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Riding The Rollercoaster Of Imposter Syndrome

Last week I submitted a talk to TEDx!

Cue a whole range of emotions. 😱🤩😬

At first, it was so exciting! Finally – a chance to reach more people with the ideas and insights I’ve had. What an amazing opportunity!

Then I found out what was needed and got scared – the schedule was tight – including coming up with an idea and a 5-minute pitch within 2 days.

I said no. It just wasn’t possible, especially with everything else I was juggling.

I moved on to other things and stopped thinking about it.  Then, that evening, as I cycled into town to meet friends and I found myself wondering what I would talk about if I did have the time. The theme was compassion, so I started to reflect on the insights I’d had about compassion and what I might want to share with others.

30 minutes later I found myself with this idea of bringing together what I know about AI and my understanding of what it means to be human, with compassion being one of the core things that I think differentiates the two. 

It felt good, stuff was sparking in my head. I got excited!!

Then the imposter syndrome kicked in 😱

Who Am I To Talk About AI?

I’m not an expert. 

I know so many more people who know so much more than me. I’m not an AI researcher or a developer or even a big user of Chat GPT. Will my perspective be credible?

But then again, I’ve spent more than 10 years working alongside AI researchers (I’ve even been married to an AI Professor for 5 years). Part of my previous job was about trying to make AI research understandable for organisations, and the fact that this is bubbling up as an idea suggests there must be something there.

As my insecure thinking settled I realised that this is the reason I liked the topic of the talk. I might not be an expert on AI, but I definitely know more than some. I know loads of people who overestimate the power of AI and are getting scared by what it might do, and I think I can add something to that conversation.

What Do I Know About Compassion?

When I shared the topic with a friend they got excited. They gave me a load of definitions, quotes and philosophical ideas about compassion and empathy that were so different from my understanding.

Am I wrong? Will I make a complete fool out of myself? 

There isn’t time to go away and do loads of research on all my ideas. If I do this I’ll have to trust what I know.

Will it be enough? Will I be enough?

Again, as my thinking settled I recognised that over the last few years had some amazing insights of my own around compassion and they’ve made such a difference in the way I coach, the way I manage people and the way I interact with family and friends. There’s definitely something I’d like to share if I can just put it into words.

I put aside the Fluctuations In My Thinking And Decided To Leave Things Open To Unfold:

I would submit the talk topic if I felt like it and found the time to do it, but I promised I wouldn’t beat myself up if it didn’t happen. Magically, I found myself recording a one-take 5-minute pitch that Friday afternoon, which I was happy to submit, so I sent it off to the organisers.

Instead of ruling myself out, I decided to leave it to their judgement – if they liked it I’d find a way to expand my ideas into a talk, and if they didn’t, I have plenty of other things to turn my attention to. 

That sounds like I’ve lived a week of “Zen” happiness, not thinking about it at all, but of course it wasn’t really that simple.

It’s been amazing to watch my thinking flit between being excited to share these ideas and doubting everything I know.

😱 It’s scary. I’m an imposter. I really don’t know enough. 

🤩 It’s exciting. I have a different perspective. I might help people see things in a different way. 

2 sides of the same coin!

We can’t be different and share new ideas without standing out. When we stand out we run the risk of being challenged and being outed as an imposter. 

  • When we feel confident and believe in ourselves we’re happy to be different – and that’s what we need to be do to be seen.
  • When we feel low and insecure, worrying about what people think, imposter syndrome kicks in. Our instinct is to withdraw and hide, to merge into the crowd and be forgotten. 

It’s been easier to ride this rollercoaster since I started to understand that the way we feel on a moment-to-moment basis has absolutely nothing to do with what’s happening in the world around us and everything to do with the thinking we’re doing.

Feeling imposter syndrome and doubting my abilities doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do something. It just means that in this moment I have some insecure thoughts flowing through my head. 

By giving myself space to watch my thoughts fluctuate, and just doing what it makes sense to do, it’s amazing how things unfold by themselves. 

I don’t yet know if I’ve been selected for the talk – and the longer the decision takes, the tighter the timescale for creating it – so yes, I am still nervous and worried about making a complete fool out of myself. 

There are times when I can hear the hecklers in the audience and see the comments on the video as people tell me I have no idea what I’m talking about.

And I know, once again, that this is my insecure imagination making up stories about the future which have a limited likelihood of happening. 

And So I Come Back To Waiting And Trusting...

If this is meant to be it will unfold naturally in that direction. My inner wisdom will guide me and I’ll know the right steps to take when I need to take them.

While I wait, my instinct is to watch TEDx talks to see how other people do it. I’m checking in with people I know that have done TEDx talks and getting tips. I’m discussing ideas with my friends and re-reading a book that I know has some ideas I want to build on. 

None of this is hard work – it’s just stuff I’m interested in anyway and that I’m being drawn towards. I’m doing the groundwork, making notes and enjoying the process of creation… 

And each time that fearful, insecure thinking pops up, telling me I’m not good enough to do this, I thank it kindly, step away for a bit, and then come back to doing the next thing it makes sense to do.

Earlier this week I shared with a friend that I had feelings of imposter syndrome and they were shocked to hear it still affected me. I wanted to share this journey as an example with you so you know that yes, I do still feel it, and it holds me back from doing things. And I’ve had insights that have helped me become more comfortable with it so that I do stuff anyway – and I hope I can introduce you to these too.

This Wednesday, 13th September at 18:30 (BST), I’m running a free online workshop on Overcoming Imposter Syndrome to explore these ideas in more depth and help you discover how they fit within your life – you can join live and/or get the recording by registering here

This workshop will be an example of the monthly workshops I run in my Authentic Tech Leaders Mentorship Programme, so if you’re thinking about joining the next cohort (which kicks off at the end of September), it’s a fantastic opportunity to get an idea of how it works – and I’ll be sticking around at the end in case you have any questions about the programme.

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