Anyone Suffer from Impostor Syndrome?

June 29, 2019, 5:25 PM · From Wikipedia:

---Impostor Syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud". Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved. Individuals with impostor syndrome incorrectly attribute their success to luck, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent than they perceive themselves to be---

The link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome

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Anyhow, I was wondering if any others here suffer from this. I certainly do, primarily from the perspective of a teacher, but also as a performer. Actually, even in writing this, I think to myself that perhaps I don't have Impostor syndrome but am *actually* just a fraud! Maybe I'm missing the "syndrome" part!

It bothers me less as a performer because if I give a bad performance, it really only affects me. But if I'm an incompetent teacher, I could be ruining the musical success of hundreds of people.

Here are some of the conflicts/self-arguing that I have, characterized by an attempted positive thought and then countered by a negative thought afterwards:

(+) All of my students say I am an excellent teacher. They constantly go out of their way to let me know.
(-) Most of these people are beginners, so how could they know what constitutes a good violin teacher?


(+) In trying to think of other teachers in my vicinity that I could recommend, it's hard to find others that I would recommend more than myself. In fact, when my schedule is full and a beginner contacts me, I can't give others' names in good faith, though I certainly attempt to.
(-) I may just not know that many local teachers. My pool of comparison is limited.


(+) When I receive a student who actually does precisely what I instruct, their progress is very fast and of good quality.
(-) Maybe those rare students were bound to succeed regardless of their instructor's abilities.


(+) Many of my own students don't make the fast progress that I'd like them to, but it's because of one reason or another, such as lack of parental support, lack of attention span, or lack of (__insert reason here___).
(-) Maybe a better teacher would find ways to effectively inspire the parents, command better attention from the student, and do whatever else was necessary to get fast progress.


And all of this brings up the thought: how does a teacher know that they're worthy of teaching? Isn't it presumptuous for me to just say that I *know* that I am? I don't have a history of students winning competitions or reaching very high levels of playing, so where is my proof? I know that there are some posters here that believe anyone not conservatory-trained and not capable of playing high-level repertoire simply shouldn't be teaching at all. It makes me doubt myself greatly. Yes, I think I can play high-level pieces, but is the quality high enough to validate me playing them? And if I'm not *truly* playing those pieces at the required quality, then am I really capable of leading students down the correct path?

I think of Jeewon Kim's sister who supposedly consistently gets nearly every student to a "bruch-level" equivalent on cello in 4 years or less. And I think to myself, how is this possible? And Lydia's teacher seems to get similar results on violin, if I'm recalling the contents of previous threads correctly. Has this success rate been amplified by many less-dedicated students either being given away to a different teacher or giving up early on? Or are these teachers really just capable of motivating/teaching/commanding/inspiring nearly every student who walks in the doors to achieve this high level of success, regardless of the situation? Are they seeing these students every day or something? Or is this from just a single weekly lesson?

Replies (33)

June 29, 2019, 7:58 PM · Teachers that produce consistently excellent students typically have a combination of three things -- a filter on the type of students they teach, the ability to competent teach a variety of learning styles and physical types, and the ability to assign material and motivate students to put in the practice time in an efficient way that produces good results even for the kids who are not able to do 2+ hours a day every day.
Edited: June 29, 2019, 8:35 PM · I feel the same way. There are times I feel more confident in myself, but after a performance, I always walk away feeling like an "impostor" (for lack of a better word). Even when people tell me they loved my performance, I can't shake the feeling. It causes me some stress, but I think everyone's like that from time to time.

In order to be diagnosed with the actual syndrome I'd imagine it has to be constant and interfere with your ability to lead a functional life.

June 29, 2019, 10:14 PM · To Lydia's list, I would add a fourth thing: the teachers with consistently excellent students are high-level players themselves (or were such players at one time and have a profound fund of knowledge on which to draw, such as Galamian).

There are many excellent teachers for beginner to intermediate students, and one of the characteristics of such excellent teachers is the awareness of their own limitations and the willingness to pass students on to higher level teachers when the student advances past the first teacher's level of expertise.

