Imposter syndrome & shame - coping, sharing, overcoming

Hey everyone –

Imposter syndrome and shame have their talons in me today. I know it’ll pass, but while it’s here, I might as well share my frustrations and invite others to do so (now or in the future, if/when you have a hard day/week/etc.). I find that talking these things through helps to put them in context, and this is such a supportive group besides.

I have imposter syndrome & shame around music more so than anything else in my life. It ebbs & flows in severity, but I don’t think I’ll ever be totally rid of it. I will always, to some extent, feel like a johnny-come-lately dilettante who doesn’t “deserve” music because my parents didn’t set me up to deserve it. Others have put in more work, more time, etc., and I should know my place as a spectator and consumer. STFU and take a seat, you hack.

People in my life who aren’t as into music as I am tend think of me as a font of wisdom and creativity, but compared to other people in my life who live/breathe music, I am nothing but a clueless toddler banging on pans. I don’t have obsessive, encyclopedic knowledge of any genre or theory or instrument. I didn’t receive any extracurricular music lessons as a kid (& hated music class in elementary school). My mother put me in dance classes from age 6-12, which I am grateful for, but the fact of the matter is that she chose dance for me because of fatphobia. I was a skinny kid and she wanted to keep me that way. It had nothing to do with physical literacy or music appreciation – though it inadvertently resulted in both (and I can still cut a rug in a pinch).

From Grade 6 onward, we always had to choose between band & visual art; I had no interest in brass or woodwinds, so I always chose visual art. I didn’t even realize I really “liked” music until I was 12 or 13, when I realized that there was more out there than my parents and teachers listened to. Then my world opened up, and I asked for a bass for xmas. I was an arrogant and impetuous teenager, so I joined my high school’s jazz band (again, forever grateful, in spite of how that turned out). Everyone else in jazz band had been playing their instrument for at least 5 years, most much longer. They were all proficient sight readers. I muddled along by writing each letter note above the staff and practising like hell every night. In our last big concert of the year, I made a dog’s breakfast of the hardest song in my repertoire and the one I was most proud of knowing/playing. I simply lost my place and couldn’t find it again – one of many skills others would’ve developed over the years, but which I never had time to.

I promised my band teacher I’d keep on playing anyway, but of course I stopped. I was humiliated and unaccustomed to being that bad at something I cared about. Developing my other artistic interests – writing, drawing, dance – felt like a cakewalk by comparison, because I’d been engaging in them since I was a young child. It was simply too late for me and music.

Throughout university, I immersed myself in English and creative writing, and wrote album & concert reviews for my campus newspaper. If I can’t make music, I’ll at least talk about it. Worship at the altar. But imposter syndrome sneaks in even there. Like I said, I don’t have that profound genre knowledge – which most reviewers seem to rely on. I can’t hear a record and name 10 obscure artists you’ll “also like” if you like this one, or immediately rattle off half a dozen relevant subgenres. I can set the scene, describe a record poetically, and draw on cultural touchstones, but I can’t construct its family tree or nitpick chord choices.

Shame pulls me from music, but it also keeps me coming back. Frankly, I am ashamed of not being able to proficiently play an instrument. (So here I am, muddling through B2B.) I am ashamed of feeling like a dilettante. (So I read as much as I can about music, watch as many films as I can, etc.) I am ashamed of coming from such a musical family that for some reason didn’t see music education as important to my development, even though I could play songs by ear on xylophones and toy keyboards as a very young child – that window closed long ago. I’m trying to open another. Some days it moves, other days it jams up. Sometimes I’d bloody well like to smash it!

On good days, I know that everyone deserves music. It’s one of the most human things there is.

On bad days (like today), I am convinced that I have failed music & therefore fail as a human.

Most days are somewhere in between.

Share, if you like. Get it off your chest. I’m here to bear witness. :v:


I have always loved music. Never knew a thing about it other than that I loved it. My sister was a very gifted musician and singer and I was a good athlete. I just thought we each had our own gifts and the ability to play music wasn’t mine.

My best friend in high school, who I still jam with, played the drums. I had wanted to play the drums since second grade, but never touched a drum until I met him. And hey, I could kinda play drums. Six years later I bough my own drums and played them for years thinking I was unable to learn to play other instruments.

Almost five years ago we put our boys in piano lessons. I told my wife I wanted to take lessons too. I took lessons for almost a year and even did a recital with a bunch of ten year olds. It was very eye opening, because with the right instruction I was able to play the piano! I had to quit though because we had a newborn and just couldn’t keep up.

A year or so later I picked up the bass and haven’t looked back. I’m still very much a beginner, but I look forward to playing in a band someday. (kinda hard though because I live in a town of 1200 people, but it’s still the goal)

You’re right @cg_postbunk music is for everyone. I don’t have the knowledge that a lot of people have about music or bass, but it’s as much mine as anyone else.


