Overcoming imposter syndrome? Consider what works for you.
I was on Twitter recently and saw a Tweet that stuck out to me:
Just received a speaking invitation for a conference that I truly don’t feel worthy of. The imposter syndrome is real today.
I won’t link to the tweet because the point is not to shame this person, yet, what I was reflecting on was “How many of us feel this type of thing?”
As I thought about my own life, during my undergraduate degree, I wrote a business case that went to conference (it ultimately won second place). Leading up to the conference, I definitely was nervous and was feeling a bit of imposter syndrome. Here I was with a bunch of accomplished business professors: what did I know?
When it finally came time for me to present, the presentation of that business case left something to be desired: I was physically dry. I couldn’t drink enough water to hydrate myself, and I bombed the presentation badly. I’m sure my prof give me only an obligatory, “good job”, though I don’t recall. I just remember how I felt.
Not so long after that, I had the honour of giving the valedictory address to my graduating class at Crandall University. While I certainly would have appreciated then some of the wisdom shared in pieces like this one, I did do one aspect which that article from Ancestry.com CEO Deb Liu suggests: focus on your audience.
While I had certainly done the pre-work, unfortunately, imposter syndrome set in badly during the speech immediately before mine: the speaker was amazing. So much so, all I could think was to frantically re-write my speech in the five minutes that I had. It sort of felt like I had just watched Hank Aaron take batting practice, and then watching a small child try to hit something out of the infield.
Nonetheless, I stuck to my planned speech: and guess what? It worked. The audience of my peers laughed and enjoyed themselves as we reflected on memories of the previous years together, and that was my goal.
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome was hitting me pretty hard as I was panicked immediately before giving my speech. “I’m not that person!” was the thought, and it was absolutely right; here’s how I got through that moment and starting overcoming imposter syndrome:
I connected with the audience. Some of the best moments were telling dry jokes that connected with my audience. “How do you get a history major off the lawn?” “Pay them for the pizza.” (Author’s note: I do love you, history majors!). Now, in context, the joke worked, because it went with the flow and I knew my peers would laugh (even the history majors).
I stuck to my strengths. The minute that you try to be someone else, you will fail. Despite the fact that my speech was not the incredibly motivational speech that was just like the one that came before it, my funny approach wasn’t a bad thing, because that was true to me and my character.
I took chances. The pizza joke was a bit out there (it could have gone poorly), as were a number of my other jokes. I referenced things that only my peers would resonate with (and not the whole audience), but, those were the people that mattered on that day.
I had passion. How many people do you know that would weave in a point about the Big Bang Theory into a valedictory address? I did because I was passionate about helping people understand they never know if they can have success unless they try. I didn’t tell this half-heartedly: rather, I stuck to my prepared material and leaned into it 100 percent.
While that speech and presentation has definitely been one of my best to date, I’m always learning (as we all are). Yet, you have to practice and find out what works for you. You don’t need a crowd of thousands, or even hundreds: merely practicing in your living room for one or two people that love and have your best interests at heart can be a great jumping off point to help you overcome issues like imposter syndrome.
We have enough challenges in this world right now, and we need people to be brave. We also need to encourage others so they can be brave too.
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