The idea of The Impostor Syndrome has gotten a lot of presence of late. You feel like no matter how much you have done with your art, your creative business, that you just do not belong. The table was not meant to include you. The feeling then goes that the intimidation prevents you from manifesting the fullness of your true self. Whether by self-sabotage or simply by keeping yourself and your creative business stuck in a familiar rut, the “next level” remains ever elusive.
Without being overly dismissive of the issue, I have another take. Without a solid foundation of a business that supports the art behind it, celebrating what you, the artist, care most about, you will be increasingly exhausted by your own creation. Literally, the bigger and stronger you and your art get, the more most creative businesses compete with both you and your art. Another way of putting it — the more you envision bigger, the more your creative business calls you a fraud.
No wonder you can never feel satisfied by the effort, nourished by the creative experience. Instead, your business is the voice in your head saying you do not belong since it is only by luck that you were able to accomplish what you did.
Instead, what if you started with intention? With an appreciation of the value you offer? With a deep understanding that you simply cannot build your business on the end result but only on the integrity of the journey?
To dive deeper into the integrity of the journey, a little review. Write down every step of your process from the moment a client comes in until the moment the project is done. Could be ten steps, could be a hundred. I do not care. Now group these steps into categories that matter to you — say design, production, installation, performance — whatever sings to you. With the categories and sub-categories in hand we can create percentages of value. First, as a percentage, how much is each category worth to you? Yes, it has to add up to one hundred percent. Second, how much is each step in the category worth to the category? Again, it has to add up to one hundred percent.
Now you have your actual value proposition. Not some in the air, get paid what you are worth sentiment, but a real statement from you saying what your creative process is worth at each and every point along the way. Time to get paid this way. Getting paid is not just money, it is also permanent decisions by your client, often both. With your value proposition in hand you have to make sure you are getting paid the value each big step (the category) merits with each smaller step (the subcategories) building to the ultimate payment.
Presuming you know what you need and how much you want to work, you can now have your business nourish what you care about. A straightforward example: You need ten thousand dollars. Your reputation is worth twenty percent, design forty percent, pre-production thirty and installation ten. Other than reputation and installation, if design, pre-production each have two equal steps, then you have it. Your deposit is $2,000, Design is $4,000 and requires two steps, Pre-Production $3,000 and requires two steps, Installation $1,000. Scale that however you want to given what you need for your art and your creative business.
My vision is that this has nothing to do with confidence or the ability to express your self-worth (i.e., avoid the impostor syndrome). Instead, it is about recognizing that the path matters and communicating the value of that path matters more. Sure you might hide from expressing your value this way for fear of being perceived as being different or being an outlier from the rest of the industry (local and/or national). Then again, you are an artist and isn’t non-conformity the whole point? There can be no debate that the value proposition I am challenging you to create (and then refine as you grow) is the truth of who you are as an artist and creative business. Call it what you will but anything else is a lie. While you might not consider yourself less than authentic, having no integrity to your value proposition sure does undercut the statement.
The chicken or the egg then? We have spent an enormous amount of time and energy to giving credence to the impostor syndrome, driving you to focus on capturing your worth, living your core values, understanding your why. All worthy efforts to be sure. How about we let our creative businesses speak first and for us for a change? Own the truth of what is most valuable and when about your art and your creative process and then allow the faith in yourself and your vision follow suit. If the truth will set you free, I, for one, would like to see where it takes you, your art and your creative business.