This last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending Agile Coaching Camp US right in my own neighborhood! For the 10-year anniversary of the coaching camp they brought it back home to where it started. You can read my full writeup of the event to get a feel for what it was like to be there.

One of the things that makes this event unique (at least it was unique in my experience) is that it was conducted in an Open Space format. A key point of open space is that the sessions offered throughout the conference are presented by the people who attend. This is not the place for PowerPoint presentations, long monologues, or vendor-supplies speakers giving sales pitches. This is the place for real, honest, generative conversations among your peers.

What does this all have to do with imposter syndrome? I’ll tell you. Each day of the conference one of the first orders of business is to fill the schedule with sessions offered by attendees. Each attendee who wants to present a session will stand up, present their idea, and go post it on the marketplace board.

This is the point at which the imposter in me started to rear its ugly head. This was my first coaching camp of this size and nature. I am relatively new to the Agile world (at least I feel that way) and I was surrounded by people I admire. My favorite agile podcast? One of the presenters was there. My first agile coach? She was there. One of the original signatories of the agile manifesto – well he was supposed to be there but caught a nasty bug. The gravity of who was attending was quite evident on day one as I saw countless people hug and embrace long lost friends, many of which had attended this event every year together for the past many years. Those imposter-ish thoughts popped up over and over again “I’m not worthy of being here. I’m out of my element. What could I possibly offer these people?” These feelings, of course, were followed with guilt. 

I arrived home from day two of the event in a mix of excitement, exhaustion, frustration, and more fear. 

Day three – the final day of the event – I set in my mind the resolve to not let my imposter get the best of me. When the call came for talks, I popped out of my chair, scribbled a talk name on a post-it in basically chicken-scratch, and presented it to the group. I first asked the question “how many of you have ever felt like an imposter?” to which nearly every person raised their hand. Nervous and excited, I posted my talk on the wall, not noticing that I had not even spelled one of the words correctly.

After enjoying some excellent sessions, it came time for me to step up and talk about the very thing that had been plaguing me all weekend. The group that showed up was small but mighty. I broke down imposter syndrome into three discussions, as follows:

What does it feel like to be in the space of an imposter?

In other words, when you’re living in the world of imposter syndrome what is it like?

  • It feels like your are forcing things
  • Feels like regurgitating other people’s ideas
  • Scared to share because other people know more than you do
  • Continually seeking validation
  • Spend lots of time ruminating/spiraling
  • Ultimately feels like you’ll be found out
  • Is incredibly frustrating

Coping Mechanism

When you are letting your imposter get the best of you:

  • You stop examining your own thoughts
  • Instead of speaking up, you may offer silence
  • Similarly, you may just say “I don’t know” as a way to cop out
  • We will ultimately use our imposter syndrome to talk ourselves out of things and bail out

What to do? Tools we discussed:

  • Right-size your engagements so you can feel confident in your ability to deliver
  • It’s always OK to say “I don’t know” so long as you follow it up with:
  • Leaning into the curiosity of what you don’t know and allowing yourself to learn from it
  • Experiment / iterate! It’s the Agile way!
  • Imposter the CRAP out of the situation (this was my favorite suggestion)
  • Learn to find comfort in the uncomfortable
  • Turn feelings of being an imposter, into feelings of empathy
  • Note the voice in your head, and then immediately tell it to shut up
  • Remember that feelings are just data – they are not truth

My Takeaways

For starters, I’m incredibly proud of myself for pushing my imposter voice aside and facilitating this session. It was empowering, insightful, and opened space for me to connect more deeply with some of the attendees at the coaching camp. To reiterate my favorite suggestion from the above lists, I impostered the CRAP out of it and made this session happen.

The tools that were suggested were all incredibly valuable to me. I often forget that imposter syndrome is not truth, is not permanent, and is rooted in self-doubt. The last bullet point – that our feelings are just data and not truth, is something that rocked me a little bit in how often I equate my feelings with truth in my everyday life.

This experience reminded me that I’m not alone, and that everyone had to start somewhere. At one point or another, every person in that room that I look up to had to start at the beginning just like I did. It’s easy to forget the path that someone took in order to get where they have gotten, when you only see the end result. 

Mostly, though – this experience showed me that I am surrounded by people who are incredibly kind, giving, and willing to offer their help to those who ask. It also cemented in my mind that I was in the right place, at the right time, talking to the right people, and experiencing just what I needed to experience in order to grow. Conversely it also reminded me that I have plenty of room for growth, and that I can’t do it alone.

I’m proud to say that immediately after my session, I marched myself over to the “Asking for” poster on the wall, stuck up my business card, and noted that I was looking for a mentor – a request that I am happy to announce has since been answered.

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