Deal With Self-Doubt

Kate Winslet

“Sometimes I wake up in the morning before going off to a shoot, and I think, I can’t do this; I’m a fraud. They’re going to fire me — all these things. I’m fat; I’m ugly…”

Those admissions by Kate Winslet [Interview mag. Nov 2000] were made after her Academy Award nominations for Titanic (1997) and Sense and Sensibility (1995).

Those kinds of impostor feelings are shared by a wide range of highly talented people, including many actors.

Michelle Pfeiffer said (in 2002) “I still think people will find out that I’m really not very talented. I’m really not very good. It’s all been a big sham.”

Nicole Kidman as Martha GellhornNicole Kidman [profile page] has said she often thinks, “They’re going to look at me to fire me.”

And Don Cheadle said, “All I can see [in his performances in movies] is everything I’m doing wrong that is a sham and a fraud.”

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Actor Stacey Jackson, in a Backstage article (“Doubts” – apparently no longer online) notes that “A healthy dose of self-doubt isn’t always a bad thing. Ask your parents and friends if they have doubts about their professional abilities, and I’m sure the honest ones will say, ‘yes.’

“It seems silly now, but until recently, I thought that I was the only one who questioned my abilities. But teachers, consultants, lawyers, writers, doctors, you name it, they all have doubts at various points in their careers. Even brilliant actors doubt their talent.”

Doubt can keep us diligent

But, Jackson notes, “Doubts keep us diligent. Without doubt, I probably wouldn’t keep studying my craft and striving for better work. Fear of failure is a great motivator and it keeps our actor egos in check… doubt and passion is a powerful combination. It’s the mark of a determined actor.”

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There are probably a number of personality traits that impact our self-doubt and feelings of being a fraud, such as perfectionism, holding very high standards for yourself and your work.

A number of years ago, speaking of Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow said, “I think Matt places so much importance on being an artist or a good actor, and he’ll really beat himself up to get there. You always feel like he’s feeling: ‘I don’t deserve this.'”

And Damon admitted, “I just never know if I’m going to pull it off. I have terrible, grave concerns about my own ability.”

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Impostor feelings

Many talented and creative people experience impostor or fraud feelings and beliefs about themselves, despite their accomplishments.

Career change mentor Valerie Young explains the concept of the Impostor Syndrome in my article Getting Beyond Impostor Feelings.

Some quotes in the article:

Mike Myers“I still believe that at any time the no-talent police will come and arrest me.” Mike Myers

“I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?” Meryl Streep

“Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud.” Emma Watson

There is also a video by Dr. Valerie Young, and she has a program: Overcome the Impostor Syndrome.

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Challenging them can help limit fraud feelings

One way to deal with fraud feelings is to use a cognitive therapy strategy of “questioning the evidence”:

Would a producer of director really make such an important business decision as casting based merely on your looks, with no consideration of your acting ability?

Do your peers really make comments about your work that imply you are a fake?

There may also be deeper issues of self-esteem or fear of success that can help make us feel like a fraud. But much of that stuff can be improved with counseling, and just life experience and greater self-awareness.

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Erika ShannonErika Shannon, a choreographer and movement coach, writes about self-doubt and what to do about it.

She starts an article with some common self-limiting thoughts:

“I am the biggest/shortest/least experienced/oldest/youngest/worst person in this room.”
“I’ll never be able to do what they’re asking me to do.”
“I shouldn’t be here.”
“People are going to judge me.”
“I can’t do this.”

Shannon continues:

“Ugh! Doubting yourself. It’s a nasty habit that can feel impossible to escape—especially in classes and auditions. But as we all know, if you want to work in this business, you have to audition.

“And if you want to actually book jobs on a regular basis, you have to train. And that means standing in front of strangers and pouring your heart out over and over again, sometimes multiple times per day.”

She lists some helpful tips:

1. Work from the outside in. Calm nervous energy by grounding your body before you do anything vulnerable. …

2. Get present to quiet your inner chatter. Get out of your head by getting into your physical body. …

3. Change the rules of the comparison game. After over 20 years in this business, I will not say, “Stop comparing yourself to others” because comparison is inevitable. However, if you can perfect the art of turning comparison into compliment, you will effectively shift negative thoughts to positive action. …

For details, see her Backstage article 3 Tricks for Conquering Self-Doubt, Nov. 6, 2015.

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Another related article: Talented, But Insecure

Emily Mortimer, Alison PillAlison Pill has commented about this kind of insecurity, which can apply to many kinds of public presentation, like making speeches:

“The only way to deal with nerves is by focusing on whatever you have to do and forgetting about the number of people watching and everything that depends on you.

“Sometimes, I get so incredibly nervous before a take that I forget lines or I mess them up.”

Pill added, “When that happens, I know that I am not a part of the scene since the character isn’t nervous. It’s a matter of aligning your own feelings with what the scene is about… if the character isn’t uncomfortable then I can’t be.”

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