Edited: June 30, 2019, 4:25 AM · I know exactly what you mean. In my own professional life I suffer the same see-sawing of doubts.
I worry that I may turn into the Florence Foster-Jenkins of the violin.
I would suspect you are quite likely a very good teacher, having read lots of your thoughtful sensitive posts. I have heard you play, and to my partially trained ear, I would be very happy to sound that good. And although looks aren’t everything, I loved the look of your studio.
We aren’t all going to get to soloist or even professional level, but who knows how much encouragement your students have received from you that they might have not had elsewhere. Someone mentioned, I think to you, on a previous thread, that being a good violin teacher, is not just about the music.
I think the Dunning-Kruger effect was mentioned in another thread recently. It refers to people who never become as good as think they are , as they think they are better than they are. The corollary of that is that those who question their abilities the most, actually learn more and become better at what they do ( when I first read of this, it was in reference to medical students, and doctors in training - the students who questioned themselves the most, became the best doctors. The ones who knew they were the hot bright things made the most mistakes)
So I suspect you are likely much better than you worry that you are.
June 30, 2019, 3:14 AM · Thanks for the reassuring words.
June 30, 2019, 8:02 AM · Erik's 'You raised me up' on YouTube is IMO the best among all violin covers of this song, if you single out the violin playing.
Edited: June 30, 2019, 8:31 AM · I dont have the syndrome, but due to other insecurities of my own Ive come to the conclusion that the only way to get out of a cycle is to accept that one cannot judge oneself so one does not ever really know if one is good or bad.

Better to concentrate on doing the things one is doing and try ones best. The sky is not going to fall if one is a bad teacher, no one dies, no one is permanently damaged. The great violinists have had fair amount of luck in having teachers that suit them. One can never be reassured enough of ones competence because no matter how much people tell you if you think you are not good, then that is what one is going to think. Im sure we are better people when we are a bit unsure of our worth, it makes us more humble.

We are not perfect and dont need to be so all that is left to us is to accept that we are imperfect and hope that we can give enough to the worlds to have lived our lives so that the sum total of our lives is positive instead of negative. And to do that one doesnt need to be the best teacher there is :)

Edited: June 30, 2019, 9:22 AM · Just a quick answer here:

How a beginner could even have an opinion about what's a good teacher and what's not?

Well, I had 3 different teachers in my very first year, not because of me, but because of them. However, I could certainly say which one of them was the best FOR ME. Violin is a personalized subject, a personal teacher is required. I believe there are 2 types of teachers, based on what they teach. In college, high school... you don't really connect with the teacher, you go there, listen, learn and that's it. In art, teachers are a huge deal, and what works with one student may not work at all with other. So, yeah, a beginner can totally tell which one is the teacher that pushed them further, that made them play without feeling it was a score or something.

Specially at the beginning, what's a good teacher?
That one that makes you love the violin. I hardly believe any "tough" teacher that makes you play as if you were doing math exercises will make you stay playing. As soon as you can, you will drop it. I guess if one started with a tough teacher and kept playing, it was because the teacher changed or found a new teacher that made him/her love the violin.

Also, this syndrome really looks like something pretty much every musician or person that's highly strict and exigent with themselves would have, to some degree.

"The sky is not going to fall if one is a bad teacher, no one dies, no one is permanently damaged"
I couldn't disagree more. A teacher can make you love something, or hate it. Hence, it's going to affect your future.
How many mathematicians would come out of a high school with very bad math teachers?
None, and it's not because none of the students wanted to do it or wasn't "their thing". It's because teachers made them hate maths due to incompetent teaching. That's why I think it's so important to, at least, make the students not hate your subject. The worst you are allowed to do is make the students indifferent about your subject. This way, those who love it will go on, and those who hate it, well, you couldn't do much. Sure, one could argue it's your responsibility to make all students love your subject, but that's impossible, specially in 30-40 students classes.

June 30, 2019, 10:06 AM · "It's really just a question
Of your honesty, yeah your honesty"

(Rush, Spirit of Radio)

Being a violinist doesn't necessarily mean being an excellent violinist, and being a teacher doesn't necessarily mean being an excellent teacher. We'd love to have that association, and sometimes use that, perhaps via the term 'professional' to convince ourselves that that we're successful and worthwhile despite whatever challenges or anxieties we might face on occasion to the contrary, but that association is false, sometimes even among the supposedly highly accomplished, in that they rest on such laurels and position instead of on the merits of the work at all times.

You're not a fraud as long as you're honest with others and yourself. And humility is a hallmark of honesty.

And when you're neurosing about whether or not you're a good violinist or teacher, except insofar as that might as it rarely does lead to the firm resolve to do better, you're not being a violinist or teacher.

Edited: June 30, 2019, 11:14 AM · There's always a spectrum of any particular feeling or emotion, and self-doubt runs the gamut from narcissists who need more, to people who are entirely crippled by it and obviously need less. If you're concerned about where the needle points for you, see a psychologist.

A while back there was a series of articles about why so many people these days seem to have no hobbies. They work a little too much or their commute takes too long and maybe they're exercising more or spending more time preparing themselves healthier meals. But there is an underlying cause -- it's because they're not sure, going into the game, that they will emerge as one of the standard-bearers of that particular hobby. (Don't take up tennis because it's too late for you to get really good. Don't collect stamps because it'll take too long before anyone swoons at your collection.) Of course, as violinists we know that being skilled is more enjoyable than being unskilled. But the root problem is that success is not defined in terms of one's own personal enjoyment but whether you are impressing others with your skill, knowledge, athleticism, range of abilities, or whatever.

