, extrovert, introvert. Brave, timid, confused, moving through them during the day. Some of these facets get more ‘air time’ than others, more practiced, but they are all you.
Faking it means you think and feel you’re not living up to this idea of your true self. Being authentic feels like you are.
Instead of putting on a mask of confidence and ‘faking it till you make it’. It seems that it is more a case of taking off the mask of doubt, and fear to find the confidence underneath. It’s a case of mistaking our selves for this mask, the illusion of a fixed self.
Looking back, my journey away from anxiety and fear has been like this. It was never about putting on fake confidence or skill, but getting rid of the nonsense ideas that caused my suffering.
We should realise is that there is nothing behind the mask because it’s not a mask. But just one facet of our personality. Doubt and fear are as authentic as confidence and assertiveness. Complexity manifests in the multitude of roles we play and the feelings we have. All of which are authentic.
You don’t have to try to be yourself, you already are. It’s just that some aspect of ourselves, we find uncomfortable, problematic, so we label then wrong or unacceptable, and inauthentic. By recognising that you are a work in progress, we can accept al the parts of our experience, and never feel fake.
To feel a fake is not living the values that matter to you. For a long time, I felt this myself, how I lived was not a reflection of what matters to me. It’s not about living up to an image of who you are. But embracing all that is you, the parts you like and the parts you don’t.
‘Waking up to who you are requires letting go of who you imagine yourself to be.’Alan Watts
With all this said and done, being creative is not as much hard work as we think. Indeed all this thinking is what gets in the way.
Authenticity is a question in art and creativity; what’s my artist’s voice is the question?
With there being no true self, the mistake we are falling into is looking simple to answer. To be authentic is easy; you do it all the time.
Our worry comes from trying to answer what to do next. We are filled with many ideas and interests, and it isn’t easy to know what to do next.
I go into this in more detail in other posts, but my answer in art has been to explore all the ideas I want to.
Just pick one theme, or interest at a time and work on that. Art is a journey, not a destination; we mistakenly think we need to boil it all down to an essence. Instead, let it all out, and in time your voice will arise.
Self-help gurus and our consumer culture sell it. Just know who you are, and success and happiness will be yours. Authenticity and ‘Imposter syndrome’ is all about the idea that we can know ourselves.
Both come from the idea there’s a core identity inside our psyche—and unchangeable, immutable part of us.
But our ideas about how existence works are often mistaken, even misleading. To feel authentic, we need to remind ourselves that doubt, fear, and insecurity are just as much the path as joy, success and conviction.
We forget that we are not acting in our interests a lot of the time, we are caught up in lies, deception and falsehoods mostly of our own making, or we inherited.
Giving up on this notion of the fixed self I see as one of the essential steps to finding the happiness, fulfilment and creative expression. The fixed self is like an idol or master, and we are slaves to it. Desperately trying to find it, afraid we never will. In Buddhism it this attachment to illusion that causes our suffering.
Letting go of a fixed identity allows us to embrace adaptation and growth. Accept all that we are, not split ourselves down the middle into what’s good and what’s not, casting aside the not.
The best advice is to focus on the path and the work, strive on diligently. Who you are is a process, not a state. Do the job, and the rest will follow.
Or as Dory from finding Nemo would put it, ‘Just keep swimming, swimming’.
As long as you keep showing up, you are equal to it. Life is a distillation experiment; it will work it way out in the wash.