Although coined in 1978, the term "impostor syndrome" has been extra prevalent throughout 2015. And so, as the year ends, now seems like as good a time as any to share a story of how one famous actor overcame the possible trap.
Before getting into that story, perhaps the best recent tackling of the subject came in October from writer Jazmine Hughes, who dressed like the character Cookie from the show "Empire" for a week to overcome feelings of inadequacy at her new job at The New York Times. The condition of impostor syndrome -- which makes people feel they are unworthy of their success and therefore an impostor to the accolades they possess -- can be hard to mentally shake, leading these extreme and comical attempts to be particularly captivating.
With that in mind, when coming across a particularly crazy tale of potential impostor syndrome through what would have been a fairly standard interview about a new album from "Nashville" and former "The O.C." actor Chris Carmack, it seemed there might be an audience of those looking to overcome the affliction themselves.
Of course, it must be remembered that impostor syndrome was originally pointed out by psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes while focusing on how the condition affects objectively highly successful women. The following single story about a straight white male -- which is also written by one -- certainly does not do justice to the continuing systemic problem that still exists in our workforce. But it's anecdotal, and the unique strangeness of Carmack's situation still seems far-reaching enough to pass along here.
So in that spirit, to start off you have to understand that the most bizarre thing about Carmack's new EP, "Pieces of You," is not that it's a good album coming from an established actor -- a trope that almost always fails. The real story is that his life is bizarrely mirroring the aspiring musician character he plays on "Nashville," Will Lexington. He has a physical manifestation of an impostor to overcome.
"Just the nature of what we're doing has thrown us personally into very similar situations," Carmack told HuffPost. "We're living in Nashville and working as musicians. There's so much parallel."
The character in the show receives reviews from publications that Carmack is now achieving himself. Both made it in to the popular music publication, Pitchfork, and in a surprise, Carmack's review ended up being more successful.
"It's exceptionally weird," Carmack laughed. "And you know, it's funny, Will has beaten me to the punch a few times and I've beaten Will to the punch a few times."
Lexington may be different from Carmack in defining ways -- the "Nashville" character is gay and trying to make it in the country music world, which is a battle Carmack doesn't have to fight with his own music -- but the similarities to the character provide a literal impostor to his own ambitions. Carmack wanted to be a musician long before he became an actor, and his only chance at success with this EP was to double down on his own self-confidence.
On a bit of a lark, Carmack built his own guitar for "Pieces of You," spending hours and hours just whittling holes for tuning pegs in his apartment. He had to make sure his fellow collaborators understood that this album was something, as Carmack claimed, "I never would have released into the public if I thought I couldn't make something I was going to be proud of." The project had to stand alone from the shadow of "Nashville."
Carmack told HuffPost he was absolutely terrified of his music forever coming across as "trying to exploit an opportunity" through the "Nashville" role, with an EP that "didn't deliver." For "Pieces of You," the mission statement was: "The life it takes is the life it takes." That motto's underlying ambition certainly gets at banishing any lingering impostor syndrome that could have made the project impossible.
One of Carmack's first jobs with "Nashville" was to go to legendary country artist -- and the music supervisor for "True Detective -- T Bone Burnett's home studio and record tracks as Will Lexington. It can be tempting for Carmack to judge his success in competition with this other musician he plays. How do you top T Bone Burnett?
Despite this lingering fear, Carmack himself convinced Grammy-winning Nashville producer, Ben Fowler, to collaborate on the creation of "Pieces of You." Usually people think of the impostor in this condition as hypothetical, but Carmack is right in the ring, neck and neck.
In a way, Carmack certainly is known for conquering external foes -- his character, Luke, on "The O.C.," is most famous for punching the protagonist in the premiere episode while snarling, "Welcome to the O.C., b**ch!," a story HuffPost covered in a previous interview -- but with "Pieces of You," Carmack somehow bests the internal foe just as excitingly.
In seeing this triumph -- of going with his gut and not letting thoughts of failure wreck everything -- the words sung by Carmack in the title track, "Being Alone," seem to have a unique shrewdness you may just be able to apply to your own life:
"I've tried contemplation, I thought I could think myself home / But there's nothing free about being alone."
Get out of your head and learn to trust that others have no intention of making it roll.
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