Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Impostor Syndrome (or The Post That Almost Wasn't)

While attending a recent conference (Penn State University's WebConference, to be exact), a table of my colleagues were discussing the very conference we were attending, and the fact that one individual was a chair of one of the tracks.  He was sociable enough and incredibly pleasant...and a couple of drinks in, he admitted something along the lines of "I have NO idea why they picked me...I always worry about that."  I asked what it was he was worried about, and he replied, "You know...being 'found out'." 

I knew all too well what he was referring to, but I pried a bit more and asked what he'd be found out ask.  "A fake...an impostor...I don't even know what I'm doing in this room with these people sometimes!".  I assured him he was not alone, and knew all too well what he was feeling: In a field populated with GENIUSES (not an overstatement by any means), when I go to conferences and sit at the tables I do these days, I'm waiting...just WAITING for someone to go, "Okay...you...yeah, Rosler...enough of your bullshit.  Out of the pool, you phony...do you even eLearning?!?!"  (Or something like that...)

But I knew the feeling all too well...WAY too well.  And I swore I was going to write one of my conference posts talking about just that: Impostor Syndrome, and how I feel it, how it's damaging, and so on, and so on, and so on...But...no go, to date.

Admittedly, I had thought about this blog post and let it go, as I had really only been at the conference for a day and a couple sessions.  I didn't feel the usual "Conference Wrap Up" spark I get when I'm embroiled in with my peers for three days.  It was amazing, don't get me wrong, but the mood passed, and I filed it under a "Would have been nice" category.

Little did I know that my wife, @gretarosler, was going to put that notion on its ear and give me the impetus I needed to pen these words.  See, my wife, when I suggested she should live blog her Nursing Leadership conference she was going to, said, basically, "Why?  No one would want to read that...What do I have to say?"  And it was at that point, that the ghost of conferences (very recently) passed reared its head and compelled me to say something.  I asked her to do it (again)...to blog/Twitter/etc., gave her a couple guidelines, and that was that.  If anything, I had given it as solid a try as any of us in eLearning do: We try to get the non-eLearning folks to see the magic in what we do, and (really) hope for the best. 

I heard nothing from her for the next couple of hours.  I honestly though the travel + dirty martini had gotten the best of her, as the clock struck 1000p.  Little did I know, she was about to change the way Nursing Leadership conferences communicate (albeit individually) and give me the greatest pat on the back an eLearning professional can receive:  She realized the importance of social media.  My Twitter pings, and I see it's from her handle...with an address.  What followed was nothing short of amazing, insightful, and (unnecessarily) complimentary to me.  Check it out here:

Shuttle Driver Likelihoods

If a fire had ever been lit under my ass hotter and brighter than her post did, I couldn't recall it.  It made me realize that just what said gentleman at the conference had suggested...what I have felt repeatedly...what we all know at some point in our life...that nasty "Impostor Syndrome" had been squelched by my wife, if but for a moment/blog post.  To say it made me proud is understatement of the millennia - That she realized she had something to say, and SAID IT.  I promoted it to all of my colleagues (likely, a good amount of you reading this), and they instantly got it.
With ALL that said, it's time all of you (who haven't already done so) realize a thing (or five) about Impostor Syndrome, courtesy of yours truly:

1.) Everyone has something important AND unique to say.  If you've never believed this before, believe it now.  If you're at a conference, you're the only you looking out of your eyes and thinking the thoughts your brain is thinking.  You're the only one who's lived the life you've lived and done the specific work you've done.  So, when you want to wring your hands and ask, "Why me?", it's because you're not ME.  You are you, and as the fabulous Tim Gunn said, "It doesn't matter what you wear, so long as you own it."  I'll do that a step forward...It doesn't matter WHO YOU ARE, so long as you own it.  You and your knowledge matter.  Own that fact.

2.) If you're there, BELIEVE you're there for a reason...because you are.  Your company sent you, or you've actually been selected to speak...or more...whatever.  That's AWESOME.  When you go, though, as soon as you hear a conversation elevating, do you retreat into your shell rather than suggesting something?  Why?  Because you think "Wow...these people are freaking BRILLIANT!  What am I even doing here?"  You're there for a similar reason!  Your knowledge and skillsets in your company made you an ideal candidate to attend, or your presentation was a cool representation of something that folks thought would be interesting to others.  Speak up!  Be heard.  Again, you and your knowledge matter.

3.) Remeber Number 1?  Shut up and listen to others, as well as saying your unique/important thing.  This is the one I struggled with most...I tried to talk so much sometimes just to drown out the silence.  But in that silence, someone else can speak...and you can listen...and hear something you've never heard before.  Let it happen.

4.) Help people feel comfortable enough to say/talk about their thing.  Empathy was the "E" in the TEACH acronym that I'm learning about in Tim Gunn's book, and it's important as ever when someone's trying to tell you about their struggle/situation 'back in the office', but they're a first time attendee and you're a speaker, host, docent...whatever.  Not only #3 (the shut up/listen to learn thing), but help others bring their knowledge out.  Remember all that stuff we want a learner to do?  We want them to be exploratory, we want them to pull (instead of us having to push), and so on?  Well, helping people find their way to that by asking guided questions, or just questions in general is one of the best ways you can give people that little tug they need to feel comfortable sharing.  

5.) You'll never stop feeling it completely.  With one through four being said, they don't completely eliminate the feeling...and that's not a bad thing at all.  I had a voice coach in High School (Joyce Schwinn, to be precise) and she said "The moment you stop being nervous is the moment you've stopped caring about singing."  That applies here - I think the moment you drop this feeling completely...the moment you just assume you matter...that's the moment you've become the Impostor.  A healthy amount of self-doubt keeps you from appearing as an egomaniac, pretentious, and/or any of a number of other nasty terms.  For as egotistical as I can be (ask my wife, please), when I get around the folks I respect/revere, I'm a totally different animal.  And I think that's why they respect me back...

So, that's that...my wife inspired me to write, as I did she...and isn't that what this social media thing is all about?  Believe in yourself.  You matter.  You have a story.  Let it be told.

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