By now, in my Kuel Life journey, I have spoken to thousands of women. And while not every conversation is a full-on heart-to-heart, a particular theme keeps appearing. Struggling with imposter syndrome is prevalent among the women I have spoken to and speak to regularly.
My take? I don’t think there’s a woman alive who doesn’t know what this means, much less how this feels. Including yours truly.
About a year ago I was asked to be on a local panel of business women to discuss the art and benefits of networking. Of course I said yes!
Networking is my jam. I am, in the words of Malcolm Gladwell, a Connector. In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm defines The Connector as a person who is able to make connections between what seem to be very different and disparate people and ideas. They are the ones who seem to know everyone, and are always trying to connect people and their ideas.
I know I’m particularly skilled at this. Too good, as a matter of fact, for my own good at times. I was fired by a marketing client once because the connection I made between him and another “random” person ended up becoming his next Chief Marketing Officer. Ouch.
Imposter Syndrome Bubbling Up:
“The roster was laden with heavy hitters.”
The night before the business women panel, I perused the LinkedIn profiles of my fellow panel members. Lawyer. Phd. News Anchor. CEO. Ruler of the Universe. The roster was laden with heavy hitters. Powerhouse women. Oh, and me.
I went back to read the confirmation email sent to me by the host that morning. Yes, it was MY name on the invite. I had a seat at the table. But did I belong?
I spent a restless night anxiously running through different scenarios and strategies for how not to embarrass myself. I entertained coming down with some illness last minute. Even pre-Covid no one wanted a sick person sitting near them in a closed environment.
While I may suffer from imposter syndrome, I am incredibly disciplined and can “make” myself do stuff of which I am terrified. So, the next morning I showered, dressed, poured my coffee into a “to go” cup, and drove to Research Triangle Park. That’s North Carolina’s version of Silicon Valley.
Desperately, I attempted to block my physiological discomfort triggered by thoughts of not being accomplished enough and, worse yet, that the whole gig was about to end, as soon as I got discovered. For me, I realize, there’s shame attached to these insecurities. Until today, I’ve been pretty quiet about these moments, fielding each one, breathing a sigh of relief when I manage to keep my inadequacies undetected.
Shining A Bright Light On The Matter:
Today, I out myself! Didn’t I already mention that I am really good at networking? So good that I lost a client to my abilities? How could I believe I didn’t belong at that table?
This whole idea that we’ve succeeded simply by luck and not because of our qualifications, talent, smarts, and perseverance is preposterous. I mean, I know that to be true…logically. So why did I silently and imperceptibly implode?
I wish I could say this was an isolated incident. Sadly, I can think back as far as my memories will allow and pinpoint various moments in my life where this imposters syndrome reared its ugly and fruitless head. As a teenager landing the lead roles in plays. As a young 20-something running consulting gigs around the world. Opening my acceptance letter to MBA school. There’s not enough room on the page to list all the moments.
And even as I enumerate them here for the purpose of the Smack, the memory of these moments elicit discomfort, nerves, and a fear of being discovered.
I know I am not alone. An estimated 70% of people experience these impostor feelings at some point in their lives, according to a review article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science.
Changing My Script:
“It’s as easy, and as difficult, as altering the internal narrative”
The reality is that imposter moments are going to come. Let them. By now I understand that the only way to work through the moment is to reframe it in my head. Feelings are the last to change. But, change can happen. It’s as easy, and as difficult, as altering the internal narrative. Yes, I was in a room full of brilliant women. But, it turns out I did a really great job that morning discussing networking. I provided value and insights that were different from the other women, but just as beneficial. No one pointed fingers, laughed at me, or booed me off the stage.
Now, I use that moment in my life to squelch those sneaky imposter feelings that randomly show up for me. The only one unsure of my worthiness of a seat on that panel that morning, was me. And, I can influence and change ME! That’s within my control.
And there you have it. As long as I continue to “behave” like a non-imposter, re-write the negative self-talk, visualize my success, and lean into those inevitable moments of failure, I can ride through the imposter moments and know that those small hiccups do NOT define my life.