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Exposing My Imposter Syndrome, One Conference at a Time

by Angela 18. August 2015 17:38

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that while I tend towards posting about community events, all things TFS, and agile, I sometimes get introspective. Maybe it’s my age.The older I get, the more navel-gazey I get. And at 41, well, that’s a LOT of introspection.

About a year ago, I wrote two posts that were really difficult but necessary to share: a post on fear and vulnerability, and a post on giving yourself (and others) permission to fail. Both had been inspired by a combination of recent experiences and a few really great books I’d read. And I’ll admit, I was terrified to hit submit on each of them, and the feedback was both dramatic and positive. I don’t know if it is cognitive bias, or if the industry is turning a corner, but talks about these kinds of topics seem to be more and more prevalent at the professional conferences I’ve been going to over the past year. Entire tracks devoted to things like fostering a healthy corporate culture, work-life balance, and effective leadership are cropping up everywhere and I love it! Not that sessions on the hottest new JavaScript libraries or ALM tools isn’t also fun, but having a positive and supportive environment to work in is just as critical as the tools that you use to do your job.

As conference season approached this year, I decided to add a soft skills talk of my own – on imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is something I’ve struggled with for all of my adult life, and most of my adolescence. Being a woman in a field like IT certainly doesn’t make it any easier either. Most people are shocked to find out this is something I experience, given how readily I’ll volunteer to speak at large events or even guest host a podcast. But keep in mind, Imposter Syndrome doesn’t mean I can’t do awesome things, it just means I refuse to believe I am ever really good enough or smart enough to DESERVE any of the success I achieve. Or that even if I do them and do them well, people are just being nice when I am praised, and they don’t REALLY mean it. Confused? It’s complicated. Luckily I have a presentation on it that you can look at on SlideShare. The animations do not display perfectly, but you’ll get the idea. My plan is to eventually record it, and post it someplace public like YouTube, but this was a big enough first step and I don’t think I’m ready for live video just yet.

What initially gave me the chutzpah to make the leap and submit the topic was a post by someone I worked with at Microsoft, a geek celebrity of sorts, who also struggles with imposter syndrome from time to time. Somehow I missed Scott Hanselman’s awesome post on imposter syndrome when he first shared it, but ran across it again while researching my talk. In that post, he also admits to feeling like a phony and seriously, THAT guy? I reached out to him about my talk, and you know what he said?

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Yeah, that got favorited for like all freaking time Smile  And it was a nice reminder that many of us feel this way, and just MAYBE if someone were brave enough to get up there and say it, we could all breathe a sigh of relief and start learning to live with it, and thrive with it. I decided I’d be that person, around Chicago anyway. Now, just creating the slide deck made me feel like vomiting, and with every new slide I added to it I kept thinking “why would anyone listen to ME? Who am I? People are going to think I am full of CRAP!”. It’s funny trying to write a talk on imposter syndrome when you struggle with it, but honestly who else could give it right?

Anyway, fast forward and now I have given it at both  Chicago Code Camp and ThatConference, and trust me, it was TERRIFYING for me. And these are my people! My plan is to continue sharing this presentation, giving this talk at conferences and user groups, and hopefully making a difference for some of the folks out there who have always felt this way and didn’t understand why. I’ve had an overwhelming amount of positive feedback, and a lot of private messages and emails from people who were so very thankful that I had the courage to give the talk. And you know what? I still feel like a phony sometimes, and it’s ok.

Tags:

Imposter syndrome | career growth | soft skills

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