A few days ago, a dream of mine came true. After over a year of planning, conversations, preparation and dreaming, I was finally holding the first leadership workshop under my own company. I sat in the room, with a small group of people, all of whom had paid to be there for six weeks, two and a half hours each week, fifteen hours in total, and I was the person they were all looking to as the leader. And then as I started talking, all I could think about was that I should not be there, that I did not belong there, that I would say something and everyone in the room would know I was a fraud. I was in a moment of my dreams and I felt like an impostor.
This was not the first time this type of thing happened, and over the years I thought it was just me. I thought I was the only one waiting for the phone call, the email, the knock on the door when someone would tell me the gig was up and I had been found out and it was over. When I would stumble over a word or felt things weren’t going exactly as I had planned, that tape would loop and I found myself having what I can only describe as an internal panic attack while on the outside I was trying to remain calm and confident. I left the workshop feeling relieved it was over, but also asking myself what the hell I was thinking when I thought this would all be a good idea. Who did I think I was, anyway? I felt like a fugitive from the fraud police.
In the past, I would have let it eat at me. I would have spent the time between the last workshop and the one next week, repeating that dialogue and chipping away at whatever confidence I had that would let me walk into the next one. This time, I am doing it a bit different.
I don’t believe that absolutely everything happens for a reason, but I do believe that some things do and I also believe that some people come into our lives at moment we need them, and whether they stay or are just passing through in a matter of moments, they can change everything.
A few weeks ago, I was having lunch with a friend of mine, Nyla, a dynamic woman with the kind of presence that ignites a room just by being there. We were talking and she said something that immediately resonated. She also speaks and holds workshops and she told me that so many times, just before giving a talk, she was all set to go out and be her complete and authentic self, but then suddenly sent her representative in her place. I immediately knew what she meant. It can be very difficult and intimidating to just be ourselves. It is something I struggle with when I am in front of people and expected to be an expert on something or feel I have to keep people entertained. When doing leadership work I feel it even more. If I am authentic and let everyone see how vulnerable I feel, will anyone take me seriously? But if I am not authentic, then who am I in that moment?
About a week ago, I was at an event my company organized where Punam Mathur, a vibrant and respected business person spoke. A few days later she phoned me and suddenly, I was having a mini coaching session. She asked me “When was the last time you failed so badly that you never recovered?” The answer, of course, is never. She asked me if I knew what “FEAR” stood for and when I replied that I did not, she told me it stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. I don’t know if that is something she came up with or got from someone or somewhere else, but it resonated with me and when I am in those moments of feeling fear, I remind myself of this.
Around the same time, another friend of mine introduced me to the work of Amy Cuddy. I watched her TED talk and then dove into her book “Presence.” One of the things she talks about is impostor syndrome or impostorism, the term I prefer. I was stunned to discover that not only does it affect around 70% of people, a number I believe to actually be higher based on conversations I have been having, it reaches across professions, academic achievements, accolades, awards, cultures, genders and pretty much every aspect of life. It is a topic that I am becoming increasingly passionate about.
I love working in leadership, holding classes and workshops, watching people blossom and grow while I myself learn and change as I go on the journey with them. I have realized that we can never reach our full leadership potential – or any potential, for that matter, if we are operating from that belief that we are a fraud and we don’t belong where we are, and people on our team are operating from the same belief and fear, then how can we possibly achieve that level of greatness we are striving for?
I decided to try the advice that Amy Cudder gives in her TED talk. There is a lot of research done by her and others around the idea that body posture affects our confidence and stress. I watched the talk and while I was inspired and intrigued, I immediately thought “Seriously? Body posture can change my thinking and mood?” I did her experiment one morning when I was feeling particularly vulnerable and emotionally homeless. And I was two hours from standing in front of a group of people for a training. While I wanted to believe something so simple could work, I knew there was no way it would. I took her advice and did my little experiment to prove her wrong.
Her advice is basically this: Change your posture in certain ways for two minutes. One of the ways she talks about resembles the typical superhero pose; standing tall, shoulders back, chest out, chin up and hands on hips. The media has since named this “The Wonder Woman Pose.” I live in a house full of superhero comics, and figures and had infinite examples of inspiration for this type of pose, but the idea of a Wonder Woman pose struck me as funny and so I went with it. I went into the bathroom and closed the door. If I was going to stand like Wonder Woman for two minutes, I was going to do it in private!
In less than a minute, I felt myself smiling a bit. I could feel my confidence increase and my stress lessen. This is all backed up by science. Adopting a power pose for just two minutes, increases testosterone, which elevates confidence and decreases cortisol, which is responsible for stress.
From now on, I will do my poses. In private, of course. And not only that, but now in my leadership workshops, I am going to share this knowledge in the first class, so that anyone going through those feelings of not belonging, being a fraud and therefore, not being fully present and standing in their own path to success, can hopefully move it aside just long enough to connect a bit more.
And over time, that feeling of “I don’t belong here” will diminish and just maybe, vanish. Would love to hear your comments on this.