A Creative's Guide To Feeling Good Enough
'Criticizing the past with the knowledge of the present is unfair. Be kind to your every level.'
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Today we’re speaking to novelist and poet Samman Akbarzada about navigating Imposter Syndrome in the creative field and why it’s so important to maintain positive mental health as a writer and professional.
First, can you give us a quick summary of your creative career? Where did you start and where did you go from there?
I've been passionate about writing since a young age—I was six when I wrote my first poem. My first inspiration came when I used to watch my mother writing, as she woke up late at night with a pen to portray the love and sorrow for her country in poetry, and that shaped me; whatever I am, whatever success I may acquire, it will always be because of her.
At first, my works were all rainbows and sunshine, but as I got older and tasted a bit of life, I noticed that it has a much more purpose than my pleasure time. Writing is my respite and my weapon to support the silenced. In my early teens I wrote short stories, then movie scripts, and eventually novels. Poems were something I wrote in every phase. After years of work, wondering if that dream was even meant to be, and over 500 rejection letters, I finally made it. I’m the author of two published books: my debut novel, Life is a Movie, and my recently published poetry book, A Glimmer in the Dark.
Many creatives often struggle with imposter syndrome, the belief that they do not deserve the success they have had with their work or that they aren’t good enough. Have you ever struggled with imposter syndrome? If so, what was your experience with imposter syndrome like?
Well, I'm going to confess I have a very unforgiving way of looking at my writing. As a newbie back in the day, reading those breathtaking books made me feel very small. Though I know very well that comparison is as illogical as it can get, since we all are different people with different experiences, privileges, mindsets, flaws, and virtues... But still, the haunting and disturbing thought that in the presence of such marvelous literacy by legendary authors, why on earth would anyone want to read my words? And even if they do, it's just because of someone else's kindness. Again, when I am being rational, I consider it lunacy. It's a frank notion and a wearing struggle that I've been trying to overcome since the very first day. However, I am getting better at making peace with certain beliefs. Hopefully, one day I will consider my work as worthy as anyone else's. Admitting and being authentic puts away so much of the pressure, to be honest.
What are your top tips for overcoming imposter syndrome as a creative? What is your advice for writers and other creatives who struggle with feeling good enough?
What helps me to cope with it is brainstorming about it and then coming up with the root of its cause and then kindly uprooting it little by little through the following notions. A typical observation is so narrow… feelings are what give it meaning, not just sight. Some might see rain as water pouring down, but someone else as the tranquil, caressing touch they've been longing for... We give things meaning. It's exceptionally subjective and so beautiful, but at the same time it can work against our favor if we are not careful. Imposter syndrome happens to be one of those. Don't give that intrusive thought the right to be felt so profoundly that it starts to take over you. If you are terrified to look back at your old work/self because of how uncomfortable it makes you feel, then my friend, that is a massive sign of growth. Instead of pinpointing mistakes or just eradicating them from the face of the earth, let's just accept that phase with a smile and embrace the progress. Today will be another imperfection of a better tomorrow, and we cannot continuously efface ourselves like that because then there will be nothing left of us but a perfected craft that we never get to know. Criticizing the past with the knowledge of the present is unfair. Be kind to your every level.
Just like every other thing in one's life, self-love is a journey, not a destination. Every day you'll find something about yourself that will start bothering you, and every day you must find something good about yourself that should be caressed and pointed out. Yes, we are made of good and bad traits, but you don't get the right to rummage for your insecurities just so you could be cruel to yourself and self-sabotage your entire existence.
What about the kind thing you did the other day? The time you smiled and made that little kid's day, even though you had just stopped crying. What about the little step you took to get closer to that dream? Even if it was as little as accepting it as your dream. What about the things you love? You have the ability to love within you, why not make yourself one of them?
Why do you think it’s so vital to maintain positive mental health as a creative?
Because that will radiate through the creative's work, and if done correctly, warm the heart of the one who needed that comfort. Being positive doesn't necessarily mean the absence of the dark, but an alternative portrayal of it. You don't have to become sunshine and roses just for the sake of positivity. Sometimes positivity can mean embracing your dark tunnel, holding onto your flickering lantern, so when you get to the end of it, you remember how significant pain can be and how unbreakable that bond is if we connect through it.
Sometimes we have the assumption that we have been bestowed pretty unique agonies, but that's not true. Parting our sufferings and not conveying them leaves us with utter confusion and isolation because earth isn't the home to mind readers. Pain is the strongest sentiment, and imagine if we all could bind together with it, none could break it. Sometimes I think that's exactly what art does—it binds us and reminds us that we're not the only ones who have experienced and felt certain things.
Do you have any boundaries you’ve set between yourself and your work that help maintain positive mental health? For example, no working past 6 PM, turning off email notifications, etc.
Yes, one of the vital one that I'm thinking of right now is that I don't allow myself to edit what I've written until I'm completely done with the initial writing process. It motivates me to keep going and I believe it’s one of the main reasons why I don’t find myself quitting on projects.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned during your career thus far about the intersection between feeling healthy mentally and creativity?
Having faith and embracing rejection. It is probably the best thing we humans can learn. In my opinion, it is the golden rule to live our life to the fullest and in the best way possible. We aren't born perfect—no one is. What we like might not be likable to everyone—people have different reactions based on their different experiences and tastes. We each are unique in our own way—we like certain things, and some we don't, but that doesn't mean what we don't like is bad or not liked by everyone. Rejections are natural and normal, we all will get them, so why not embrace them and become the best version of ourselves? Let’s depersonalize it and embrace the "no's" and the comments we weren't expecting to see. Don't let them tear you down, but understand that your true purpose isn't to please everyone, it is to be pleased with yourself.
I did this one thing: I shifted the focus to the things I had control over. I always do this. When my scripts kept getting rejected, I wrote a book, and when my book kept getting rejected, I wrote another book. When that got published but things didn't go as planned, I wrote another book. It's a catastrophe to get yourself going, it's hard, but it's much, much better than the hell you have to endeavor if you simply just sit there and sink in regret, resentment, and self-pity.
You don't have to figure it out. Life's not a race, you've got time—a lot of time. And maybe the thing to look forward to is yet to come.
Hope is all we have. More often than not, it's enough to keep us going, hope.
Join us on Tuesday, January 10th at 11 a.m. EST on Thought Catalog's Instagram for an IG Live interview with Samman Akbarzada.
For more from Samman Akbarzada, check out her work on Instagram and Shop Catalog.
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