Making a Move: Pushing Through Imposter Syndrome

I still remember my first professional presentation. I gave a short presentation on basic Structured Query Language (SQL) for collegiate professionals using Microsoft Access. The presentation was straight-forward stuff. No heavy-duty table linking. No temporary tables. No query optimization theory. Just plain old SELECT statements with a handful of WHERE examples. I had fifty minutes time. I was nervous, and frankly scared to death. I was not used to being in front of people and trying to demonstrate things to them. Ok that’s not completely true. I had taught Introduction to Information Systems for three years prior to that moment. But this was the first time I had done this in front of a group of peers.

Well, that’s not completely true either. In the United States Air Force, I had given two briefings on command-and-control message processing structures, one in the command post I worked in, and another in an off-building near the Pentagon for an Air Force command conference. Plus, I had helped teach a course in Chemical Warfare protective equipment (how to use the stuff) to other members of my base. So, yeah, I had experience in being in front of people and doing what I was attempting on that day in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Plus, I have done a handful of professional presentations since then – three more presentations at regional conferences, and a presentation at a national conference in San Diego. I’ll come back to these in a few minutes.

Before I ever stepped in front of those crowds of people to present – even in my own classroom – I have developed a sense of nervousness I have never been able to explain. After a few minutes at the front of these groups of people, my nervousness would melt back into the background, and I would be able to carry on with presenting. And apparently, I’m good at it because I have heard many praises of my presentations provided to me. Not that I would agree, but that’s a different post for discussion. I have never had a name for how I felt until the past couple of years. Imposter syndrome.

Wikipedia, which is not the greatest source in the world, notes imposter syndrome as being:

…is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Impostor_syndrome

The Wikipedia article goes on to describe the terminology in greater detail from the research provided by Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes, which provides even more details. I am sure there is even more in-depth research and materials that can be found (as evidenced by the detailed references section of the Wikipedia article), but what is presented in the article brings about a fairly strong example of the internal issues I have each time I step up to present any material to others.

My regional presentations, including the first one that I described here, usually had no more than ten to thirty people in attendance. The first one had fifteen people to start the presentation. By the time I brought the presentation to a close, I was told I had around thirty people there. I’m glad I had no idea of the numbers. I would literally have frozen in the middle of the presentation. When I was in the classroom, I usually had an enrollment of nearly thirty-five students at the start of the class semester. By the end, it would dwindle to around twenty students that I would see on a regular basis. Thus, my expectations were always for a consistently shrinking audience. My national presentation, I was told had over 145 people. Standing room only in a room that had a capacity listed by the hotel as 130. The only way I made it through that session was to focus on the first five rows of people and ignore everyone beyond them. I was literally shaking after I finished.

After every presentation I gave, during the rest of the time at those conferences, I would receive praise from people who attended. People would thank me in the hallways, remark on some of the humor I tried to infuse into the presentation, and I even was thanked on a bus trip to an aircraft carrier museum the next evening at the San Diego conference. I have never been good at taking praise. Every single one of these encounters was extremely awkward for me. After reading the work of Clance and Imes, I am starting to understand that much of that awkwardness comes from the effects of my own internalization resulting from Imposter Syndrome.

I have been provided all kinds of advice to dealing with this, including the “Fake It Until You make It” concept. Unfortunately, that tactic does not work for me. Faking things is a measure of dishonesty, both to myself and to others, that I just cannot deal with. If anything, this tactic only buries me deeper into the Imposter Syndrome effects and magnifies the resultant behavior within me. I withdraw from everything. I place even more pressure upon myself. That starts an even deeper and darker cycle of personal self-destruction (mental, not physical). In fact, I am currently pulling myself out of just such a cycle. Trust me, its not a pretty sight…even from deep inside, where I am. I know that this concept works for other people, but it just doesn’t for me.

So, where and how does this matter to my Druidry? Well, several times over, I have been asked to present at various Pagan conferences. Several times, I have turned down such offers. I have never viewed myself as any kind of expert on any part of Paganism – other than how I, a singular individual, approach it and apply it to my daily life. The reality is not that statement – though it is factually correct. The reality is that I would have felt like a complete fraud standing up in front of a large group of people talking about my Paganism, when I struggle with all of that within my own Daily Path.

I have made no secret over my seeking mental health assistance during my most recent bout with my own Darkness. As I have started to come out of those extremely difficult times, I have realized that no matter how scared I am of getting in front of people, I will need to do it. Not just to talk about Paganism. Not to talk about Druidry. But to talk about how that gets incorporated into one’s own fucked up life. The band Icon For Hire has a lyric in their song “Somebody Make a Move” that I feel is relevant here.

You and I, we share the same disease
Cover up, compromise what we grieve
I’ve let more than my share of revivals die
This isn’t pretty but it’s who I am tonight

My life is hardly pretty. But perhaps my struggle can be someone’s inspiration. I have my own inspirations. They struggle as well. They create as well. They set themselves to one degree or another as an example of what can be done if we decide to make a move. Right now, our world has everything locked down for COVID, and rightly so. But in the future, we will see our Pagan gatherings and conferences come back. I look forward to that day because I don’t have to be isolated from people that I love and care about so deeply. And who knows? You might even catch me giving a presentation…. well, more like a talk. Because I don’t want to be the only with something to say. I’d prefer we inspired each other to make a move.

–T /|\

Gizmo hiding…sort of