Boss Lady

How to make the self-doubt of imposter syndrome work for you


It’s an affliction that affects the best of us: Imposter Syndrome. You know the one. The feeling where you feel like a fraud or wonder whether you really have the chops to apply for that job, put your hand up for that promotion, or take up an amazing opportunity.

In fact, it’s a feeling that’s familiar to visual artist Valerie Khoo, who combines her creative practice with her work as CEO of the Australian Writers’ Centre. “I think we all experience Imposter Syndrome from time to time,” says Valerie. “We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t!”

Valerie is right. Imposter Syndrome can rear its ugly head at any time, often when you’re about to experience a breakthrough or are faced with a powerful opportunity that can move your career – or life – forward. But you become plagued with feelings of self-doubt and wonder whether you’re really up to the job.

It can hamper your progress and stop you from getting what you really want. So how do you get over it?

Valerie says it’s unrealistic to think you get over Imposter Syndrome. “Even the most successful people in the world go through it,” she says. “So why fight it? I truly believe it will never go away. It might ebb and flow – but it won’t disappear.

“I’ve had to face it at various points in my life and I’ve learnt that you just need to accept you’re going to feel it, acknowledge that it’s there – and move forward anyway.”

“After all, the alternative is that you allow self-doubt to consume you – and that can stop you dead in your tracks. Instead, think of it as an annoying travel companion. It’s on the same train as you, so you might as well just accept it – and enjoy the experience when it goes into another carriage from time to time!”

Following a successful career as a CEO, Valerie took the plunge into the world of art. “I’ve always been interested in art but never allowed myself to indulge in this passion. I had allowed myself to give into this self-doubt and told myself that I should just keep my interest in art as a hobby.”

However, a couple of years ago, Valerie finally decided to lean into her passion – and hasn’t looked back. She has now been featured in art exhibitions, been a finalist in multiple art prizes and sells originals and limited edition prints of her paintings. She also works with clients and interior designers on bespoke commissions.

Valerie says there are practical strategies that can help. “Surround yourself with the right people, people who are going to encourage you. Don’t hang out with naysayers who are going to dampen your dreams.”

“You also need to be specific and share your dreams and aspirations with others. In my first year as an artist, I set a big stretch goal of what I wanted to earn as an artist during that time. At first, I wouldn’t share that figure with anyone. I realised that was because I was scared that it would seem like failure if I didn’t achieve it. But I knew I had to be accountable so made myself share this goal with some peers.”

“I had no idea how I was going to achieve it and, during that first year, I was plagued with self-doubt. But that can also drive you further and spur you on to try harder. I was thrilled when I achieved my financial goal at the end of the year and was also able to tick off the key items on my creative ‘to do’ list.”

Recently, the City of Sydney appointed Valerie as the Curator of the Sydney Lunar Festival, an arts and culture event that attracts over 1.3 million people and is the third largest annual event in Sydney, after New Year’s Eve fireworks and Vivid. Valerie is providing the creative overlay for the festival and is working with top artists on iconic art installations and sculptures that will line Circular Quay.

Ultimately, self-doubt is actually a key ingredient in any professional or creative pursuit, says Valerie. “I decided to let self-doubt go on this journey with me! I wouldn’t say we’re friends but we have a mutual respect and understanding that we need to co-exist in order to succeed.”

About Valerie Khoo'

For more information on Valerie Khoo and her artwork:

Recommended for you