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.
…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.