Beware the Fraud Police - imposter syndrome

Who do you think you are?  Do you suffer from Imposter Syndrome?

Beware Of The Fraud Police

Did you ever have the feeling that even though you are achieving your goals, perhaps you have gone further than you should have?  That at some moment in the very near future you are going to be found out?  That the “fraud police” would come knocking and expose you for the phony that you are?

As a music teacher, did you ever feel that you weren’t qualified for the student in front of you?   Maybe you didn’t quite know where to take them next and you would be found out?

This feeling is more common than you think.  I have experienced it several times in my life.  When I was chosen to be a VJ for MTV, I thought for sure, they’re going to figure out that they made a horrid mistake and send me packing.  It had all happened so fast, surely a mistake had been made.  All kinds of self-doubt crept in and it took me months of doing the job before I actually got pretty good and built up some sense of confidence.


In her new book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self To Your Biggest Challenges,  Harvard professor Dr. Amy Cuddy examines the ideas behind her now super popular Ted Talk about “Power Poses.”  She discusses more than just a simple presentation trick about gaining confidence before an important meeting, event or performance.  She delves deep into the concept of presence, which she defines as inhabiting your full authentic self and being fully present.  It’s part zen, part charisma, part deep listening and being mindful and grounded in your body.  

Imposter Syndrome

But it’s also so much more.  Her fellow researchers  Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes , published a seminal work where they studied high achieving women and discovered something they called “Imposter Syndrome” in 1978.  Since then, it has become an influential body of work and recognized as not an illness or sickness or malady, but a feeling most of us experience at some time in our life.  By the way, it is a universal phenomenon that affects both men and women.

From Wikipedia:

Imes and Clance found several behaviors of high-achieving women with impostor syndrome:[2]

  • Diligence: Gifted people often work hard in order to prevent people from discovering that they are “impostors.” This hard work often leads to more praise and success, which perpetuates the impostor feelings and fears of being “found out.” The “impostor” person may feel they need to work two or three times as hard, so over-prepare, tinker and obsess over details, says Young. This can lead to burn-out and sleep deprivation.
  • Feeling of being phony: Those with impostor feelings often attempt to give supervisors and professors the answers that they believe they want, which often leads to an increase in feeling like they are “being a fake.”
  • Use of charm: Connected to this, gifted women often use their intuitive perceptiveness and charm[2] to gain approval and praise from supervisors and seek out relationships with supervisors in order to help her increase her abilities intellectually and creatively. However, when the supervisor gives her praise or recognition, she feels that this praise is based on her charm and not on ability.
  • Avoiding display of confidence: Another way that a person can perpetuate their impostor feelings is to avoid showing any confidence in their abilities. A person dealing with impostor feelings may believe that if they actually believe in their intelligence and abilities they may be rejected by others. Therefore, they may convince themselves that they are not intelligent or do not deserve success to avoid this.

While studies have primarily focused on women, one recent study has suggested that men may also be prone to impostor syndrome on similar levels.[4]

See full article at Wikipedia

Life Skills Through Music

Last week, my students performed at our Spring Music Recital.  It was a resounding success and possibly my best recital ever.  What made the difference?  I recently re-addressed my mission statement.  My mission as a teacher at Park Slope Music Lessons is to teach successful life skills through music.   With this newfound clarity, I realized that recitals are a huge part of this experience of music education.  But, to not only focus on the content and the technique of the performance, but to also address the mental demands of performing.  In short, to focus on the mindset psychology of successful performance – to quash the “imposter syndrome!”

Core Principles of the Musicolor Method™

Core Principles of the Musicolor Method™

Fake It Until You Make It

Four weeks prior to the recital, most of my students had a pretty good comfort level with the notes, memorization, and lyrics (for those who were singing.)  They could probably get through a recital as in the past and we would clap and cheer no matter what.  But as I noticed in the past, there was always some level of tentativeness and in some cases, crippling stage fright  present in many of my students.   The vast majority of them were at a 50 to 70% performance level.  So what would it take to get them to percentages of  80, 90 and above?  We would rehearse the body language of confidence.


I spent the last 4 lessons working on mindset.  We stopped working on the content, but rather focused on the psychology.  We practiced visualization of themselves performing well – seeing themselves on stage, feeling the clothes they would be wearing, seeing their families and friends in the audience.  I brought out the digital piano we use for recitals, the microphone and we rehearsed how they would be called up from the audience, walk to the stage.  We practiced bowing and curtsying – something I still need to work on with them as so many ran away as soon as they finished!  They would practice the performance and keep going if they made a mistake.  

Cheat Sheets and Crib Notes

And there was some pushback.  A few of my students begged for using some kind of sheet music or lyric cheat sheet or chord charts.  I relented in a few cases, but in watching the recital, most of those students hardly referred to the printed page.  It was just a comfort thing, a security blanket there to keep them warm.

We talked about connecting with the audience (see my previous article on How to sing and perform better by connecting with spirit) and practiced making eye contact when singing.   

As Dr. Cuddy says,

“It’s not about having a memorized script;  It’s about having easier cognitive access to this content which frees you to focus not on what you fear will happen but on what’s actually happening…

Preparation is obviously important, but at some point, you must stop preparing content and start preparing mindset.  You have to shift from what you’ll say to how you’ll say it.

The results were fantastic!   Here’s a video from the show.

You can see the whole YouTube playlist of our Spring 2016 Recital videos here.

You Can Learn This

The emphasis on Life Skills through Music is one of 7 core principles I train other music teachers in.  The new mindsets and techniques are available in an online course for the Musicolor Method™.   We’re opening our course for new students in about a week, so join our waiting list here.

imposter syndrome - Who's behind the mask? Are you an imposter?

Who’s behind the mask? Are you an imposter?

Are You An Imposter?

Have you ever felt imposter syndrome?  Or have you helped others overcome it?  Please share in the comments below.



Author: Andrew Ingkavet

Andrew Ingkavet is the creator of the Musicolor Method™, a proven system to teach preschoolers music. He offers a music teacher training course and coaching. He is owner/teacher of Park Slope Music Lessons and was one of the first 3 VJ’s for MTV-Asia in the 90’s.

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