“If you ask men why they did a good job, they’ll say, ‘I’m awesome. Obviously. Why are you even asking?’ If you ask women why they did a good job, what they’ll say is someone helped them, they got lucky, they worked really hard.”
There has been a lot of news lately about leaning. Lean In, Lean On, Leaning Together, etc. etc. Sheryl Sandberg has a lot to say about women in the workforce. Not all of it is easy to hear, but what the bulk of the articles are tending to focus on is finding a partner who can share what needs to be done both at work and at home. Yes, for some people finding a partner is important. However, the one thing no one is focusing on is what Sandberg refers to as The Imposter Syndrome.
Case in point, this past weekend I was a co-presenter at a conference in my field. I know my materials; more importantly, I know that I know my materials. I am fortunate in that I don’t suffer from stage fright or have any fear about public speaking. However, as I stood up during my introduction, I looked out into the audience and I saw some bigwigs in the field pointing to my bio and subtly gesturing at me. I happened to realize that I was wearing the exact same outfit (earrings too – hey, I know what works on me!) that I was wearing in my head shot and became paranoid that they had picked up on that fact. My entire equilibrium was thrown off. I got through the presentation, made some jokes, and answered questions with relative ease. But in the back of my mind I kept thinking that somehow I was found out. That these bigwigs know that I am not as good or accomplished as they are, and I am actually a fraud that fell into this field.
Now, I know this is bullshit. I was there because I had done my work, my presentation was accepted, and I know what I am doing. However, for that day, I kept thinking that I was not as good as the rest of the people in the room, that somehow I had faked the whole thing. Did this cause me then to not network as much? To hang back, just a little bit, in order to keep my supposed secret safe? Possibly.
This is the ugly Imposter Syndrome that Sandberg refers to. That feeling that you are a fraud, even though it isn’t true. As women we are taught to be polite, to sometimes hang back, to thank others for a leg up. But not always to take credit for working hard and kicking ass. How do we fix this? How do we convince ourselves that it is okay to be proud of our work? That having pride isn’t the same thing as having an ego?
Like I wrote earlier, I know I am good at what I do. However, I can’t guarantee that the next time I stand up to present, I won’t think, just a bit, that I am faking it. The trick is to push those thoughts down and raise your voice up. And maybe add a theme song just for ambiance.