Imposter Syndrome, or feeling undeserving of praise and recognition, is a common phenomenon in our industry. It might manifest itself in the form of not applying to that job you want, not asking for that promotion you deserve, not submitting a proposal to that conference, or worse—never trying to break into the industry at all.
I’ve spent the better part of my career watching in awe as my colleagues, inspirations, and friends talk about what they believe in. I’ve also spent that time wondering when I will become smart, eloquent, and worthy enough to say things myself. I’ve read published articles about intense topics that friends have written, and sat at my keyboard with shaking hands hoping to achieve the same. “How do they even know they have thoughts worth sharing?!” I would stare at a blank document with nothing interesting to say, terrified of saying the wrong thing and trembling to even present a short presentation about myself in front of the company.
The ironic secret to confidence is that you need to exert it to gain it.
Building it Up
I first started pretending I had confidence by just volunteering to do things without actually thinking about what my content would be. Just say "yes," and figure the rest out later. Being thrown into the deep end is the best place to pretend you have confidence, because once you’re actually accountable, you have no choice but be confident and try your best. Organizations that have local chapters like Girl Develop It or Refresh are great resources to volunteer to speak and teach. Similarly, publications are always looking for new authors, so if you see a tweet asking for submissions, say "yes" before thinking too hard!
The great thing about making yourself vulnerable in front of an audience (whether that be online or on stage) is that through careful research and practice on the subject—you learn more from your own material than even your audience does. I can’t thank Girl Develop It enough for the opportunity to teach and, in turn, learn. Teaching others and having to revisit the basics forced me to carefully review all aspects of my own process.
Teaching not only gives you the satisfaction of seeing people understand a new concept you showed them, but you also gain confidence from seeing your words have an impact in front of your eyes. I found teaching to be the least intimidating entry point, as it was a small group of beginners, but see what works best for you. Writing blog posts for a company blog (like the Foundry!) is also an excellent way to begin crafting your thoughts and voice. Seeing positive reinforcement via comments or tweets helps to affirm that your thoughts are worth sharing—and will give you the confidence to share more!
Letting it Shine
Once you have a few practice runs under your belt, just continue to volunteer for new things, but continue to challenge yourself. Work your way up, slowly building that confidence. Sign up to do a lightning talk, then submit for a conference. Volunteer for a local meetup that has 20 attendees, then volunteer for a larger one. Write a few personal blog posts, then submit to a larger publication. Eventually, things like conferences won’t seem as scary (spoiler: they’re still scary). But the more confidence you pretend you have, the more you shall gain in return. One day, you’ll wake up and realize you don’t have to pretend nearly as much.