The Wikipedia definition of Imposter Syndrome reads as follows: “Imposter syndrome (also known as imposter phenomenon, fraud syndrome or the imposter 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”.”
At some point in every career, a VO talent is going to experience this, and not only at the beginning of the journey. Plenty of experienced voice actors will confess they’ve felt like this repeatedly. But less often does anyone offer up a suggestion for what to do to make it go away. I’d like to suggest a way to beat it, for good.
But to get there, we have to go back to elementary school for a minute. From childhood, what do we focus on in school? The stuff we don’t yet know and can’t yet do, right? And that works for a while to get the basics down, learn to read/write/add, learn history, and maybe some languages. But a great majority of the time, we’re taught to identify what we’re not good at and work hard to get good. Work harder, we’re told. Deficits are highlighted more often than talents.
But does this ultimately lead to success? Do truly successful adults spend all their time focused on the stuff they don’t do well? No, they don’t.
Take football. To be a great football player, you need a knowledge of the game and some general high-level skills (strength, speed, endurance, etc). But no one with the talent to be an NFL quarterback is focused on how he’s not such a great linebacker. If he did, he’d feel like an imposter. More specifically, if a player tried to be good at EVERY position, he’d never get to the NFL. To be truly great, no time is spent on any skills not related to the player’s best talents and one specific job.
So how does this relate to Imposter Syndrome in voice over? Many people decide to join the voice over industry with little to no real knowledge of what is required. So, a lot like schoolchildren, they need a basic education in voice over – how to record yourself, mic technique, what genres are available, how to set up a VO business, etc. At this point in their career, they’re not feeling Imposter Syndrome as much as feeling new, unsure, or just getting ready to start working.
But because this industry is so vast, with such varied opportunities to work, coupled with the need to have a demo for every specific genre you want to compete in, along the way many VO artists get bogged down trying to do it all. And that’s where our good friend Imposter Syndrome comes in.
It’s pretty common to have many interests in voice over (who doesn’t want to do it all, really?) so when pressed, voice over actors are likely to give you a laundry list of what they “do”… explainers, eLearning, commercials, audiobooks, animation, etc. Often they’ve spent time improving their skills in each of these different areas. Often they’ve spent a great deal of money and time focused on the areas where they are NOT booking in order to START booking. And often they suffer from doubting their skills, talents, or accomplishments and feel a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud” (basically lookup Imposter Syndrome in the dictionary, and you’ll find a picture of a voice over actor).
If you are one of these people, welcome to a large club – and now here’s how to beat it.
While you may be good at a lot of things, what are you REALLY good at doing? Are you capable of commercials, but medical narration lights you up? Do you have to resist adding your animation characters into every audition for e-learning? Are you really good at multiple characters and long form narration but spend all your time trying to get better at IVR? Where do you absolutely shine? It’s okay, this is a safe space, be honest about where you rock.
Once you’ve answered that question, to quote Steve Martin, be so good they can’t ignore you. If you are great at commercials, find the best commercial coaches, practice your commercial skills even more and work to be the best commercial actor the world has seen. If you are great at medical narration, find those coaches and get even better. If you live and breathe animation or audiobooks, spend all your time in improv and acting classes to get even more skills. Find what you are great at doing, and devote all your time to doing that thing. Practice it. Spend your marketing efforts focused on it, and seek out the auditions from agents and buyers in that space.
Because here’s the thing. When we know we are good at something, when we have our abilities solidly in hand, when we are in our zone, doing what we are best at, when our talent is out there on display to those we work with (and, importantly, to ourselves) when confidence fills us up, we won’t feel like an imposter, because we won’t be one.
That’s not to say you should never coach on something new or never improve in other genres of voice over. But the surest road to confidence and success is the one paved by what you excel at doing. And trust me, the rest of the stuff that you’re not as good at will come with time and experience. Many VO skills (including marketing) are transferable between genres, so becoming excellent at one, and then adding a new one will be easier.
Embrace your talent, and acknowledge where you shine. Then be so good they can’t ignore you. Be so good Imposter Syndrome has no place in your studio.