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How to Handle Imposter Syndrome

When I left assisting behind and began pursuing steadicam operating full-time, I didn’t realize how much my role would change. I had ended my career as a worker and instead dedicated myself to mastering a craft. That distinction is important. As an assistant, my work had very little effect on the outcome of a given project. As an operator, my work now had a direct impact on project quality. I was now the person behind the camera telling the story. The upgrade in responsibility was massive, as was the pressure. I felt like a complete fraud the first time I stepped on set as a full-time steadicam operator. I had been hired as B camera operator and steadicam on a commercial for a large hotel chain. We had A-list talent and cordoned entire sections of a hotel off for shooting. I was petrified and convinced everyone on set would immediately sniff out my inexperience.

Up until the first scheduled steadicam shot, I spent the first morning of the shoot dreading picking the camera up. I thought that, as soon as I did a take, the director and cinematographer would know I didn’t belong on set. Just like in Atlanta, I was counting down the minutes until I’d be sent packing. Then, when the time for steadicam came, something miraculous happened: I did the shot. Sure, the first take wasn’t perfect, but we got the shot after a few tries and we moved on. Nobody said anything; the DP even complimented my work. After the first take, all my nerves were completely gone and I was able to focus on the task at hand.

I once heard an interview with Marcus Luttrell, a Navy SEAL and the inspiration for the movie “Lone Survivor.” In the interview, Luttrell spoke about fear, anxiety, and the importance of training. He said that, in a gunfight, training is the difference between letting fear incapacitate you or being able to complete a mission. According to Luttrell, although he felt fear or anxiety before every mission, his training kicked in once the shooting started and he was able to operate competently. You don’t need to be a Navy SEAL to understand what he means. If you’ve ever played a sport, you’ll know the feeling. You probably remember being incredibly nervous before a big game, only for those nerves to disappear the second the game begins.

This principle applies to your work, as well. If you’ve trained for a job and feel confident in your ability to do that job, you’ll be able to execute in crunch time. Obviously we aren’t Navy SEALs or professional athletes, but those principles of training and preparation apply. You need to prepare yourself for your dream job so, when it comes along, you don’t let it slip away. Like I said in the previous post, I practiced with a steadicam for an entire year before buying my own rig. In that year, I developed repeatable core skills and drilled them into my muscle memory so I didn’t have to actively think about them when working. I was able to turn my brain off and focus on each shot.

If you progress high enough in your career, you’ll eventually find yourself in a position where you can’t rely on anybody to help you or give you direction on set. I was hired as a specialist; everyone assumed I was an expert in my field. I was an expert to a certain extent. I knew more about steadicam than anybody else there. Just because you’re inexperienced doesn’t mean you’re incompetent. There’s never a perfect time to start a new job and there’s no amount of preparation that will make you feel ready at the beginning. All you can do is prepare to the best of your ability and jump in with both feet. Your first attempt may not be perfect, but nobody critiques your work harder than yourself. Just do the work and, if they don’t like it, change it. If you’re nervous, don’t say anything. Nobody can tell. By letting yourself feel uncomfortable and jumping in before you feel ready, you’ll be getting valuable experience and taking another huge step in your career.

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