Seems you got a rough day :frowning:

Time to sent a…


Aw, thanks! Truly felt much better as soon as I wrote all that out. And I know lots of us have come to or come back to music after many years away, so hopefully it’s a cathartic read for others, too.


I don’t care if I’m good or bad. I enjoy the bass so I play.

Hang in there and keep thumping. If imposter syndrome rears it’s head kick it’s butt and fake it till you make it.


It’s fascinating to me how kids develop these “facts.” I suppose it has something to do with how we are also developing our identities. “I am an X person” or “I’m good at X but not Y” becomes part of our adolescent understanding of ourselves & can stick like glue even if neither immutable nor really true.

Love love love your story about learning & playing a recital with kids. :heart_eyes:


When I was young my father quoted me Mark Twain when he said “Comparison is the death of joy”. It’s served me well for the last 50 years. I don’t care about my ability in any subject in relation to others. As long as I find joy / value in the task at hand.
My wife says I under think things. I’m OK with a lack of introspection :slight_smile:


That’s the spirit!!! And it’s how I approach a lot of other things in my life, for sure. Part of the problem is I have music on a pedestal compared to all kinds of other skills or abilities. That pedestal – that sacred status – can be motivating or demotivating depending on the day. (I didn’t get nearly so bent out of shape when I set out to improve my touch typing a few years ago.) :rofl:




Not music but in another art, writing. I had a great idea for a story, and was working with an editor to get it together. She told me I had no talent and should quit writing and do something else.

I didn’t write for years but came up with another story, which got published.

So screw that editor. People revel in clipping your wings. Forget about them

Keep on thumping my friend.


That’s a devastating thing to say to someone! I’m so glad you persevered. Working on any new writing projects now?


I’m writing a ghost story right now


I didn’t have any music education at all as a kid, my school didn’t offer anything and my parents were of that mindset that what matters is you focus on your maths, languages, etc…
They were very keen on their children getting top marks though, with all the best intentions, but still it left me with some serious perfectionism issues. If I struggled with something or didn’t achieve 100% right away I immediately felt like I was failing and would quit, which is not good when trying to learn music, or anything else. Then there was the popular wisdom I heard around a lot, that music is one of those things that you need to start learning as a child, and for many years I thought it was too late for me to learn an instrument.

Luckily I got better with age and a lot of reflection :slight_smile: I care much less about mistakes now, I finally took up learning bass and as long as I enjoy it and keep improving little by little, that’s what I try to focus on. Some days are better than others but now when I despair of my playing, I remember what I sounded like a year ago and then I feel much better… :grin:


As recent as yesterday I thought of giving this bass thing up. Then, on the radio/youtube, I hear, “that” bass line that just seems like beautiful art; then I remember that I (even at 61) want to be in a band, doing this thing… all this beautiful equipment- the only thing missing is “the bass player.” We all have our inner demons and doubts… you’re one of the few that admits it… out loud… You, are us. Do your thing, girl. See you at the top.


My parents never really cared about music. Yet, like many other kids, I had a cheap acoustic guitar when I was a kid that I never really had the discipline or encouragement to learn.

Everything changed when I joined my school’s marching band. I was selected to play the snare drum. The moment that I played my first “note” I knew that I wanted to be doing that (drumming) for the rest of my life. I was actually good at it (“gifted” or a rough diamond you might say).

Life happens and I gave up on/not pursued music after not being able to afford a drum set and tried several instruments that I didn’t like it. I’ve tried playing guitar but I just majestically suck at it (honestly, I don’t like it). In retrospect, I think that I should have tried harder to save some money or work part-time to be able to afford a beginner’s drum set. I was a lazy teenager, though.

Fast forward a couple of years later: I now have a solid career and deep down I still have the desire of being a musician. I still bang my fingers and hands everywhere and do air drums all the time. I miss playing with other people (even if I never was in a band).

Now I have the money to buy good instruments, but I don’t have the time or I feel that my ship has sailed decades ago.

I feel that I’ll never be as good as a session, professional musician. Even if I practiced 6 hours a day for years, I would never even come close to someone that is playing their instrument since they were a child. Most of the time I have to force myself to stop thinking about it otherwise I completely give up on my instrument. That’s what happened with guitar and other instruments; I seem to be sticking with playing bass.

I know that “comparison is the thief of joy”, but I can’t avoid it. What’s even the point of playing if I’m not going to be great? Or more specifically, a professional? Yes, it’s fun to play and all but it’s not enough for me. I want to be great but it feels that, like I said, my ship has sailed years ago when I was a teenager and never really focused on music and now I don’t have the time and energy to practice long hours.

That’s the end of my rant. I know that some things that I said don’t really make sense, but that’s how I feel anyways. Thank you for reading!


First of all, I knew you were a writer. Your proficiency and style shine like a beacon, and your posts are a pleasure to read. I look forward to them.

Secondly, your thoughts about music and your relationship with it is understandable and not uncommon, but it’s also utterly unfounded, in my opinion.

