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Monday, December 11, 2017

Owning My Imposter Syndrome

As an Agile Coach I need to be confident in leading, teaching, and mentoring people so my clients will trust me and feel comfortable when I ask them to take the risk of changing.

I have imposter syndrome

There, I said it. Well, I wrote it.

Here's how bad my case is: I wrote a post a few weeks back where I was going to say I suffered from the opposite of the Dunning-Kruger effect--which according to Wikipedia iscognitive bias wherein people of low ability suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their cognitive ability as greater than it is--but I didn't write that because I didn't want people thinking that I thought I was smart. 

Another example? I didn't want to use the word syndrome in this post but the less diagnostic term experience; because syndrome sounds like a big deal and I'm not important enough.  

One more: I attended a coaching summit recently; I was so excited to meet other coaches. After nearly two years of solo coaching I really needed to find a tribe. They had a session on imposter syndrome and I didn't go because I was worried they'd find out I wasn't as good or experienced as them. Really.

Yeah, that's a bad case. Sometimes crippling. I know; I struggle with it every day.

I did not grow up confident or with a good sense of self. I was told overtly and covertly for all of my childhood and young adulthood that I was less than, not smart enough, and just generally a burden.

I won't go into detail, but my home life was not conducive to me learning that I had value as a person. I was not valued; in fact I was aggressively devalued--physically, mentally and emotionally.

This was reinforced at school; teachers in the STEM classes (all male) told me that I didn't need to worry about my C grade in math or science because I was a girl and wouldn't need that knowledge.

As soon as I finished high school, I got married and had my daughter. I was 18 and truly believed that was the totality of my destiny. But my hope was that this amazing thing I had done, creating a whole other human being, would confer on me some credibility.

Then I started in the adult world of work as a receptionist and secretary. Every day I was surrounded by men who felt it was their duty to tell me that I should or shouldn't dress a certain way, how much I should weigh, what I should eat when out to lunch, when I could or couldn't speak and what to say and how, what choice of perfume or fragrance was acceptable, and that my input on anything was not welcome; but that I should smile more often as I was so much prettier when I did.

I changed the way I dressed, what I ate, my language, my volume, all of my communications--verbal and non-verbal. And I got along in that world. I learned which men would allow more of the real me to participate and those who expected the 'seen but not heard' version; and I watched, listened, and learned. 

I believed them when they said I could not work on computers unless I had a degree and tried to attend college part time, while working full time and being a mother to a toddler. It didn't work out for me and though I still sometimes wish it had, it did set me down a path of largely self taught, hard won knowledge and enlightenment.

I don't want this to sound like a diatribe against the patriarchy; it's not. But it is my story. And my story also includes many men and women who lifted me up and supported me and helped me and accepted me. They are why I'm here and haven't given up.

Though my confidence built as I stretched to try new things and I was supported by friends and colleagues, I always had this little voice in my head telling me that I should be careful, that I was not really in their league and they might find out; or worse they knew but were being nice and if I overstepped they might decide to stop.

I've long had cognitive dissonance; I feel like a fraud, but am aware that I am really good at what I do, and I like doing it. So I get up every day and forge ahead acting like a confident, experienced and knowledgeable person... because I am. Even though the voice is there all day long, every day.

My colleagues have encouraged me to speak at conferences and I always said I don't have anything to say that people want to hear. They tell me I should write a book and I say I don't have anything new to add to the conversation; what I did or how I did it isn't unique. (I only moved to another country and lived there for nearly two years while handling a transformation in a different culture for about 200 people by myself... and was successful.)

I short change myself and in doing so probably short change others. (I say as my inner voice says, Ummm, probably not.)

It's not easy but the fact that I am aware of it and actively work at dispelling the voice, and have discovered that so many other people feel the same way means I can be honest and sincere about who I am and my own fears when working with people.

Which, it turns out, is the best way to build the relationship necessary to guide people in the change to an Agile environment; which effects not only their work but hopefully their personal lives too. Because if we're building true, open, honest relationships how can it not?

Which doesn't mean I talk about or share all this personal information with my clients; I don't. (I realize I now have a fear that my contract opportunities will dwindle with publication of this post.)

But my new mantra is to take risks. I learned to scuba dive while in the Philippines, a risk I would not normally ever have taken... ever. Right up there with moving to a foreign country. And flying, which used to scare the absolute bejeezus out of me. Now I jump out of airplanes and drag my husband cross country for concerts with a band I am Deadheading over (Imagine Dragons).

So I'll keep repeating to myself I am not a fraud, and actively seek ways to validate that. I spoke at an Agile conference this year and survived it unscathed. In fact, people thanked me for the honest approach and information. So I am submitting my talk for next year's round of conferences.

I've resurrected this blog and made a promise to myself to let it go wherever it wants as long as I can tie it in with my work as a coach.

Maybe I will write that book.

I'm not sure if the voice will ever go away, but I'll use it to my advantage and create honest, truthful interactions with people who have their own internal voices so we can build workplace environments that are successful for everyone; employer, employee and customer.

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