Anyone who works in some kind of creative field will probably confirm that there are many cycling stages of how you feel about your work and yourself as a creator.
Fierce determination, “aha” moments, days of blank brains and glazed looks, those glorious hours of radiant pride, and that nagging feeling that you should be doing more.
These are all emotions that come and go, repeating themselves in no particular order. However, there is one feeling- question, really- about artistic work that rears it’s ugly head once in a while and tends to throw me off balance.
When will they figure out I’m a fraud?
I have been dancing since I was about 10, studied it in university and have been working as a choreographer and teacher for 3+ years. However, sometimes I have the distinct feeling that I am faking it all. I look at professional dancers in companies, choreographers making work all over Europe and the US, and feel like the work I do may never compare, therefore who am I to call myself a professional? I did not train in ballet. I cannot do beautiful jettés across the floor or do a back flip and I have never had a contract with a company. Who am I to say I’m a dancer? When will everyone see that I am faking it?
For the longest time I assumed this was just me and my personal demons who felt this way. I looked around at other artists and saw the air of confidence with which they claimed their career paths and felt completely alone in my insecurity. It wasn’t until I lived in Berlin and befriended a journalist that the veil of isolation was lifted.
This particular friend who I met by chance at a concert has been fairly successful in his career, writing for a large international magazine and recently publishing his first novel. In my eyes, he had “made it.” Over a coffee one day, I had just discovered I would be choreographing my first real performance (the one that brought me to Morocco) and I expressed to him my fears that I had no right to call myself a dancer. Without missing a beat, he looked at me seriously and said “Ruby, every single time I submit a piece of writing, I think to myself, This is it. This is the moment they will see that I’m faking it.” Hearing him say this simultaneously lifted a huge weight off of one shoulder and added an extra couple pounds on the other. I was not alone with this feeling, however, no matter how much success we achieve, will it ever go away?
Perhaps not of it’s own accord. It turns out that many celebrities and public figures acknowledge the reality of artistic insecurity. The empowering Emma Watson once said in an interview just after her Hermione Granger days, “Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud. I can’t possibly live up to what everyone thinks I am.”
Author Neil Gaiman said in a 2012 commencement speech, “The first problem of any kind of even limited success is the unshakable conviction that you’re getting away with something and that any moment now they will discover you.”
I have a tiny little book on my bedside table called Making Your Life As An Artist by Andrew Simonet, in which he talks about this issue as well, saying “Artistic success doesn’t bring balance.”
What do we do with all of this?
A couple of years ago, this question nagged at me rather frequently, causing breakdowns and tearful phone calls to my artist parents. However, no matter how hard it pushed at the back of my head, I never let this feeling stop me from making work. I stubbornly decided that it was worth the risk. Either I am a fake or I’m not, but at least I can say I tried something.
With continued determination and the will to not listen to certain voices, this question appears less often than it once did, but it is far from disappeared. Fears of being a fraud come up in the face of taking dance workshops, sending applications, the moment before mounting the stage in a performance, and hitting publish on certain blog posts.
I don’t believe that any emotion goes away through suppression, so I hereby acknowledge the question. When will they find out I’m a fraud? It is something I am trying to accept as part of the artistic process, finding ways to hold and reassure it from within myself as opposed to seeking outside validation. As it says in huge letters in Simonet’s book, “You will never feel adequately recognized.” Therefor, I have to recognize myself.
In the humbling presence of this question, I take time to think about who I am as an artist, referring back to work that I have enjoyed creating, my artist statement, and process notes that I have written along the way of each project. I try to remember that even though my technical skills may not compare to some other dancers, I have carefully begun cultivating my own movement vocabulary based on what my body can do and just that alone is something to be proud of. I remember that success is whatever I define it to be and authenticity is based on the work behind the work (a phrase that I love, said to me by a wonderful choreographer I worked with, Natalia Fernandes), not on the final product.
Finally, I remember that I am as real as I present myself to be. If I go out into the world and create with integrity and compassion, listening and responding to what is around me, even if someone calls me a fraud, I can feel sure within my core that it is not true.