Me, Myself, & My Imposter Syndrome

Courage. What does it mean to have courage? Someone told me a few weeks ago – in the context of some major changes I was about to make to my IT org (more on that in a future post) – that I was courageous. I sure don’t feel that way.

If I were truly courageous, I would have written this post many years ago. I’ve alluded to it on this blog since this post in 2011. But I’ve been afraid. The time never seemed right.

In the midst of my job search certainly wasn’t the right time. What if they read this post and didn’t think I could do the job? And then there was the restructuring of IT at SNC…I needed to instill confidence in my team. And then one thing led to another, and another search, and a new job, and another reorganization. I need to prove myself, instill confidence…

…but always, in the background, I have doubt.

What if my previous successes were pure dumb luck? What if I’m not making the right decision(s)? Is this really my strategy, or am I just parroting people much smarter than me? What makes me qualified to do this job? Surely, sooner or later, someone will figure out that I’m a fraud.

Perhaps not surprisingly, women like me disproportionately suffer from this sense that they don’t belong, or that their success is a fluke…

…unlike men, who tend to own success as attributable to a quality inherent in themselves, women are more likely either to project the cause of success outward to an external cause (luck) or to a temporary internal quality (effort) that they do not equate with inherent ability.

The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women

…and this notion is reinforced in subtle (and not so subtle) interactions we have nearly every day. Like when the salespeople come calling, and speak directly to my male subordinates as if they are the sole authority and decision-maker, even when I’m in the room. And when I speak in a room full of men, and my idea is ignored completely — as if I had not uttered a word — or attributed to the next male who speaks. Or when my well-intentioned colleagues warned me that my pedigree might not be “good enough” for the elite institution that I was applying to, and for which I now work. Their cautions were sincere, and likely true, but only served to make me question my own value and capabilities even further.

I spent the entire first year of my first CIO job apologizing for my title. Yes, I was the CIO. But I wasn’t *really* a CIO. And not because I thought CIOs were a bad thing to be. But I really couldn’t imagine what qualified me to do the job.

So yes, this so-called “imposter syndrome” is a *thing*. A very real one. And while there have been a number of articles written about it, it’s something that we just don’t talk about. Except perhaps in hushed tones and behind closed doors. Like it’s a dirty little secret.

But no more. It’s time to be loud and be proud. Be courageous. Out ourselves.

Maybe in talking about it more openly, we can combat it. Amplify each others’ voices. Remind each other, and ourselves, that this feeling is not reality. Coach and mentor a generation of women coming behind us to recognize and quell their doubts — or better yet, not doubt themselves to begin with.

As for my own doubts…

Am I an imposter? No. Do I often feel like one? Yes. But that does not make it so.

Once An Activist…

The notion of activism has been swirling around me for the past week or so.

I’ve always been an activist at heart. Standing up for what I believe in. Speaking truth to power. Privately, I lean *far* to the left and care deeply about issues of social justice, race, LGBT rights, gender equity, and more. Publicly, at work, I’ve focused primarily on advancing diversity in tech, especially gender diversity.

But lately, I’ve been asked — and have felt compelled — to do more. A colleague told me last week that I needed to “get involved” and “be an activist.” I have a perspective that needs to be heard.

The last two days have been difficult in Charlotte. A(nother) black man shot by the police. Protests. Riots. A protester shot and killed….and a state of emergency called. It’s sadly no different than what’s been happening in so many places across this country, but this one hits very, very close to home. My college community — faculty, staff, and students alike — came together in a moment of solidarity this morning. The message, from those who spoke, was clear. Solidarity is nice, but it doesn’t change anything. Action is needed. Be an activist.

I’ve always believed that those of us who hold positions of power have a responsibility to use that power for the greater good. It’s what I so greatly respect about Colin Kaepernick sitting/kneeling during the pledge (although, as a 49ers fan, I’m disappointed in Kaep for other reasons). And it’s why I advocate so repeatedly, and vocally, for women in tech.

But I can (and will) do more. I have power in my position, and power in my privilege. I stand with the #blacklivesmatter movement, and sit with Kaepernick. I rally against discrimination of any form, especially the hateful HB2. And I continue to advocate for #genderequity and diversity in all its forms within higher education and the IT community.


It’s late, and I have to be up early. But before I head off to sleep, I wanted to share a few thoughts from my day.

I spent the day at EDUCAUSE’s annual conference. Technically, the conference starts tomorrow, but today was filled with pre-conference workshops and other events. EDUCAUSE is a great place for someone like me. And a terrible one.

