Sit back and imagine yourself in this scenario.
It’s Thursday morning, about 11am, and you’re sitting in a meeting room in your office with your team and some senior stakeholders. You are about to make a presentation to them on your area of expertise.
This is your time to shine, and you know you’re about to nail it.
You’ve had loads of time to prep for this, and prep is exactly what you did. You drafted the slides last week, rehearsed it in your head over the weekend and researched the answers to all manner of obscure questions you might get asked. You stayed late each night this week, checking over each slide to make sure there were no ambiguities and that everything flowed well. You know where you might stumble on your words, and you know exactly what you’ll do if that happens – you’ll smile and just move on.
Last night you went home and laid out a really great outfit, manicured your nails and tidied out your work bag. All the things you like to do to feel confident that everything is in order.
You arrived at work in plenty time this morning, had a tasty breakfast and sat down to start your day feeling good, albeit with a bit of the jitters – the kind you get when you are excited about what’s coming.
The morning moved really slowly, but eventually 11am came and here you are, sat at the meeting room table, and ready to go.
Everyone settles down in the room and the meeting starts. When your turn comes you confidently thank your host and start your presentation. Your nerves are suddenly overtaken by feelings of pride to be in this room, with this audience, talking about your favourite subject.
The first few slides flow smoothly, and you’ve settled nicely into a rhythm. You come to a more complex slide and you catch sight of one of your senior colleagues frown ever so slightly like he might not completely follow what you are saying. You carry on but then stop at the next slide to ask if anyone has any questions so far. No one does so you smile at the group and carry on, exactly like you’d practiced.
You spot one of your team mates type something into his computer – probably a message to someone about an operational matter, and another one is doodling on his notepad. You ignore them and focus on the next slide. At the end of your presentation you feel really happy about the content you’ve delivered and the way you’ve delivered it and sit down ready to take questions. You feel like you could handle any question right now, you are so delighted with how it went.
But no one has any questions.
One of the senior stakeholder turns to your manager and starts talking about something indirectly related. It’s obviously important to him as he is acting really assertively, using lots of acronyms you don’t understand and about strategies you’ve never heard of. You focus really hard during what is quite a long discussion and try to follow what they are saying, hoping that your manager will be able to translate the important bits if this turns into a question for you. Eventually they finish their discussion and your manager turns back to the agenda.
Gradually your high subsides, the meeting disbands and you go back to your desk.
You feel like the afternoon is a bit of an anti-climax in comparison to your morning. You spend a bit of time chatting with your colleagues to ask them how they thought the meeting went. They are polite but its clear they weren’t really that interested in the subject. Later you manage to catch up with your manager at the coffee machine and you ask him if he has any feedback for you. No, not really is the answer. Did you think it went OK, you ask. Sure he says. You go back to your desk.
You think about heading off home a bit early today since you’ve put in a few extra hours this week. You don’t leave early in the end but when you do get home, with a take-out dinner and a bottle of wine to celebrate with, you settle down on the sofa ready to watch some trashy tv.
But you don’t actually switch on the tv.
Instead, you sit back and gaze into the distance. Feeling a little numb and not really thinking about anything too tricky, just mulling over the little behaviours you noticed in the meeting today. You eat all that lovely Thai food without even tasting it, and drink that Chardonnay so fast that you are opening another bottle so you can have more before bed time.
You are aware of a few new thoughts developing in your mind that you’ve not heard before. You wonder what it meant that your team-mates weren’t paying attention to what you were saying, why your manager wasn’t gushing with praise when you’d put all that effort into your presentation, and why that stakeholder started talking about something totally unrelated instead of asking some of the really interesting questions you’d prepped for.
You start to worry about whether you got it wrong today. Was it a mistake to do the presentation at all? Maybe no one cares as much as I do about the content, or maybe its just not relevant. Was my boss just placating me by giving me a slot on the agenda. Maybe someone else dropped out and he had a slot to fill. Maybe everything I said was just a load of rubbish and my boss was just being polite when I saw him in the kitchen.
Maybe my Mum was right when she said I was too sensitive and would find it too hard working in a corporate environment. I should have done what my sister did and settled down to a nice easy life in their small town. Come to think of it I was quite surprised when they offered me this job in the first place. I must have been lucky that they’d not found me out before now. I did say they should have given the job to that other candidate.
Before long you are feeling utterly deflated and emotions are rushing around inside your body confusing you with clashes of worry, inadequacy and worthlessness. You drain that last glass of wine and fall into bed, tears building up behind your eyes by the time you hit the pillow.
The next morning you wake up feeling a little different, and not just because you drank a bottle of wine last night. You feel like there’s been a shift somewhere inside but you aren’t quite sure what it is yet. When you get to work you settle down at your desk and get started on your work for the day. You stick with the mundane, easy stuff at first feeling sure that you’ll get your mojo back once you’ve had a couple of coffees.
When you see your boss later, he rushes past you in his normal, busy manner and doesn’t make eye contact with you. That isn’t his usual way but you carry on regardless. Your team mates are all busy at work – you can hear lots of phone conversations and typing noises all around. Work goes on just like life does.
But you feel different. You feel like you’ve lost credibility. You feel like no one will take you seriously after yesterday. You feel like you don’t belong here. You feel a bit ashamed, put on your headphones, and get stuck into your workload.
Let me introduce you to your new colleague, imposter syndrome.
Technology Delivery Lead and Coach
This is the first in a series of blog posts about Imposter Syndrome. In the next blog Clara will explore the evidence in this short story for Imposter Syndrome, and what a person can do to support themselves and others who find themselves in this situation.
If you resonate strongly with this post we highly recommend you talk with someone. This could be anyone you feel would be a good listener – your sister, a friend or colleague.
If you prefer to talk to someone who you don’t know, in confidence, please email email@example.com Clara is offering a free 40 minute session to anyone who is a friend of HoC. She can also refer you on to another coach if, for example, you prefer a male coach.