According to Wikipedia:
Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.
Ugh, the worst, right?? As I move into my tenth year of business, I can’t help but reflect on one of the biggest hurdles I faced in my early years. Feeling like a fraud. Constantly worrying that someone would call me out, verbally tear my pricing guide to shreds, or worse, out me for not having any “professional” training.
I was a teen when I started CFP, so naturally, I assumed the world was out to get me and all would turn to shit if my hair wasn’t perfectly flat ironed. It was my senior year of high school and I thought I was THE SHIT because I was moderately excelling at something that no one else was doing. I was making a little cash by photographing my peers’ senior photos. Looking back now, I’m astonished at how certain I was that this was exactly what I was supposed to be doing. I was sky high, proudly posting and boasting on social media, tagging the shit out of my posts, and keep in mind, this was before the magical facebook algorithm was in place, so my audience grew massive rather quickly. And then, my English teacher sorta crushed my little teenaged heart.
My teacher was giving the class one of those “make sure you’re ready for the real world” pep talks, and said “you want to make sure that you’re educated or trained in a field that you’ll be able to build a career from. You probably wouldn’t want to pursue becoming something like a musician or photographer.” I could feel my face turning red and my flat ironed hair get static-ey. I could feel a few sets of eyes peer over in my direction.
What the hell, I thought to myself. Was that a personal jab?? Was my teacher ACTUALLY calling ME out in front of EVERYONE?! That was the precise moment that imposter syndrome kicked in for me. Suddenly I felt a wave of self consciousness that I hadn’t ever experienced before. I was crushed.
I was also sort of angry with my parents. They have always been awesome in the way that they have supported every route I’ve ever wanted to take. They were there for guidance and support, both financially and emotionally, and if I had an idea, they have always been there to help guide me to make it a smart and practical reality. Of course, at the time, I felt like they hadn’t told me the truth. That they were setting me up for failure and for fraud by encouraging me to pursue photography. Like there was some big “real world” secret that they weren’t letting me in on or something.
Quite frankly, if it weren’t for my dad talking me down, CFP probably wouldn’t be around to see it’s 10th birthday in May, but again, that took me many, many years for me to realize.
After high school, I continued to shoot and I continued to post on Facebook and turn a profit. But inside, I STILL felt like that girl sitting in english class. I was now very much in the real world, and making small talk at the doctor’s office or at social gatherings was horrible. “So, what do you do?” I would cringe, and would have rather said that I was cleaning the bathrooms at McDonalds than to utter the words “I’m a photographer.” I was just WAITING for someone to bust out laughing or raise an eyebrow, assuming that I was one of those “faux-tographers” who had recently been popping up on everyone’s news feed.
I think everyone has felt like a fraud or an imposter in some sort of way, but I’m quite sure that those who choose to pursue a “non-traditional” or more of an entrepreneurial route are more susceptible. We are afraid of failing at something that was our idea. Our baby, our blood sweat and tears. Because there is no one else to blame. Nobody fired you, no one laid you off, or had cut backs. It’s all you. There’s also no customer service rep, or manager or anyone else to avert issues to. You are the face of whatever you are pursuing and that can be a hard pill to swallow – ESPECIALLY when you are asking for money in return for a service.
Valuing your own work is without a doubt, one of the hardest tasks there is. Sometimes we’d rather stick our hand in a blender than have to put a price tag on a service we preform. We feel bad for charging so much. We constantly critique and de-value our work, because we are SO afraid that someone else is going to pipe up and question our value. So, if we just cut to the chase, and just do it ourselves, it won’t hurt as bad. This is one of the biggest battle the service industry faces, and here’s my best guess as to why: A service based business typically does not require a substantial financial obligation or commitment every time a service is offered/preformed. What I mean by that is it doesn’t cost me anything to show up and take pictures. Minus the gas in my car and the iced coffee in my hand, my camera, equipment and editing programs are already paid for. Sure, this was a huge financial investment when I got started, and continues to be as I upgrade my gear, but I don’t need to purchase anything every single time I schedule a photo session. Like a majority of service based businesses, I don’t have inventory to keep in stock or astronomical overhead costs. So because of this, we get this weird icky feeling asking others for payment when we feel like it “didn’t cost us anything” (because, you know, we are so quick to forget the investment we’ve already made in our equipment/training/education, etc.) Another wonderful doozie that inherently comes with working in the service industry is that a majority of our work is measured by time. And how the fuck are we supposed to know how much our time is worth?? Doesn’t that just sound boujee to say??
