Q42: Why Do I Feel Inferior to Better Qualified Artists?

I think this is a variant on what some of my more academic coaching colleagues might call Imposter Syndrome which almost everyone feels, by the way, especially women or so they tell me. If you don’t know what IS is, please don’t get distracted now and go rushing off to look it up, remember we don’t need more information and you are already good enough, but…try on these few thoughts for size and see if they shift something for you.

My brother and I didn’t go to University. It wasn’t thought important in our family. Not our parents’ fault really, neither of them had been and it wasn’t necessarily the thing in our family in the early/mid-Seventies although all of the next generation did go and my brother married a woman who had been too.

He used to worry in the Eighties that perhaps he was inferior to his banking colleagues who had been to university, and he contemplated taking an MBA. Then he went on to work hard until he eventually became CEO of the bank he worked for man and boy, and that kyboshed that. It is entirely possible that couldn’t be done or wouldn’t work in today’s world, where I believe university for 50% of the population was created just as a ruse to massage the unemployment figures and has now become a norm of sorts. An expensive norm. A wasteful norm.

My first career was as an accountant, as you know. And my second is as a coach. I have no formal qualifications in either, though forty years’ experience at the coalface and lots of related study. You can go a long way without paper qualifications, as far as you decide to believe is possible. We all know many famous examples of this too. I won’t name them, that’s a bit of a yawn fest.

I am an entrepreneur. I don’t believe in school. I’ve tried to suggest to various youngsters I know that they don’t bother with further education type school either, certainly not if it means acquiring debt. Adult Ed is the thing. When you are ready and really want to study, you’ll find a way. But going through it for the sake of going through it is a waste of all resources. If you love your subject and haven’t left home before, you are as bright as a button, adore studying and are quite academic, then please ignore my opinions about university and further education and fill yer boots. And these remarks apply particularly to the UK. If you live elsewhere in the world it may be different, either better or worse.

I think work-related study while you are doing what you do is just as important. And I would never do that because other people thought I should, I would only do it for the sake of my own interest. Lots of my clients do it for the sake of their confidence, they feel more comfortable with a certificate. I don’t, as it happens. Rather like Groucho Marx and, I think, Oscar Wilde, I don’t want to belong to any club that would want me as a member. Rebel yell!

Just like running your own business is something learned while you do it, surely the same applies to being an artist? In fact, I know it is because I have a client who is an artist and I know precisely how much she’s learned about the business of being an artist and about being a painter over the last few years. And I know who she’s chosen to study with, in all the different areas of her work. And I know how much more confident she’s become both as a human being and an artist as she’s grown in that time. In fact, she’s one of the best examples I know of changing as a person through being an artist and busting the inferiority bonkersness. Feel it if you must, and then go and do your arty (or any other type of) thing anyway.

You are a real artist. You were born an artist. I don’t know by what criteria anyone would judge that anyway. Who says? Who do we believe? And why on earth do we swallow their codswallop?

I do remember hearing Ed Sheeran say on Jonathan Ross that his success as a musical artist only really started when he stopped trying to please other people and focused on what he wanted to write and perform. He says it even more effectively on Desert Island Discs too, so do catch up with that one if you haven’t heard it. The BBC has a fabulous archive of almost everyone who’s ever been on, and Ed was on just recently in 2017.

Now the remarkable thing about Ed is how self-assured he was about that from a very young age, much more so than most of us I think, especially those who are still battling these demons. I put that down to what must have been some ace parenting (both of his parents were artists and arty). The music industry adapted to him (not the other way around as is much more normal) as he went about his business of doing his music his way, he didn’t sell out. He’s his own man. It is just one of the reasons why I admire him, not to mention his creativity, productivity and financial successes.

And this is how it can be for you too if you just decide that it will be, and act accordingly.

Qualifications haven’t been worth the paper they are written on in my own life. Other people, perhaps academics, would disagree, as would those who thoroughly loved their time at school or college or university. I know many people now who are going back to school at my age to get, for instance, creative MAs. Good on them, and I wouldn’t rule that out for myself either. But I notice another one of your questions is about age. Bonkersness alert!

Rebel, and choose to be your own woman. You can go your own way (cue that wonderful Fleetwood Mac song of the same name, music being a real vibe raiser.) Surely this works in art more than any other area since beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Anything else is just snobbery, and people just generally being up themselves which they are wont to be.

If you like to read biographies for fun, I would seek out those by mavericks who didn’t go to school and just went their own way about having a unique and successful creative life of their own design, without fear or favour. No comparisons! Perhaps you won’t be the next David Hockney but you will be the first you.

And, if I were you, I’d keep painting and creating and showing and sharing and selling your work, proving to yourself how wrong this particular niggling bonkersness is. If you think about it, you’ve made it up, haven’t you? Or bought into someone else’s reality. Stop it immediately!


All the inspiration you could ever need from the Desert Island Discs archives and podcasts.

You Can Go Your Own Way by Fleetwood Mac  – turn it up, sing it loud and unrepentantly

Your Biz Your Way

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