A couple of years ago I took the StrengthFinders assessment, and one of my strengths is characterized by finding connections in ideas, people, and things. My brain — and occasionally my Twitter feed — was exploding today, exploring the intersections of (sometimes) seemingly dichotomous things.

It started with a conversation last night about two areas I’m actively involved in on my campus: risk management and innovation. A concern over one often precludes the other, and yet, the types of risks our institutions face may only be able to be solved through innovation.

Today, the intersections between and/or convergence of ideas filled my thoughts. I considered how tweets from a workshop on unconscious bias influenced my thinking in the one I was attending on the (completely unrelated) topic of building futures capacity. The construct of work-life balance and the blurring of our private and professional lives. And the interesting distinctions we draw between the physical and the virtual, and how we define place, space, and community in an increasingly connected world.

For tomorrow, I’ve been asked to reflect on more intersections and connections, between leadership, power, marginality, and resistance. But for now….I should sleep.

In the Zone

You know that feeling you get, when you’re working on a project — making good progress, ideas are flowing — and suddenly you look up and it’s already 11 p.m? You figure it’s probably time to close up for the night, put the laptop away, and go to sleep.

Which you do.

And then you lie there, lights off, wide awake, with a thousand ideas racing through your brain: Oooh…I should email so-and-so, to see if I can find more data for my project. What if I changed the order of my presentation around, would that make more sense? Don’t forget to add that thought to my to-do list. Wonder what the caf is serving for lunch tomorrow? (Okay, maybe not all the thoughts are productive ones!).

You can’t sleep….you’re “in the zone.” So you open the laptop back up, just to do that one. last. thing. Before you forget. It’ll help you get it off your mind, so you can sleep.

And now it’s after midnight, and you’re still at it. In. the. zone.

Do you know that feeling? Or is it just me?

A Long Time Coming…

This blog post has been a loooooong time coming. It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost two years since I’ve written here.

It’s not for lack of prompting. Friends like @amichaelberman have prodded me, repeatedly (thank you!). And it’s not for lack of reflecting. I’m always in my head, thinking about something. I can’t even blame it on writer’s block. For the last couple of years I’ve written and/or edited Tech EDge, a monthly news blog for my division, and last year (2014), I wrote a monthly column for the Green Bay Press Gazette on topics like technology as a connector, online security, and MOOCs.

I’d like to blame it on lack of content to respond to, but who am I kidding? Lots has happened in the last couple of years. But today I read about the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success and their new project to improve college admissions, and….with a few free minutes on my hands, I thought I might respond.

So let me first say….I applaud the idea. Roughly 80 colleges have gotten together to build a free platform for high school students — starting in their freshman year — to compile and create electronic portfolios to demonstrate their work. The thinking is that colleges can interact with them throughout their high school career and help guide them, and that work can later be used as part of the admission process.

It caught my attention because it’s similar to an idea I pitched many years ago when I was at Cal State East Bay. We served an area that had large under-represented populations. In some school districts in our area, only 10-15% of students graduated with the minimum requirements to attend a California State University — and by minimum requirements I mean they *took* the right classes, not even that they *passed* them. The ratio of guidance counselors to students was abysmal; students and their families simply had no access to the information they needed to make informed choices that put them on the path to college.

Coming from an e-marketing background, I wondered it we couldn’t provide students with a “virtual” counselor — timed electronic messages throughout their high school career (this was before text and social media were significant) to ensure students had “just in time” information to inform their class choices, college prep activities (SATs, financial aid), and more. This could be coupled with a couple of “on-site” activities throughout the year with college financial aid, admission, and academic counselors to guide the students, as well as (possibly) some tutoring services provided by current college students. Sadly, the idea didn’t go anywhere.

While not the same, this Coalition project aims to do some of the same things — guide students who may not have the resources to help with their college preparedness. That, I like.

But, as one whose job it is to consider technology and where it’s headed, well…I guess I’ll need to wait and see.

Right now, it feels like we’re in the middle of a technology storm, where every problem gets solved with a point solution. Or two. Or thirty-three. This one is designed to address admissions, and the application process. But it (appears to be) creating a portfolio solution that’s tied to one application process, and targeted only at high school students. Presumably, once they’re no longer high school students and have gone through the application process, they get passed onto the next solution, designed for students of that institution. How would this connect with a college-level e-portfolio? Or other application systems? Or…

I’m wondering when we can turn this model on its head. Take principles of user-centered design to build something around the student, first and foremost, instead of the institution(s) or the process. What would happen if we could give students a “digital passport” that they carry with them throughout their lives, collecting examples, credentials and more to use in applying to colleges or for jobs? Could we build something that is student-specific but system agnostic, so students could collect from and share with a variety of other systems, like each college’s preferred application system, registration system, or LMS (but wouldn’t it be nice if a personalized learning network could be incorporated in here somewhere, too)?


