December 27, 2022

Encountering Imposter Syndrome on the Way to the TEDx Stage.

What do you do when one of your long-held dreams is about to come true, grown from seeds planted more than a decade earlier and you are confronted with the dreaded Imposter Syndrome?

As accomplished as I may seem to be (resume two pages and growing), I experience thoughts that tell me I will never be enough. When I am interviewed or when I speak at events and my bio is read, I think “Wow, that woman is busy and accomplished!” And, still, I feel a need to prove myself over and over.

Throwback to childhood when asthma made it challenging to keep up with my desires. The song “Break My Stride” (Ain’t nothing gonna break my stride. Nobody’s gonna slow me down. I’ve got to keep on movin’”) became my theme.

Wikipedia defines Impostor Syndrome as “…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. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”

Psychologists Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance coined the term in the 1970s to refer to the all-too-common heart pounding fear that you really are not “all that and a bag of chips.”

It is the bane of many successful people’s lives. It sabotages the best of intentions. It wreaks havoc with the idea that we can truly accomplish anything, and it is something that I have endured for much of my life.

As a licensed Social Worker and psychotherapist who has worked in the field for more than 40 years, I tell myself, “You should know better” than to succumb to this cunning saboteur. After all, I have the knowledge about how to avoid it when I see it leering at me and how to confront it if it gets past my defenses.

I had the opportunity to do just that when I took the leap from imagining what it would be like to stand on the TEDx stage to actually planting my feet in front of the sign that read TEDx Faurot Park on October 1, 2022. The journey began at the moment I viewed, heart beating and saying, “I’ll have what she’s having,” the 2009 TED talk by author Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote the best seller, Eat, Pray, Love, called Your Elusive Creative Genius.

Fast forward and in October of 2021, I had my first conversation with someone whose presence in my life would change it immeasurably. Cesar Cervantes was recommended by my friend Lisa Graham whose talk What Is Your Inspiration Date? inspired me and became my coach, cheerleader, yaysayer, and co-collaborator in confronting the insidious Imposter Syndrome.

In the one year journey from consultation to celebration, we crafted my talk called Overcoming the Taboo of Touch, honed and polished it, and submitted it to various stages within driving distance, which was one of my requirements since I preferred not to fly in the midst of the pandemic. I joined the weekly group online meetings and worked individually with him.

I watched numerous other talks and observed the pacing, storytelling, through lines and stage presence of these folks who had dared to bare their souls as I was about to do. As with any worthy dream, after taking the initial steps, the waiting is often the hardest part. I was delighted when, in April of 2022, the email arrived, inviting me to trek nine hours westward from my Pennsylvania home to Lima, Ohio. The training intensified, as I was offered the services of three coaches: one to help with the polishing of the script, one to assist with stage presentation, and one to provide emotional support. I was happy to have that team around me to bolster my spirits when, on the inside, I faltered. My nervousness heightened as the months flew by. I told myself that my periodic memory blips would get the better of me. Then a message came through loud and clear.

God, the universe, Spirit would not have brought me to this point in order for me to flub this talk. I upped my game and my rehearsal strategy by practicing the talk in my sleep. My loving friends and family offered their support. I took advantage of the double rehearsal opportunity offered us the day before the talk, and the next morning, after several dream state run-throughs, I felt ready. I was the second in line, which came as a relief since afterward, I knew I could sit back and relax, watching my fellow TEDx talkers do their thing. I felt the combined energy of those in the audience, in person and watching the livestream. A technical glitch four minutes into the talk required that I begin again. I was relieved that I didn’t falter, and the words flowed as if channeled.

My last few words were accompanied by tears that I had conquered the fears that had plagued me.

I offer you some ideas for getting past your own negative self-talk, should it arise for you on the way to the TEDx stage:

>> Remember that you would not have been chosen if a whole team of people didn’t think your idea was worth sharing.

>> Consider the steps and turns your life has taken to get you to this pivotal moment.

>> Breathe. If you aren’t breathing calmly, you aren’t oxygenating your brain thoroughly.

>> Be patient with yourself. If you stumble, consider it part of the dance, and keep going. (My coaches all reminded me that no one was going to be holding my script and checking word for word.)

>> Visualize yourself giving the talk. Months before getting the notification that I had been chosen, I purchased a red circular rug that I placed in my dining room and stood on it several times a day to symbolize the red circle on some of the stages.

>> Journal your feelings, including your worst fears. Get them out in the open so they don’t have as much power over you.

>> Talk to trusted people in your life who will buoy you up.

>> Rehearse any and everywhere you can. I practiced with my coaches, family, friends, in the car, in the shower, as I was walking and working out. I recorded it and listened to it. As I mentioned earlier, I would wake up and practice in the middle of the night. I would also find myself living the talk in dreams.

>> Imagine the relief you will feel when you take your bow to enthusiastic applause.

Have fun!


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