7 Strategies for BIPOC Artists to Build Confidence and Overcome Self-Doubt

Somber woman wipes a mirror to reveal a happier more confident version of herself in the reflection. illustrated by Lo Harris
Illustration by Lo Harris. See more of my work here.

What is imposter syndrome?

Am I really good enough for this or did I just get lucky? If you’ve ever had this thought after landing a big job, winning a grant, or securing a huge opportunity to show off your work, then you, my friend, have faced imposter syndrome. 

No one is immune to it. Folks in corporate America, health care, and even the education field grapple with imposter syndrome. But overcoming imposter syndrome can be more difficult for artists because what we do is so subjective. You aren’t a doctor who can remind yourself of the number of lives you’ve saved to try to silence self-doubt. 

Most likely, though, your work has changed lives – you just may not know it yet. 

Imposter Syndrome and the BIPOC Artist

Overcoming imposter syndrome can be especially difficult for artists of color. You’ve heard the saying “You can’t be what you can’t see.” And oftentimes as we get deeper into our art career, we see fewer and fewer people who look like us. Soon you start to ask yourself, “Do I belong here?”

Top that off with your family telling you that you need to get a “real job.” 

And if you’re a self-taught artist who didn’t go to art school, imposter syndrome can be even harder to thwart. 

But it is possible to move forward in your career despite that nagging inner critic who’s telling you that you shouldn’t.    

Ditch the disclaimers. 

Sometimes when we’re showing our art to others we throw in qualifiers like “This isn’t my best” or “I just whipped this up.” Quit doing that! Stop downplaying your work. 

Your art may not be perfect but the mistakes that you see are things most people won’t even notice. Present your art proudly and unapologetically. When you present with a lack of confidence you’re betraying all of your hard work. 

You may be thinking – I’m presenting with a lack of confidence because I lack confidence! I get it. But just fake it till you make it! 

Let go of perfectionism. 

Release yourself from the idea that your work will ever be perfect. It won’t! Perfection is not a thing. It’s not possible for you. It’s not possible for me. And when you get caught up in the pursuit of perfection you don’t allow yourself to improve. You know how the saying goes – progress over perfection! 

Track your progress. 

Documenting your progress as an artist can work wonders for your confidence. Seeing how far you’ve come will show you what you’re capable of being and doing in the future. These are literal receipts that you are giving yourself whenever you're facing doubt. When you document your process, you have undeniable proof that you are good at what you do and that every day you keep getting better. 

Keep a brag file. 

Start a list – in a Google Doc, the Notes app of your phone or a journal – of all of your accomplishments and accolades, both big and small. Review this list as often as you need to. Don’t be afraid to ask a close friend to help you with the list. Oftentimes, our loved ones do a better job of keeping track of our achievements than we do. 

Choose your friends wisely. 

If you follow me on Instagram, you know I believe community is everything! Find your people. Surround yourself with people who get it, people you can share your work – and your woes – with, people who will offer constructive criticism when you need it but will also push you to keep going. 

Never stop learning. 

You don’t need an art degree to be a successful professional artist. I’m living proof of that. But all of us – whether we have an art degree or not – should always look to learn and try new things. Try an online class or teach yourself a new skill with YouTube. 

Try something that scares you a little bit. Even though your inner critic seems evil, that voice is actually trying to protect you from getting your feelings hurt. But once you – and your inner critic – see that you can do hard things, taking a chance on yourself will get easier and easier to do. 

Be a mentor. 

One of the best ways to realize how much you know and how far you’ve come is to share your knowledge with someone else. Be a mentor to an emerging artist and share the lessons you’ve learned along the way. Don’t be afraid to lift as you climb. 

The Truth About Imposter Syndrome

To be honest, you’ll probably never be rid of imposter syndrome totally. Overcoming imposter syndrome isn’t about making it go away completely. Overcoming imposter syndrome means being able to move forward in spite of it. You overcome when you feel the fear and do it anyway. 

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lo harris poses with her choice illustration markers

Lo Harris is an NYC-based artist, educator and children’s book illustrator who champions vibrance, confidence and joy.

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In an effort to make life as an artist more accessible and approachable for all, I’ll be sharing tips, tricks and resources to help you thrive while navigating a career as an artist, designer, or freelance creative. If you like what I do, consider making a donation to help support me in sharing with my creative community.
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