Of course, "first, do no harm" applies to teaching violin as it does any such profession. But I would say to Erik: Don't worry about whether your students are winning competitions or emerging into conservatoire. Worry more about whether you are enjoying teaching them and whether they are enjoying learning the violin from you. Let them (or their parents) do some of the other worrying, and if it turns out you're not a good enough teacher for a few of them, then remember that making good referrals is a critical part of basic professionalism. Meanwhile, steadily work to improve your game -- not because the visible outcome will improve, but because self-improvement in your own profession is something you're supposed to actually enjoy.

June 30, 2019, 1:45 PM · I would say I feel a little bit of imposter syndrome every single day. I think it's the constant accompaniment to someone who is passionate about what the do and constantly striving to do better. The more I learn, the more I realize I have to learn. In terms of teaching in particular, I think there is both room and need for various levels of teachers in terms of skill. I know teachers who are fantastic at the conservatory level but wouldn't do well teaching a kid spiccato, and visa versa. As Eric Booth once so eloquently put it (google Eric Booth Carnegie Hall) "90% of teaching is who you are". It's clear from your post that you are a thoughtful, motivated, humble and that your students like you and learn from you. I have a little list of things I like to remind myself of for what good teaching is as it relates to private lessons, kind of like a true north of good teaching no matter the level, and no matter who walks in the door.
I do this so I don't measure myself by what my student achieves (there is a wide range!), but what I bring to the table as a teacher.

Nice, but high expectations
One idea at a time
Go for the elephant in the room
Posture & physical set up: the roots
Singing: a string player's best friend
separate rhythm from playing
separate LH and RH instructions
Teach how to practice
Know when to let things go
Assign supporting repertoire: studies and scales
Insist on the Notebook
Solicit Deadlines & Audition dates
Inspire & Motivate: recordings, playing, top 10 list, concerts, workshops, camps, Youth Orchestra, variety of repertoire
The virtue of Questions: How are you? hardest spots, most frustrating etc. ?
Keep an eye on Injuries: set up and not playing through pain
Every student is different: find new ways of reaching your kids

June 30, 2019, 4:11 PM · Mary Ellen,

Thank you for the compliment to me and the others who know when to pass their students on to the next level.

I didn't know I had a talent for teaching till Bell Labs recruited me to teach Supply Chain management in the newly divested AT&T. I found my strength came from the fact that I had to work hard to learn the subject myself and become and expert in that field.

Similarly, I had to work hard to learn how to play the violin keeping a mental file of all the techniques I learned along the way and passing them along to my students now that I'm no longer active in the Supply Chain Management field. Teaching the violin is an absolute joy, even if there are days when my students frustrate me - I remember that I struggled with the same things and did not learn them overnight.

I never liked having teachers who were "naturals" - I remember a TA in college who was a math genius working on her Ph.D. - one day I asked her to explain how a particular equation was to be worked... her stunned expression was followed by her saying: "...but it's obvious!" Yeah, to the natural but not to me. Give me the person who has to work anytime.

June 30, 2019, 7:37 PM · Thanks for the kind words and encouragement, everybody, as well as the alternative viewpoints. It's much appreciated, and also interesting to read. Lots of good points here.
July 1, 2019, 9:09 AM · Erik - you are not alone.

Remember to have gratitude for all that you have learned and pass on to your students.

July 1, 2019, 10:16 AM · George, you’re very welcome.

I did not intend my comments as critical of Erik. From his participation and comments on this forum, I think he is a dedicated and caring teacher to his students’ benefit, up to a point. Where that point is, I cannot judge, but it is certainly before the level of preparing a student for conservatory auditions. The key to being an excellent beginner/intermediate teacher is to know your limit and also to know who to refer students to when they reach that limit.

Edited: July 1, 2019, 12:44 PM · I'll answer yes to the question.
Pros: I have a good reputation as a player and teacher in my small, somewhat isolated city. I get called first for jobs. I am the faculty violin teacher at the local college.
Cons: I have never won the audition for a full-time professional orchestra or performed a concerto with orchestra. My BA was not in performance. I have never produced a first-rate student. My technique is limited. I have a closet full of pieces that I can't play.
July 1, 2019, 2:47 PM · Oh, I certainly wouldn't attempt to prepare a student for conservatory auditions. You are correct that knowing limits is of utmost importance. I do feel it's possible for me to change those limits, but that would require work that I'm not willing to put in (not to mention giving up on every other project I'm involved in!).
Edited: July 2, 2019, 9:50 AM · I haven't read the wiki article, but its opposite would be something along the lines of Attribution Bias, I guess, something I know a little about because a family member has it.
I was told many years ago that Impostor Syndrome is common among top-ranking civil servants, fwiw.
July 2, 2019, 6:05 PM · Getting beginners to Bruch level in four years consistently? I don't think there's any teacher in the world who can do that without being highly selective and passing less-serious students to other teachers.