THIS. IS. IMPOSTER. SYNDROME. AT. ITS. FINEST.
I’ll be quite frank when I say that there was no magical time that my impostor syndrome symptoms vanished over night. Almost ten years later, I still feel waves of it. Actually, about an hour ago, I was updating/increasing my wedding package price on my website, as I do every single year, and I had to pause because I was like oh shit, will people even pay this? Am I worth this amount? And I stopped, laughed and thought “yep, I’m blogging about this!” I updated my package price, clicked save and here I am.
I did an interview for NoCo Nuptials a few weeks ago, and I was asked what has been the most exciting change in CFP since I began, and without a doubt, seeing the transforming and building of confidence that I have in myself and in CFP has been the most important and monumental shift I’ve watched occur in the last (almost) ten years.
In good Rachel Hollis style, here are some Things That Helped Me:
Growing up. I’m sure that at the time, my age didn’t help matters any. Being young and putting yourself out there is scary because you don’t even know who you are as a person yet (even though, I totally thought I had my shit in a pile) Because my frontal lobe has now fully developed, I am more sure of myself as a person all around. I wouldn’t say that I’m now less concerned with what others think – obviously I want people to like my work and to continue to hire me – but I’m more selective about who’s opinion I take into consideration. I know the audience I’m trying to reach and that’s who I focus on now. I’m not worried about what my crusty english teacher thinks.
Making money. I know this might sound cringey, but it’s true: turning a profit or actually paying a bill with your cold, hard-earned cash does build some major confidence. OBVIOUSLY, who doesn’t feel good when they see some paper coming their way? Better yet, when they can see that YES, people do think my services/product is worth what I’m charging. Maybe I’m not crazy for setting this price point after all.
Developing and refining my style. It’s no secret that I love color and golden light, and it has become the CFP signature style showcased in all of my images. The best confidence booster you will ever receive, comes from your own work. It comes from truly loving what you’re creating. Now, don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t LOVE every image I’ve ever taken, and there are photos I’ve edited in the past that I see now and I’m like LOL. It takes time and it’s definitely a process. Embrace it. There are SO many different styles of photography out there. Ones that I don’t personally like, but I do appreciate. I have great photog-friends who’s style doesn’t resonate with me, but that’s ok! Coming into your own and developing your style as an artist, as a creator, as a whatever, takes time. And it’s ok to try different things or different styles until you find what works for you. Creative freedom is one of the greatest attributes of being in this industry in the first place!
Know that people will probably call you out at some point or another. And it still stings a little every time. Whether it’s your pricing, or an impossible-to-please client, unfortunately it’s the nature of the beast. However, it’s important to not let it knock you down for good. Sure, you’re probably going to dwell and overthink the shit out of it for a little while, but you have to pick yourself up and move on. And the best way to move on is to continue working and honing in on serving your ideal clients who do value and appreciate your work. They’re out there and they exist! I promise! If I had a dollar for every person who ever gawked at my prices, or ghosted me, I wouldn’t even have to work in the first place!
Take yourself and your business seriously. Both legally and socially. This was a lesson I wish I had learned sooner. I was SO AFRAID of a contract. Not only was I afraid that I’d get sued or some shit, but it was also nerve-wracking because I felt like only “legit” business people had contracts. But wait, isn’t that what I wanted? To be legit? As much as we want others/our clients to take us seriously, it can be scary to put those “legit business things” in place because now we are forcing ourselves to be held at a higher standard. Kind of ironic. When it comes to taking yourself and your business seriously socially, don’t be afraid to speak up. When the doctor does that awkward small talk thing a nd asks you “what you do”, tell them! And don’t be shy! Don’t make yourself small for risk of someone else’s opinion. If you downplay or negate your business, you can expect everyone else, besides for your mama, to do the same.
In closing, I’ll leave you with this: quite honestly, nobody cares about/thinks about you or your business more than you do. That sounds harsh, but it’s true, and it’s empowering. YOU have the power and ability to influence and mold what you project out into the world. Self doubt is an ugly creature, who rears it’s head from time to time, whether you’ve been in the biz for one year or ten. Do your thing and be careful what you allow yourself to believe. Your own thoughts, ideas and truths will have a far greater impact on your goal or dream, than any nay-sayer’s opinion ever will. Be kind to yourself, stay intentional and keep doing your thing.
And if you’re curious what some of my very first “professional” photos looked like way back then you’re in luck – CLICK HERE!!
Always cheering you on,