Adventures in humility

Alternately known as What Do You Mean, You Don’t Know What You’re Doing?

Yes…you read that right.

I was recently blessed to attend a wonderful convention in my state at my old university. I met up with a few of my classmates and professors and had a wonderful time. (I also live tweeted the conferences – two different conferences, two days, two speakers and with a bit of drama involved – but that’s another blog post!). In one of my conversations with a friend of mine (Hi Janna!) I was talking about some experiences I had at the #ASHA12 conference in Atlanta. 20130214-182550.jpg

Part of that conversation was how incredibly overwhelmed I felt at the conference. Not because of the conference itself, it wasn’t my first ASHA conference, I fully expected the seemingly millions (okay thousands) of attendees, long lines, messed up bathrooms, and all of that. I felt overwhelmed for a completely different reason…because I was a fake. 

First, let me preface this by saying ASHA12 came very close, only a couple of weeks, after presenting on iPad use at New Mexico Speech Language Hearing Association’s 50th Anniversary conference. That conference went very well and other than a close friend and a few professionals, it was pretty quiet for me. Other than the flying (which I hate) it was fairly uneventful.

Fast forward two weeks to ASHA. With so many people attending an ASHA convention, it’s a pretty safe bet that most airlines will be filled with SLPs and Audiologists on the Wednesday (possibly the Tuesday) before. This Wednesday was no exception. Before the flight out of Denver had taken off, I was chatting with professionals from University of Wyoming, South Dakota, and other places. By the time the plane landed in Atlanta, I had found a few new friends.

On the metro ride to the hotel, I found one of the #SLPeeps from Twitter and the convention started with a bang. We met up with many of the other #SLPeeps and had our “tweet-up” and it was fabulous. Well… mostly fabulous.

No, really…It was pretty fabulous. I absolutely LOVED meeting people who I’ve known virtually for a few years. They felt (and were) like old friends. The only downside to the event at all was that I felt a bit pulled. So many people wanting my opinion – and I just wasn’t used to it. Frankly, I didn’t (still don’t) think I warranted it.

Fast forward slightly to about 2:00 am when I woke up in a cold panic in the hotel room. It took a few minutes to talk myself through the panic attack. After pacing the hotel room for about 30 minutes (not too close to the window I was on the 64th floor after all – so disorienting!) and I really thought about it and analyzed the way I was feeling, I realized it was because I was worried about letting people down.  I was scheduled to work at the Pediastaff Social Media booth and teach people about twitter and blogging…and I was going to be meeting up with the #SLPeeps…and I was going to have a “meet the author” hour at Smarty Ears Apps booth… and… and…

And…I realized that I was a total fake. I mean, I knew I was a total fake all along. But, I realized that other people were going to know I was a total fake…and that worried me. It took a while for me to remember that this is not uncommon and that everything would be all right. (Long story short – the conference went very well, I wasn’t really a fake, I made all my obligations, I learned a ton, and I had a blast!)

Which brings us back to the conference in March. As I was speaking with Janna the conversation of feeling like a fake came up. I shared my story with her about how I’ve often felt like a fake. Unfortunately, the impostor syndrome is not uncommon to our field. I’ve talked with SLPs that have been practicing for 20+ years and still feel like they don’t know what they’re doing or they’ve come up with a new situation and have no clue how to handle it. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying I’m not a fake. Wait.. Nope, that’s right. I’m not saying I’m not a fake. I do fake some things. (NO! not like that!)

When I’m in an IEP meeting and a parent or teaching is asking a tough question – you bet I fake it. I smile, I act confident, and I tell them that I want to provide the most thorough answer possible and I will get back to them. Inside, I’m screaming and crying and gnashing my teeth wondering what in the world am I going to do and where am I going to find the information!

When I’m dealing with a student with behavior problems and inside I’m wondering if he’s going to flip the table over on me or throw a chair at me, you’d better believe I’m faking it. I’m faking the calm, cool, exterior that he can’t ruffle.

In fact, one of the things that I realized, is that one of the reasons I felt like a fake is that I don’t feel I’ve done anything all that spectacular yet. I have high expectations for myself…after all, I set the goal at my first ASHA in 2008 that one day I would receive ASHA Fellow or ASHA Honors and I still intend to do that! I had to question myself: what have I really done to make a difference in our profession? In the BIG picture? Sure, I tweet, blog, author apps…but anyone can do those. I’ve presented at conference…but anyone can do that. Hmmm.