And, honestly, if you're teaching beginner to intermediate students, it shouldn't matter whether your students are going on to win competitions or study at major conservatories. In fact, I am never going to direct a beginner to that kind of teacher. The reason I suffered from entirely nonexistent teaching for so long is that my parents made the mistake of only approaching teachers who consistently had students getting into conservatories -- even though those teachers all claimed to accept beginners, it seems they only accepted young beginners who showed musical aptitude at an early age and had plenty of exposure to music at home, i.e. those who showed clear potential to play at a high level.

July 2, 2019, 6:08 PM · Also, most good string players I've met have impostor syndrome. It's really the flip side of the Dunning-Kruger effect.
July 3, 2019, 10:18 PM · Andrew, can you email me at SacramentoStrings@gmail.com so I have your contact info?

My luthier (he plays cello) and myself were thinking of getting a string quartet together, if you'd be interested. It'd only be for fun. Probably no performances or anything like that.

July 3, 2019, 10:46 PM · Andrew... Spot On!!! And that goes for any other profession as well.... at least the folks I want on my team.
July 4, 2019, 2:12 AM · I'm struck as to how certain character traits that used to regarded as simple aspects of normality are now labelled such-and-such "syndrome", or named after the psychologists who think they discovered them
Edited: July 4, 2019, 5:21 AM · @Steve. Quite! I mentioned attribution bias because the OP mentions attributing something to luck. Quite why over-confidence should be renamed the Dunning-Kruger effect, I can't imagine. There's probably a reason, but is it one I'd want to waste part of what remains of my life finding out about?

I had been wanting to mention Sparky's magic piano, but I forgot until now.

July 4, 2019, 5:33 AM · The Dunning-Kruger effect isn't overconfidence. It's the inverse relationship between competence and likelihood of being overconfident.
July 4, 2019, 5:35 AM · Erik -- I'll email you some time soon. I'm not going to be playing any music for at least the next two or three weeks because I re-aggravated the shoulder injury that I've mentioned before, yet again. (Not by playing viola, but by playing pickup soccer thinking it wouldn't really involve the upper body much. The game didn't, but the adrenaline did.)
July 4, 2019, 6:00 AM · In 2000 Dunning and Kruger were awarded an Ig Nobel Prize
July 4, 2019, 2:16 PM · If you had asked this question two years ago, just prior to retirement, I would have possibly regarded my self as an impostor in my profession.

Questions/thoughts like:

Is it possible I know less than at graduation 40 yrs ago?

If Patient X knew how unconfident I am with how to proceed they'd run out of here screaming bloody murder.

I am just a fraud, you know. I don't know 1/1000th of what you think I know.

Fast forward to now.
No impostor lurking.
Just the genuine article: (lousy) Adult Violin Beginner

July 4, 2019, 3:30 PM · @Toby "If you had asked this question two years ago, just prior to retirement, I would have possibly regarded my self as an impostor in my profession."
When I mentioned the high-ranking civil servants above, it was a survey of ones close to retirement that I was told about.
I was a low-ranking civil servant. When I was notified of my imminent retirement, the main change in my life was that I took a lot more care in crossing the road!
July 5, 2019, 7:44 AM · Can I put a “like” on Toby’s post? Love it!
Edited: July 5, 2019, 9:55 AM · I plead guilty!

In all due modesty ;) I think I am somewhere between Eric and Joël.
Some ex students just stop, when hormones take over from parental influence. A few move to higher things, and I get compliments from their new teachers. Can't complain. Now I'm playing as much as possible before the arthritis sets in..

Edited: July 5, 2019, 10:30 AM · Great discussion all. As a clinical psychologist, allow me to add a concept.

A colleague of mine, who was an exceptional psychoanalytical psychologist, shared a concept with me that has made a good deal of sense over the years. He referred to what he called the "Perfection Fantasy" (or PF).

The Perfection Fantasy is an assumption we make in which we equate "perfection" with "adequacy." In other words, you have only two choices - either it is perfect (in which case it is adequate), or it is "imperfect" (which is terrible and totally inadequate). That is the PF at its core.

There is no in-between. So, the slightest mistake, error, or less than perfect detail means that one is, in effect, totally incompetent. You are either at the top of the mountain, or at the very bottom. There is no in-the-middle.

This is obviously a unfortunate way to feel, since none of us is perfect in anything. We are all in the middle. We are all human beings.

Well, let me amend that statement. I myself have never made a mistake. I thought I did once, but I was wrong.

Cheers,
Sandy

July 5, 2019, 12:49 PM · Sandy,
You funny.
@Rosemary - Thanks. I kinda wish it weren't the truth.


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