The Green Room: Do you suffer from impostor syndrome?
Meet our panel: We have given our panellists pen-names and used stock images but their biographies reflect their real career details…
Gary Is this where you feel like a fraud being an actor? If so, then no – not when I’m working. Quite the opposite. At times, annoyingly, it feels like something I should be doing.
John I feel like an impostor in this Green Room.
Albert I call it the ‘rumble factor’. Is today the day that people rumble what I’m doing?
John Yup. Every time I get a job, I think: “Slipped through the net again!”
Jon I connect it a lot with first days. At the readthrough when you think: “Oh God, there’s been a mistake. Everyone here is a proper actor except me.”
Albert But I believe that if I leave the house for a job where I don’t have the syndrome, there is no sense of challenge. The fear of being found out is what keeps me going. If I got to the stage where I could walk out of the house every time and think: “Yes, I can do this”, then I think it would be time to hang up my heels. John I wonder where we learn this?
Jon It’s pretty universal, I think. I certainly come across it all the time in the corporate work I do.
Albert Without wanting to sound ‘actory’, I think it’s because we have to find ourselves in each job that we do.
Jon I think that’s right. Also, there are a lot of jobs where you can hit the ground running and be great from the start. In rehearsals, you often have to be bad before you can be good.
Jenny Surely we all feel some kind of disbelief that we get to do what we love for a living?
Jon That’s a lovely way of putting it. Like it’s gratitude rather than neurosis.
John It was flagged up on the first day at drama school for me. We got a “you really are all supposed to be here, we haven’t made a mistake” speech.
Jenny Having done a lot of theatre, I recently got a great TV job. I felt completely out of my depth and wondered what admin mistake had led me there. I faked it every day – it seemed to work okay.
Ros I’m the queen of impostor syndrome.
Jon No impostor syndrome about impostor syndrome then?
Jenny I definitely don’t have it when I’m sitting on my arse, unemployed and waiting for the phone to ring! Is there a syndrome for thinking: “Why am I stupid enough to still be slogging away at this business?”
Gary When I’m unemployed, I instantly wish that I wasn’t an actor, because, quite frankly, when you have a kid, a house, bills and so on, it’s just a ludicrous situation to put oneself in. Then you get a job…
Ros My impostor syndrome is actually getting worse the further into my career I get.
Albert I think that’s so true.
Jon ‘The jobs get better, so the insecurity grows’ kind of thing?
Albert It’s because there is no natural progression to tell us we are doing well.
Jenny The longer we succeed, the greater the risk of being discovered…
Ros In the last 12 months, I’ve done three very high-profile jobs. And even though I know I’m there because I’m good at my job, and people liked me so they employed me, I still get the “you shouldn’t be here” voice in my head.
Jon It’s what you say to that voice that matters, isn’t it? You have to hit it with the facts.
John The thing is, my voice has turned into Trump. Hit it with the hard facts and it comes back with: “Fake news, folks.”
Jon That’s a great idea. Imagine your inner critic as Donald Trump, then you’ll be brilliant just to spite him!
John Does anyone have any techniques to combat it? Other than trying to convince yourself otherwise?
Albert I don’t try to combat it. I think it’s a good thing. It makes me work harder and stay humble.
Jenny I think everyone else must feel the same, so I try not to let it bother me.
Jon I think the mantra of the late, great Robert Demeger is useful here: “I may not be the best actor to ever play this part, but I’m the only one they’re getting tonight.”
John Oh, I’m having that.
Jon I had one experience when I was cast in a tiny part that had an important scene at the end of the play. The cast was very starry and I was a bit overawed. Because the scene was at the end of the play, I hadn’t been in rehearsal for about 10 days so nobody really knew who I was. We got to the scene and I was so bad I went off and cried afterwards.
Albert Oh Jon, it’s just like the Waltons!
Jon Then a mate of mine happened to ring me and I splurged it all, and he said: “Mate, they’re not going to sack you, the part isn’t important enough. So even if you’re shit, you might as well be shit and enjoy yourself.”
John Actually, that’s a good mantra. You probably aren’t shit, but useless trying to convince yourself of that – so just “be shit and enjoy yourself”. You can also sing it to the tune of Go West, if you like.
Albert (Sings) “Be shit and enjoy yourself. Be shit and enjoy yourself”… I love it!
Jon Another good strategy is to imagine someone else saying it to you. A colleague coming up to you and saying: “They’ve made a mistake, you shouldn’t be here, you’re not good enough.” You’d be furious!
Ros I’d probably just agree with them and go off somewhere to cry. But that’s all to do with my own issues.
Jon Dryden Taylor is an actor, writer and editor of The Green Room. If you work in theatre and would like to join in the conversation, email email@example.com
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