It’s true that some people seem to have been born or otherwise destined to be a great [fill in the blank]. I personally know such people, particularly musicians, who play anything they wish as easily and as well as you and I breathe. I have nothing but love for those friends of mine.

But the fact is that, regardless of how much apparently inherent talent they were blessed with, they work their asses off to play as well as they do.

The point is: There ain’t no free lunch. Maybe Mozart got away with that shit, but not us mere mortals.

An artist is an artist because of the degree of will, tenacity and preparation he/she invests in being one. And by “artist” I mean anyone who strives to create something from nothing. Talent enters into the equation, of course, but talent often comes in second to a person’s sheer force of will to succeed in creating art.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

By your own admission, you have demonstrated your will to play music your whole life. You have worked hard at it. You have participated in playing with an ensemble and in a genre most people never will, or even could. That is not nothing.

Face it: You’re a musician.

An imposter could not have pulled off such an elaborate con, or for so long. And, if one had tried, he/she would never have felt bad about not deserving to be called a real musician. That would require actual caring, and imposters don’t give a damn. They just move on to their next scam.

So…what’s the deal?

You are a musician. And to be one requires 1) wanting to be one; and, 2) working your ass off to be as good as you can be.

An imposter will be all over #1, but not #2.

The thing is, the stronger #1 is, the more naturally #2 becomes. At least, that has been my experience.

We all need to work really hard at being better musicians, but at least we are musicians because we want to be. Nobody can take that away from us. And nobody can take that away from you. Not even you.

Play, practice, get a sore back/fingers/wrists/arms. Feel good, or meh, about what you just played. Then rinse and repeat for the joy of it.

Because it’s what musicians do.


I think that’s an odd way of looking at this wonderful, unique experience (life) that you’ll never be given again. I think the point isn’t to be great, but to try lots of things and experience all facets. That’s what makes you an interesting, well rounded human. YMMV


Couldn’t agree more.


To our dear @cg_postbunk - I will let you in on a little secret…

Everyone feels this way.
Shhh, don’t tell the people that have enough self confidence to ignore it better than you, I or many others.

Pharroh Sanders famously said he still thought his tone sucked…in his 80s.
I think it is the inner critic that you need to take and channel to push yourself forward, vs. giving up.

I had a guy working for me who was an amazing guitarist, and he thought he sucked and had impostor syndrome cause some of his friends he played with were better.

Yesterday a guy came to buy a bass (he actually bought another from me a while ago). He plays guitar but started on bass and is getting back into it. He is infinitely better than I might ever be on bass.
He hung a while and fiddled with some of mine and then, gasp, asked me to play something and show him what all my pedals do. I sadly put out the few riffs that could be remembered from being put on the spot.
After I played he said, we should hang and jam sometime.
Morale of the story - we don’t suck as much as we think we do, and suck is all relative.

I am a late comer.
In school played violin for a year, trumpet for a year, then baritone horn, then nothing.
Determined that I would never play anything except the radio, I gave up.
My parents had no interest in fostering it.
Nothing. Nada. Zip.

Many bar years later I was empty, looking for something, something creative. A connection to New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina got me playing trumpet again. After a bit, I sounded really good (sousaphone too), but couldn’t improvise or play fast, so, I sucked (to me).
I took a lesson from this old and wise tuba player, had played his whole life. After one lesson he asked me to in his band! What? But I suck!?! They were all retired, and rehersed mid-day during the week, so it didn’t work. But that was ok, caused I sucked anyway, could never do it.

Fast forward, I switched over from trumpet to sax for a variety of reasons. Sax is very unforgiving and a great instrument to get you to quit when you take it up later in life. I think I suck so bad I am still cautious about recording myself (have done it a couple times as a starting point to learn and post for feedback) but have always been afraid. I decided recently I am going to push this anyway (now that I am over the posting video thing with bass).

In January my bass journey will be 3 years old.
I am happy-ish with my progress but still feel like a total imposter cause I have no idea how to or how I would play with others, and therefore have ‘logically’ determined that I am a hack at bass too.

This is not about me, this is to say to you…this is normal, you are normal, you are better than you think.
Music is a lifelong pursuit, you always get better but the ‘what’s left to get better at’ will always be bigger than what’s behind you. Be at peace with that and you can enjoy what you know you love.

“Fake it til you make it” is a saying for a reason.
No one else is watching you as closely as you.

If you quit music and go get some other hobby, there will be so many people better at it than you. It’s not music that is the issue, it is normal human behavior (unless you are an ego-maniac).

I really wish we all could have a 100 piece bass band, so many of us think the same, are going through the same, etc.

But - doesn’t that make you think - hey, if there are 100 bassists in this spot, aren’t there 100 drummers, 100 guitarists, 100 keyboardists, 100 vocalists, 100 kazzooists, all thinking the same thing?


Pete Townshend, leader of the Who and composer of music that sold tens of millions of records, said a couple years ago he’s finally become good enough on guitar that he’s okay playing with other musicians.

So yes everyone has these feelings.