When I flew to California last spring, I was headed to speak at a conference as an expert in my field, and then to attend meetings at Google on behalf of my employer. I was flooded with what can only be described as Imposter Syndrome. On that cross-continental flight, I read Brené Brown’s book I thought it was just me, but it isn’t , which is her first book about shame.
Sobbing in the middle seat between two strangers, I journaled and read my way through my shame, pausing to gratefully accept sips of water from the flight staff. It was awkward and embarrassing and utterly necessary. I stepped off the plane in San Francisco airport knowing that I was an expert in my field, and not just someone faking it.
I’ve been doing SEO for nine years. I’m the in-house Search Engine Optimization Manager for one of the top 20 largest websites in the US. I am an expert.
I’m feeling it again. Imposter Syndrome.
I’ve only just applied to Grad School. I have a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field. I’ve written a book, but it’s not published. I’ve got no one from the outside-in telling me that I know what I’m talking about. No validating gatekeeper waving me through the gates of expertise and saying “You know what you’re talking about, you may speak.”
Often, I pause before I write certain pieces with a thought of “who do I think I am?”
Sometimes, that means I don’t write the piece at all.
I’ve wondered more than once if I need to write a long, expository piece on who I think I am. On the details of why I’m qualified to speak. To stand up and argue my case to the gatekeeper and declare that I know what I’m talking about.
But that gatekeeper’s in my head. No one – not once – has commented on a blog post, or replied to a tweet to demand my credentials. No one has said that my thoughts are invalid or unworthy of discussion. No one has asked “Who do you think you are?”
Shame Can Not Survive Being Spoken
I learned on that flight that my imposter syndrome was tied directly to feelings of shame. I worked through these exercises that Brené Brown offers for dismantling shame.
I don’t want to sound stupid. I don’t want to misspeak and say something wrong. I don’t want someone to correct me.
As long as I’m writing about my perceptions and my interpretations and experience, that can’t happen. That’s safe territory. When I step into making observations or sharing thoughts about society as a whole and cultural changes, I feel like I am setting myself up to be corrected. A lot. And that terrifies me. And that’s the next step.
There’s no one waiting in the wings, ready to tell me I’m wrong. It’s just me – the voice inside my own head – telling me I’m not qualified. Maybe it’s that voice that sounds stupid. That misspeaks. That needs to be told it’s wrong.