“Do I really deserve this? Do I have the skills to pull this off? I’m not as good as some of these other people. Imposter!” … And other negative, untrue things we tell ourselves.
I was at a meeting the other day. I don’t go to a lot of meetings, so when I have one scheduled I get excited. That might seem strange, but I love meetings. I usually dress nicely and mentally prepare myself for any potential questions, I basically prepare as I would for a job interview.
This meeting though? That day I just wasn’t feeling it. The meeting was at the gym where I study Muay Thai (an ancient form of kickboxing), so I took advantage of that fact and showed up wearing workout clothes. Don’t you fret, I was coordinated! I didn’t look like a schlub, but I also wasn’t wearing makeup.
Once we got started, I became overwhelmed with the feeling that I didn’t belong there. Whether it was my uber-casual outfit, my lack of makeup, or my general blah-ness, I couldn’t seem to shake the feeling.
Rather than run screaming (which is what I wanted to do but didn’t have the energy for) I focused, instead, on the facts. I concentrated on taking good notes (a spot on recommendation from Richard Branson in The Virgin Way) and soon I was slipping into my flow. I noticed that when I asked questions and contributed, as I normally would during a meeting, that the other people there betrayed a brief look of surprise.
I couldn’t tell if they were shocked because I had something smart to say, or because they were shocked at my stupidity. Either way, insecurity had taken hold and the only thing I could do was to focus on what I needed to do my job well, and muddle through the rest as best I could. I relied on my smarts and on my uncanny ability to keep a meeting moving.
Later I realized that I was succumbing to Imposter Syndrome. I had heard other women mention it and I read its wikipedia entry. Strangely enough I rarely hear men mention it. Imposter Syndrome creeps in when you don’t feel like you deserve to be “at the table”; When you doubt and/or undervalue yourself.
When I’ve talked to men about Imposter Syndrome their eyes sort of glaze over and they tune out. They’ve never felt like they didn’t deserve something. Men are encouraged to be confident, in fact it’s sort of strange when they aren’t. Women, we are taught to be confident in a quieter way. We should wait our turn, don’t speak forcefully, don’t let your emotions show. You know the drill right?
Sitting at that meeting without my normal clothes, jewelry and makeup, without my armor and war paint, I felt vulnerable and exposed. I felt like I didn’t belong, which wasn’t true, because I was invited to that meeting. Someone thought I should be there. Someone wanted to hear my opinion.
I think that Imposter Syndrome hits when our minds are not where they are supposed to be. When we aren’t present. When, instead of concentrating on the matter at hand, we instead allow our focus to dwell on our insecurities. Imposter Syndrome prevents us from contributing in a meaningful way, and let’s be honest, everyone loses when that happens.
I’m inclined to believe that this is a women’s problem and one that we need to get over, quickly. No one can solve our insecurities for us, so we need to actively seek out ways to build our confidence. We all have something to offer, a unique collection of experiences and thoughts that no one else has, or ever will have. You, my dear, and the one and only version of yourself that ever will be. The whole reason we are here (in my humble opinion) is to share our gifts with the world. Introvert or extrovert, we all have our very own unique gifts, and those gifts are meant to be shared so that our communities and grow in new and meaningful ways.
So let’s all put on our big girl panties and own that place at the table! (Makeup or not!)