This weekend I will be participating in an event more terrifying than any Halloween scare. I will be attending my husband’s high school reunion as his plus one. Though he tells me not to worry, the pressure is on.
My husband and I are polar opposites when it comes to networking events. He lights up as he mingles in the center of the room with anyone and everyone. He memorizes names, occupations, next of kin, and random off-hand personal statements which prove he was actively listening (it is a talent he doesn’t always demonstrate at home with me mind you, but no one is perfect).
I, on the other hand, prefer to lurk closer to the perimeter or spend the entire event with one particular person or group. The only thing I memorize with ease is the location of the exits. I hide, nibbling on finger foods or sipping on coffee or wine – anything that can give me an excuse not to talk to people I don’t know while working up the courage to do just that.
The funny thing is, I actually I like meeting people. I like hearing their stories. I like sharing mine. What I don’t like, though, is the fear that takes over my brain and settles into my bones and causes me to slur my words or stutter and gesture with my hands like a mad woman when surrounded by strangers at an event promoting myself rather than say, a product or company. It is the fear of saying something wrong and being deemed a fraud or an impostor.
I should be afraid. I am my own worst enemy.
They might ask, so what is it you do?
The answer in my case is complicated and for every accomplishment, I might rattle off, a disclaimer lays equally ready to roll off my tongue.
I pepper words like only, not and just throughout my reply.
- I manage a team of technical and customer service professionals. It may be 30% of my company, but as it is a small office, it is only a team of seven.
- I write and publish, but I’m not currently in airports kiosks or other brick and mortar stores.
- I create logos, book covers, and graphic designs, but it’s just an extra service I offer.
I am aware of the danger of this language and all the reasons I should use it, yet I can’t seem to stop.
In other words, I like big BUTs and I cannot lie.
At times I feel like I am a jack of all trades and yet I often feel like a master of none.
But at least, in those moments of doubt, I know I am not alone. According to Quartz, “Brilliant Frauds: Is imposter syndrome a sign of greatness?” 70% of people suffer from feelings that their good isn’t and may never be good enough.
Impostor (or Imposter, if you prefer) Syndrome is a term coined by researchers Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes back in 1978 and is used to describe someone who remains stubbornly convinced that their accomplishments were based on good fortune, lucky timing, or the having the right sympathetic friends rather than their own merit. While the original study was fixated on women, an excessive amount of testosterone is no sure-fire protection against the plague of self-doubt.
Do you have impostor syndrome? Symptoms include (and you can find more here):
- You tend to discount your success (see above)
- You’re an over-worker to a fault (once again see above)
- You can’t help comparing your struggles (guilty of this too)
You probably already know deep down if you do, but here’s a quiz you can take to eliminate those ever-present pesky doubts. (I test high if you are curious)
So what then are the secrets for coping?
It’s recognizing the numbers are in your favor. 50% of successful people admit to feelings of inadequacy, so you are in good company. In addition, if 70% of people at a party are afraid of being found out as frauds – well there is a good chance then that they are going to be more concerned with protecting themselves and less concerned about calling you out.
It’s focusing on positive. If you believe there is still an opportunity to grow or improve, then as long as you stay with it, that’s exactly what you’ll do. Therefore embrace your inexperience, it makes you that much more a relatable and interesting a person.
I also save notes of thanks, praise, or random compliments given over the years to refer back to on days I don’t feel quite so shiny.
It’s maintaining perspective. I’ll turn it over to one of my authorly inspirations, Neil Gaiman for this.
We all have talents buried inside of us. Talents we don’t make the most of. Talents we prefer to keep to ourselves rather than develop or fully put to use.
The trouble with talent is it rarely stays hidden.