Ted Talks, Fellowships and Imposter Syndrome

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Things are going well at the moment. The last couple of months have been challenging, and I’ve worked incredibly hard on a number of different things that have now come to fruition, but nothing in life that’s worth anything is easy to come by.

Don’t worry, this isn’t a ‘humble brag’ post. I’m not that way inclined.

Earlier in the year I agreed to do a TEDx Talk that was planned for June. I speak publicly on a range of different topics quite frequently, but a TED talk is a different kettle of fish and something I simply couldn’t turn down.

Also, In January I decided that for career development purposes I wanted to become a Trustee or Non-Executive Director for a worthwhile organisation. I felt this was going to give me increased board level experience, something that I knew I needed, to be able to be considered for Director/C-Suite level HR jobs that I aspire towards.

And finally, In March I decided I was going to take a second attempt at upgrading my CIPD membership and hopefully become a Fellow. I failed at my first attempt in 2015 and for good reason but I felt I had plugged the gaps identified and would now be in a better position to upgrade than I had been previously.

These three objectives, that I planned to try and achieve whilst continuing to do my best at my day job as well as continue to run events with the South Wales HR Forum, appeared quite a tall order. The fact I chose to pursue all three things at roughly the same time, probably wasn’t the best planning on my behalf.

In hindsight it doesn’t matter, because I succeeded.

Fortunately, I was elected on to the Board of Weightlifting Wales which is a brilliant opportunity for me to support a successful and fascinating sporting body whilst gaining new skills. I was successful in applying for Fellow level membership of the CIPD, something I’d wanted to achieve since I joined the professional body in my late teens/early twenties and finally this weekend I delivered the TEDx talk. A 16 minute speech that took in AI, Robots, a ‘Job For Life’ and what works means to people.

All three achieved. That’s it. Sounds easy, right?

Wrong. Something else happened whilst all this was going on.

I became acutely aware of my communication skills. I became aware of the strength of my regional Welsh accent. I became conscious of my social background, and irrational doubt started to creep in.

Imposter Syndrome took hold.

I started asking lots of questions about myself.

  • Why would anyone be interested in what I have to say at a TEDx?
  • Why would the CIPD make me a fellow, I’m not a HRD and I don’t have a degree?
  • Who am I to think I can operate at Board level in a national body, surely there’ll be someone out there better than me who can do that job?
  • What if I talk really quickly during my TEDx Talk and no-one understands my accent?
  • People are going to see through me, and realise that deep down I’m just that kid from the council estate who has been ‘lucky’ throughout his career so far.

This kind of drove me mad and I confided in a few of my friends about how I was feeling. I was reassured but the doubts were still there. This wasn’t about nerves. I was naturally feeling somewhat nervous more so about the TEDx and the membership upgrade but I was able to control that and deal with it. No, this was different.

I’ve had imposter syndrome before, but never to this extent, and never has it been so prominently linked to a sensitivity I appear to have about the social ‘class’ that I have assigned myself to.

I tried to analyse why I was feeling this way and why it was such an issue for me but I couldn’t understand it. I knew imposter syndrome was a ‘thing’ and I was reassured to hear Phil Wilcox and Amanda Arrowsmith talk so openly about it on this brilliant ‘Emotion At Work Podcast’. Listening to the podcast when I did, probably couldn’t have come at a better time. Thanks Phil & Amanda!

Ultimately though, I knew that the best way to prove myself wrong and ‘get over this’, was to achieve. To achieve the Fellow upgrade or at least do my damned hardest, to be appointed into an NED role and to smash the TEDx talk (and to practice, practice, practice!). I ultimately achieved all of those things. And I am my biggest critic (believe me) but I did well. I’m comfortable in saying that because I worked for it.

The feeling of relief but reassurance was almost immediate once I sat down after delivering my TEDx talk. It was the final step in the trio of objectives I had set myself. The imposter syndrome subsided and the class sensitivity went away almost instantly. I’m not naive. I know it’ll come back again but I really don’t think it will ever be as strong as it has felt in recent months. Somehow, the final achievement almost closed the loop.

And it still remains an entire mystery to me where the social class sensitivity came from.

I didn’t have a wonderful plan for overcoming the feelings I was experiencing nor did anyone give me any spectacular advice (because there was none to give) but somehow, the whole episode kind of worked itself out. I think that was because I knew that somehow, succeeding would put an end to my concerns and self-doubt.

In conclusion, I guess the point of this blog post is to share my experience of Imposter Syndrome and just to let people know that sometimes, things just work themselves out. We will all have feelings of strong self-doubt at some point and that’s life. But if I can offer anything, it’s that the answer to overcoming this, for me, on this occasion, was by smashing that doubt to pieces by achieving what you set out to achieve.

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