On a recent episode of Adam Savage’s Still Untitled podcast, he talked about what it was like to work at ILM:
“Back when I was working at Industrial Light & Magic, I got in at the end of the wire at the end of an era and got to work with many of my heroes, in a place that I’ve been dreaming about working since I was 11 years old.
It was Valhalla, and there wasn’t a single job that I worked on at ILM that didn’t at some point in it include the feeling from of, ‘Like, wow, someone’s gonna come up behind me and tap me on the shoulder and tell me to go home, because I clearly don’t know what in the hell I’m doing.’
That feeling happened on every build, and I just learned that that’s part of the process.”
These days, Adam’s feeling has a name: impostor syndrome. You think that there are going to be actual experts standing behind you, correcting what you’re doing, and that’s terrifying. You think there’s only one real way to do something, and that you’re probably doing it wrong.
Today, those people show up in the comments and tell you that you’re wrong.
Chris: “Every industry has its own purists, like the hard core hard core nerds, who feel like it’s their responsibility to define what a thing is, rather than just enjoying things. Are there sub-cultures who go, you should use lighting and effects, or no, you should never do that, it should just be the music?”
Steve: “There’s criticism there too. There’s criticism on the idea of production and how it takes away from the music. There’s criticism for everything!”
Chris: “For things that you should really just shut up and enjoy.”
Steve: “I have to say I’m probably one of the most criticized DJs.”
Steve: “Besides playing music and DJing, I’m also entertaining the crowd by adding this idea of throwing cake in your face, or having a raft ridden over the crowd, which I call white raver rafting, fun little things that I’ve kind of inherited from being in the hard core punk rock scene and having this no-rules attitude. The idea is just about having fun.”
Chris: “This makes a lot of sense to me, and I’m sure this was apparent to you, but I know you’re a big Bruce Lee fan, and I know that your record label is named after that, but that was his thing, can’t we just use this interdisciplinary practice of…”
Steve: “Jeet Kune Do.”
Chris: “Pulling all the best stuff from…it was all the same thing, the purists going, no, you can’t do that. Well, why? Why can’t I do this and this and this, and find what works best?”
Steve: “Exactly. There are no rules. At the end of the day, if people leave with a smile on their face and say they had the time of their life, then I feel like that’s a win.”
Chris: “It’s so great to hear you say that. Particularly in comedy, you get that a lot too. People go, well that’s not really comedy! Well, it’s comedy if people are laughing about it, how about that?”
Chris and Steve go on to talk about how Steve handles criticism and takes a Zen-like attitude about it. It’s worth a listen, but know that it’s a long, meandering podcast at 70 minutes. It really should have been edited down more tightly. (See what I did there?)
So what are impostor-syndrome sufferers supposed to do?
You could disable comments, like famous tech blog Daring Fireball by John Gruber, but that doesn’t work. For example, another blogger wrote an entire post demanding comments back in 2010 titled, “Be a Man, John Gruber.” (Even that title is a sexist mess.) John responded, but he’s lost the debate in the sense that people just carry on the discussion elsewhere. Plus, you’ll still suffer from impostor syndrome because you’ll think no one is listening to your work.
You could allow comments, but ignore them, only that doesn’t really work. Us human beings can’t know that a comment section exists without reading them. After all, we wanna improve our work and hear other viewpoints, right? What if people have a legit complaint and there’s something we can fix, or their comment adds even more depth to our work?
You could moderate comments, approving those that you agree with, and silently discarding the rest, denying them a voice. This doesn’t really solve the problem, though, because you’ll still know that people are disagreeing with you. Censorship only tries to protect your image – and ends up hurting it when people discover that you’re doing it.
Or you could learn to live with the discussion. I just approve any comment, no matter how much I might disagree with it. When I’m choosing what criticisms I want to personally accept, I use spam-filtering-like rules that give critics more or less credibility points based on what work they do and how they gave the criticism.