I make changes in my kids lives all the time. We all do. I can’t take credit for that – it goes with the job (and I love it!). I’ve made changes in my school and how they do things. I can’t take credit for that – it was a team effort and I’m blessed to have an awesome team (thank goodness).

I’ve advocated for change here. I’ve talked with people about caseload and workloads, advocating for self and students, and all of that. But has it made any difference? Not yet. People are still overworked with too many to adequately serve. Kids are still not being able to be seen when they should be because of caseloads or idiotic bureaucracy. So what I have I done? What can I do differently to make a difference?

I’ve mulled over this post for a while. Janna suggested it would be good for people to read the angst and panic I felt at ASHA. I wasn’t convinced. Mainly because it makes me feel a bit vulnerable (and appear egotistical and self-serving). However, I realized there was more to it than being panicked. When I considered it, her request made sense.

I’m betting every single one of us has felt like a fake before. I’m betting there are some that feel like that now. Congratulations…You too are in the category of human.

So…the million dollar question is: What are we going to do about it? Feeling like a fake is not a good feeling, but it is completely natural. Being uncertain is a common feeling and one that, I believe, is actually good for us. It helps us learn and be cautious. Being entropic (see definition 3 and 4) however is dangerous. We must be the catalyst for the change we want. We cannot sit by passively and do nothing and hope that someone else will fix what’s wrong. We cannot fake change.

For me…I’m going to fake it ’til I make it. I’m going to go right on faking that calm cool exterior and be that professional who will find the answer. I’m going to go on trying to make a difference in advocating for our profession and the people whose lives we change.

I’d love to hear from you…how are you going to make a difference? Or, if you’d prefer, in what ways do you experience the Impostor Syndrome? I’m fairly sure you do…at least at some point…and those of us with less than a lifetime in the field could certainly benefit from first hand knowledge that it is normal. Drop me a line here if you’re willing to share.

Until then…Adventure on!






8 thoughts on “Adventures in humility

  1. Mary, aside from the fact that you are one of the most real people I have ever met …
    It’s not faking it to present a clam exterior to an anxious parent or co-educator when you don’t know the answer right that moment.
    It’s not faking it to try and keep your calm when at any moment you might be assaulted physically by a student (or anyone else, for that matter).
    It’s certainly not faking it when your mind is running the scenarios trying to decide what the best course of action is in any given situation.
    That’s actually pretty extraordinary, because the normal folks would be panicking visibly and not giving reassuring responses to parents, students, co-workers and the rest.
    This -= I’m going to go on trying to make a difference in advocating for our profession and the people whose lives we change. =- is certainly not faking it, because it just shows again how extraordinary your are, and *that* is what it takes to be successful in your profession.
    That you can maintain that calm exterior while your mind is racing a million miles an hour (and I know you do, I’ve watched you do it) is most assuredly not faking it. I don’t really think it’s Imposter Syndrome, either.
    Now, about that doctorate program…

  2. You are right – having BECOME AN SLP IN 1974 – AND PRACTICING EVER SINCE – I STILL WONDER IF SOMEDAY IT WILL BECOME APPARENT THAT I KNOW NOTHING – THAT THE PROGRESS MY STUDENTS HAVE MADE HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE THERAPY THEY RECEIVED. We spend a great deal of time in this field encouraging and empowering clients, often forgetting to do the same for ourselves.

  3. Mary, I am glad that you gave a name to it! “The Impostor Syndrome!” OMG! Yes, I do feel like that too. This was a fun post. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  4. Was just perusing your blog, and this was exactly what I needed to hear right now. Starting my CF next week has put me in a state of “calm panic”–I’ve remained calm while meeting with supervisors and touring the hospital, but inside I am completely sure that once I start I will flop because I’m “faking it.” I’m worried they’ll see right through it! I know this is mostly nerves and unfamiliarity talking, but it’s still disconcerting. However, if I can come across even half as knowledgeable and composed as you did at ASHA, I’m sure I’ll be fine. 🙂 You’re fantastic, and you’re doing great things, and it’s an honor to know you!

  5. This post really helped me! I was VERY nervous to start my own website….never feeling that I was an “enough” of an expert. I put it off for years; however, your post gave me the motivation to just do it. THANK YOU!!!

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