We are all Performers, Imposters and Experts.

In the recent weeks since the first Presidential debate, I’ve thought back to my dealings with imposter syndrome (spoiler alert: it never ends!) Watching one very unqualified man BS his way through a debate was a great reminder that anyone can do anything (if they have $$$), and just how similar the performing arts and business are. This drew me back to my days in improv comedy (yeah, we’re going there...)

My current thesis around entrepreneurship, and a passion of mine for life and work in general, is that the arts and business can & should be intertwined. It will help both “sides,” as it were. (I don’t believe there are “sides,” though many people, and American culture in general, seem to disagree.)

The first place I realized this was in undergrad. I double majored in Theater and Business Administration (shoutout University of Buffalo!) thinking I’d be setting myself up for a stable career in the arts (ha!) and also learning about two VERY different things. Surprise, surprise… they’re not that different.

Sure, standing in front of a class balancing a broomstick on your finger while trying to access an emotional state that a loved one will die if you drop it is… a lot (and yes, this is an actual thing that happened in my acting class), but so is participating in a half-hour mock negotiation session, filmed and/or in front of your class for direct critique, with millions of (fake) company dollars at stake.

I remember fellow Business majors would say things like “I bet you don’t have to deal with things like this in your other classes,” picturing us all laying on the floor stretching before a jazz dance class. Meanwhile, Theater majors would lament not being able to “just sit at a desk and take notes, or a test,” while instead feeling vulnerable and exposed all the time. No one was wrong.

You’re front and center for both. You’re “performing” either way.

I say this not to discredit the incredible emotional toll artists take on to access the emotions necessary to do their work, but to allow the greater public and “business people” to relate to it. Sure, you are probably not doing something like this every day... but you know when you get butterflies in your stomach before a big pitch? That’s you feeling nervous about performing. That’s stage fright. When you practice a speech? That’s you running lines. When you write out a script for a big webinar or presentation? You’re a writer, ‘arry!

Sure, you may not be nominated for an Emmy (and you probably shouldn’t be, tbh) but your are tapping into the same basic skill sets. We are all performing, whether we feel like it or not.

Flash forward a few years with me. It’s early 2011, and I’m a newbie New Yorker with big dreams of being a writer/actor on SNL (hey Tina!) studying improv and sketch comedy writing at UCB (RIP.) One improv exercise that always sounded terrifying to me, but was incredibly fun and easy to execute, was “the expert.” The premise is that one person from class sits or stands in front of the class, and is given a random topic. You then have anywhere from 1–5 minutes (depending on how nice your teacher is) to speak about this topic as though you are a complete expert on it. (I would later learn in business school that this is just how many guys talk in class.) Don’t worry; I’m not alone in this observation. Then, you take questions as the expert.

If this wasn’t one of the single most useful exercises I’ve ever done in my life (sorry, broomstick) then I don’t know what is. There is something incredibly powerful about owning your knowledge (even if it’s, you know, fake). It is very empowering to speak about something you know nothing about as though you are a genius on it, and have people… nod in agreement! Ask you more about it. Beg for advice! Sure, it’s all make-believe… but is it? (Is that not what’s been happening with a large portion of our country at the moment?)

There will always be imposters acting like experts. There will always be experts feeling like imposters (especially women and POC.) We are all performing as we try to navigate our place along that spectrum. If you picture yourself as only one of the above, I implore you to open your mind. We are all creative. We are all artists. We are all business owners, even if just (or maybe most importantly) of our own selves. How will you put your thoughts and ideas out into the world? How do you want to show up in the world?

It’s up to you. Take a deep breath, walk in front of the class, and start talking.

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Love all things Theater & VC. BMI Lyricist. Inappropriate moment laugher. Alum #UBuffalo #NYUStern. She/her. cindy.sideris@gmail.com CocreatedVentures.com

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Cindy Sideris

Cindy Sideris

Love all things Theater & VC. BMI Lyricist. Inappropriate moment laugher. Alum #UBuffalo #NYUStern. She/her. cindy.sideris@gmail.com CocreatedVentures.com

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