*This pic from last year’s conference, when I spoke on a subject I’m more comfortable with.
I told you yesterday about my trip to Colorado. What I didn’t mention is how I felt as if I had an epic fail on stage for the panel I appeared on at the conference. It really bummed me out — and brought my old enemy — Imposter Syndrome.
*Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved.
Several years ago, I was relieved to find a name for how I so often felt. It was like — Ohhhhh — this is a thing. And I know it contributed to how I felt on stage this weekend — and in the days that followed. Everything that came out of my mouth sounded foreign and wrong. I couldn’t gather my thoughts, gain my footing or articulate anything worth saying. In short, I didn’t sound “smart” (in my opinion.)
Part of it is the DC machine. I live in a world where success is so prevalent and have personal friends who appear on national TV nearly everyday and work with some of the most intelligent political writers on the planet. I envy their ability to jump behind the camera, make a strong point and even argue with those on the other side without faltering — as well as write with brilliance and principle. I know like 100 people who have written real, hard back books sold in the front sections of Barnes and Noble!
I had the chance to be one of those people, at least in the media sense, but I couldn’t do it.
Let me explain.
It’s not that I’ve never spoken in front of an audience before. I’ve done dozens of panels at conferences in the past 8 years. I can’t say I ever walk away feeling like a rockstar but this weekend, I felt like an imposter.
When I first moved to DC, I got a swift start into the media machine. Somehow I got a job as a political journalist and the next thing I knew — months into my first job — I got a call to appear on Fox News and MSNBC. (The photo below is one of the FEW times I was on TV after the initial opportunities….I feel more comfortable talking ONLY about social & digital media rather than political subject matter.)
Woah — this was crazy, and not something I ever expected! I was excited and nervous but too naive to even realize the intense scrutiny people on national television receive. I was also too naive to actually go talk about serious political issues on television! However, I went ahead and took the opportunities that came my way. It didn’t last long.
I appeared on national TV news programs as a commentator four times, I think, before I hung it up. I couldn’t handle the pressure and didn’t feel smart enough or confident enough to represent the viewpoint I espoused. I ran away and never tried to do it again. I’ve always had a little shame about throwing away my opportunities for media. Could I have tried harder? Been more ambitious and focused? The truth was, I was in my 20s and just “having fun” and didn’t want the stress at the time.
But even now, I get really upset with myself for not being better, smarter, more able — no matter how hard I try. It seems there are always a few people nearby easily gliding into things I only long for. And, yes, I realize there are people that may view me in the same way.
Fast forward to this weekend. I was talking about what you’d think was a simple subject, millennials and politics. I figured I’d be okay with my answers and in my head, said “Just pretend you are Megyn Kelly (just love her!) and be confident.” The opposite personality emerged. While it could have been worse and I managed to fumble my way through responses to questions, I came away feeling humiliated. I said nothing worth saying…it all came out wrong.
My mom assured me “You did fine” but I wanted to cry. I felt like an imposter– as I often do. People see me as this successful professional but sometimes I feel like I floated here out of sheer luck. I know that’s not true — I had to make concerted efforts and decisions to gain experience, get jobs, meet the right people and do my job well. But one downfall like this weekend makes me feel like I’m just fooling everyone.
That Imposter Syndrome is no friend of mine. It’s based in nothing more than fear and negativity, and it’s tough to overcome. In the spirit of “everything isn’t like what it seems on Instagram” — I’m just admitting a weakness I have. Perhaps others can relate.
Now that I’ve “processed” the weekend, I am feeling better. I realize that its important to stick to what I’m confident talking about instead of expecting myself to be an expert on a subject I am not all that interested in.
It’s being realistic — and rationale. I’m still working on it. But if you struggle with these feelings, you aren’t alone.