Once upon a time in Milan
A few weeks back, I flew out to Milan to give a speech on how to level up storytelling skills in oder to become a better writer and speaker. I applied to speak at a WordCamp, which is a WordPress industry event, and I was very much looking forward to coming back to Milan, where I worked during the summer as a student. I was speaking on a topic that I am comfortable with, at an event that is familiar to me, in a country where I speak the language. It wasn’t the most challenging speaking arrangement for me, yet I woke up a few days earlier with a huge case of impostor syndrome.
Suddenly, I didn’t feel qualified to give my speech. I mean who am I to speak about storytelling? I have never published a book, or an article in a prestigious magazine. I am not a sought after consultant that gets flown out to help brand up-and-coming companies. I don’t own a company. I have only been in the WordPress industry for two years. I hadn’t spoken Italian for a while. I wasn’t feeling motivated at work. My speech didn’t feel authentic. But how could it, I was a fraud! These thoughts were going through my head as I was writing my presentation, and working on my slides.
When I am feeling good about myself, I come to a presentation well prepared. I plan and write the speech well in advance, and rehearse it for at least a week. I make sure my timing is as perfect as you can expect it, and I am always note free on the day. I make it so that even if my slides combust, I can deliver a well-rounded, engaging speech. This wasn’t happening for me in Milan. It was two days out I hadn’t finished my speech, and I was on zero run-throughs. You can imagine my state of mind on that Thursday night, before the big day on Saturday. I went to bed worried.
On Friday, I asked myself, what is the worst thing that can happen? Staying true to my powers of reason, I realized that yes the worst thing wasn’t career devastating. It would be freezing up and delivering a below average speech. It just didn’t calm me the way I expected. It’s because the presentation I was about to give means more to me than being successful, and impressing the WordCamp Milan audience. To me, being a storyteller is who I am. I told myself that giving a presentation is what I am good at, and failing at it would question everything that I do.
I couldn’t practice my speech. I went to the venue unprepared by my standards, and I wasn’t expecting a good performance from myself. My confidence was rocky, but I didn’t want to show it. Now, this isn’t one of those stories where I tell you that it was the best speech I’ve delivered so far. I can tell you it wasn’t the worst either, and from what I can tell, people enjoyed it. I got a few “you rocked” comments. Overall, I went home not having let down my image and with my speaker reputation intact. I also went home with my impostor syndrome.
Knight in shining armor
Every story has a hero, and my knight in shining armor looked a lot like myself this time round. Overcoming impostor syndrome is about understanding that there is a long yellow brick road ahead, but that also you have been on it for a while. It’s only when I get this “icky feeling” that is also known as the impostor syndrome that I realize how much more I have to learn. On the one hand, it’s terrifying, on the other, it’s thrilling. So, you see we question our abilities so that we can challenge ourselves. Others can challenge us, teach us, and put us in situations where we make difficult decisions that we learn from, but no one can challenge us like we can ourselves. That’s why the impostor syndrome is an internal thing that only you can feel, and no one else can see.
Poisonous apple or glass slipper?
Rather than looking at the impostor syndrome like the poisonous apple, look at it like your glass slipper. It’s your way back to prince charming. When we lose ourselves a little, we become a little braver, we can stand up to our mean stepsisters, and step into our own. Don’t let yourself doubt what you can do, or how far you have come, but when it does happen, and it will, because you are only human, embrace the feeling and overcome it by recognizing the challenge ahead.
In five days time I am going to be holding my third self-organized content marketing workshop, where I will be teaching for 8 hours about the power of storytelling, SEO and personal branding. I don’t have my “icky feeling” with me today, so I am hoping that on Saturday, this time around I will enjoy my presentation a little more than in Milan.