When I worked in high-tech start-ups, we quite literally invented e-marketing. We changed not only the delivery of marketing messages — moving them from mail/paper-based to email and online — but more importantly, the paradigm for marketing — moving it from a mass marketing approach to data-driven, personalized, one-to-one messaging. We talk a lot about technology disruption in higher education, but primarily, the conversation seems to be centered on delivery of education — online, MOOCs, competency-based learning, etc. Perhaps an even greater opportunity lies in the disruption of our organizational and service paradigms….

High Tech or High Touch?

I came across the phrase “high tech or high touch” in something I was reading recently, can’t remember what. The expression presumes that there’s a dichotomy between the two — that they are in essence, mutually exclusive. Why can’t we have both?

We tend to think about technology as isolating. We don’t really talk to each other any more. We text, or IM. And it’s not uncommon to see a whole group of people out to eat at a restaurant, and everyone is heads down in their cell phones. So perhaps it is — or can be.

But technology can also bring us closer to each other, and create a sense of community and connectedness.

I have family living in multiple parts of the country, as well as internationally — California, Florida, England — and I’m here in Wisconsin. My three siblings and I have nine children between us. With that many schedules to coordinate, along with the cost of travel, we are only really able get together in person once every 12 to 18 months or so. For most of our adult lives we would call or email each other from time-to-time, but it never felt satisfying.

And then Google Hangouts came along. We scheduled a weekly “family call” — it’s every week, at the same time (depending on time zone), and everyone who is around at that time logs onto the call. For a couple of years now we’ve been able to literally see how everyone is doing, and watch our nieces and nephews grow up. And because they see us weekly, we’re no longer strangers when we all do get together in person. Technology connects us.

It’s worked the same for me in my professional life, too. I travelled to the EDUCAUSE national conference last month, something I do every year. There are literally thousands of IT professionals who attend the conference, which, honestly, can be incredibly overwhelming for an introvert like me. It’s hard to make friends and meet people. It’s easy to feel alone in a crowd of 7,000. Except I’m active on Twitter at these types of conferences, and that has changed my conference experience. Suddenly, I’m part of a community, sharing thoughts and ideas about the experience with other like-minded people. Being “social”. And the social nature doesn’t end online — the community that is formed there helps to connect us to people offline, too. I recognized people who I had interacted with on Twitter, and they recognized me — starting conversations.

The connections don’t end with conversations or community-building, either. Throughout my career I’ve been blessed to have been introduced into a number of different communities, but also have moved around enough to not stay connected to them — and the people in them — regularly, at least not face-to-face. One of these groups are the folks behind EduSoCal. I now count these three musketeers as dear friends because of the relationships we’ve formed primarily through social media — Facebook and Twitter — supplemented with in-person get togethers at EDUCAUSE and other conferences.

Granted, there’s no substitution for a good old-fashioned face-to-face conversation, and “real life” interactions. But that’s not always possible. The power of technology to connect us — supplementing, supporting, and sometimes enabling those face-to-face connections — proves that we *can* have both “high tech” and “high touch,” at the same time.

What Do You Choose?

The always thought-provoking @ValaAfshar posted this on Twitter the other day:

If you look for the good in people, you’ll find it. If you look for the bad in people, you’ll find it. Remember, reciprocity.

For a variety of reasons, I’ve been reflecting on relationships recently — both personal and professional ones. No matter the type, relationships can be hard work.

We don’t always have choices in our relationships, especially at work. We can’t choose our co-workers or colleagues, the perspective and experiences they bring to their role, or how they may react in any given situation. But we can choose how we perceive those reactions, and how we respond.

The language we use to describe our interactions defines them. And the broad, sweeping generalizations we make about each other defines how we perceive those interactions, and respond. We’ve all heard the sentiments about the “inherent” conflict between administrators and faculty — administrators are out to impose their will on faculty, and faculty are resistant to change. We each have to “fight the good fight” to advance our perspective.

These thoughts frame our relationships with each other, predisposing us to look for “the bad” instead of “the good.” Consider the conversation to be adversarial instead of collegial. We can’t see that an action, reaction, or response might be unintentional, or driven by fear, or because someone is dealing with something unrelated in their personal life. We can only see what we’ve already decided to see — actions within the context of the frame we’ve created.

What happens if we choose, instead, to give the benefit of the doubt? Assume no malevolent intent? What opportunities might we create to better understand each other? Form deeper and more collaborative relationships? Find “the good” in the people around us?

Only you can make the choice…

@rclemmons on Twitter

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