by Denise Riebman
Fifteen minutes into my presentation at the World Congress on Positive Psychology this summer, I felt off balance. I was speaking only from my head and not from my heart. Words were coming out, people were nodding, but my authenticity and connection were missing.
Externally, I continued to speak; internally, I breathed deeply and mindfully. As I deliberately slowed the cadence of my voice, I gradually felt my head and heart merging, and, eventually, I was presenting from my whole being.
For the remaining 45 minutes, I wholeheartedly shared what I know about the strength of hope-centered coaching. But the entire 60 minutes was a powerful lesson in how the fear of not knowing enough and the fear of not being enough can derail career happiness—and how, with hope, perspective, and strength, you can get back on track.
Perspective Getting and the Fear of Not Knowing Enough
For months after I received the e-mail that my proposal had been accepted for the World Congress, I kept waiting for that moment when, like those horrible college admission error stories, they were going to tell me that they had made a mistake in accepting my presentation. When that e-mail never came, I started to panic and immerse myself in re-reading everything that I’ve already read and know about Hope Theory, even studying statistic-filled research (not the best way to inspire my non-quantitative mind).
Whether applying for a job, interviewing for a position, or speaking up in a meeting, clients continually think they are “career imposters.” Like the hidden Wizard of Oz madly pulling levers behind the curtain, they are certain someone is just waiting to reveal the truth of their inadequacy.
“Perspective getting” can clear up your “not knowing” vision:
- Get outside yourself: Solicit friends and colleagues for honest opinions. Ask them to share real-life examples (not just “you are awesome/smart” but “your project on xx was a success”) to reinforce what you do know. Ask them to supportively disclose what they see as your knowledge gaps, to help you gain perspective on where you realistically could benefit from additional learning.
- Go inside yourself: Solicit yourself for your own honest opinion—but don’t try this in the middle of the night. Research shows that our minds are designed to recognize more threats during nighttime hours, when we are often inclined to worry the most, and therefore less likely to rely on the logical neocortex portion of our brain. During daylight, mine as many objective resources as you can that will help—effective previous presentations, successful similar job interviews, performance evaluations. Dispute with evidence your unfounded thoughts.
Strengths, Self-Compassion, and the Fear of Not Being Enough
“It’s people like you that make the research real.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi said these meaningful words to me at the previous World Congress when I told him that I was “just a career happiness coach” who used his research on flow all the time with clients. It when I was repeating his words during my presentation this year that I had the aha moment that I was not training from my whole being. If one of the fathers of positive psychology deeply recognized the value of coach practitioners, then who was I to doubt him?
At that moment, I stopped worrying (or at least started worrying less) about the academics, doctoral students, MAPP grads, and all those super-smart people in the room who I had been intimidated by, and turned my energy towards what I knew, putting hope theory into practice.
Looking back, I realize the answers were already right there in my Hope-Centered Coaching presentation on how to challenge those persistent “not being enough” fears:
- Self-Compassion: How many times have you told yourself to “stop comparing yourself to others”? I find that’s usually about as helpful as telling someone who is panicking to “just relax.” In the long term, reducing self-comparison can increase the feeling of being enough. But, in the immediate moment, try finding a practice that works for you from self-compassion experience. When I find myself overwhelmed by insecurity, I pause, put my hand on my heart, and kindly give myself permission to feel what I am feeling.
- Strength Building: You’ll never find me doing statistical research, data analysis, or technical writing. I won’t be applying for jobs as a researcher or getting a doctorate. According to Hope Theory, achieving our goals stems from a strong self-belief and knowledge of your strengths. In those moments when I am feeling “strength shaky,” I’ve found that it helps to practice “strength gratitude” for others. In your professional life, there will always be others with very different strengths than you, which can threaten your sense of strength well-being. I’ve found that when I recognize and thank them for their talents, it gives me the space to not only release my fear of not being enough, but also to shift my energy back towards my own strengths. And another added benefit is that strength gratitude is often then returned to me.
While my “ego self” wishes that I had knocked it out of the ballpark for the entire hour, my humble self is thankful for those 15 minutes of fear-forward presenting. They taught me how different it feels in my whole being when I know that who I am is always enough.
Denise Riebman is a career development specialist who applies a strength-based, positive psychology framework toward inspiring individuals to find career happiness. She is Director of Career Development and Alumni Services at George Washington University’s Trachtenberg School, and founder of CareerHappinessCoaching.com. Denise holds a Certificate in Positive Psychology and additional certification from Global Career Development Facilitation, Presence-Based Coaching, and The Coaches Institute.
Hi Denise – I just wanted to thank you for this article, it couldn’t be better timed or more appropriate for me – I’m a MAPP student in the UK and I attended and really enjoyed your presentation at the IPPA conference. I’ve just been reviewing my notes from the session in an attempt to build my confidence to work on a presentation for a coaching conference and they led me to find this article – perfectly timed and very helpful reminding me that hat I need to be a bit kinder to myself in terms of expectations and whilst I’m not an experienced coach (yet), I have other strengths I can use to complete the assignment. Furthermore as my presentation theme is around supporting women in leadership, your article is a really useful resource – Career Imposter Symdrome is a common problem for so many women. So please accept a big fat dollop of gratitude from me 🙂
Denise: I so appreciate your authenticity as you reflect on your IPPA experience. I was in the room as you presented your work and you were riveting! There was so much connection to the material and ‘flow’ in your delivery. To read about your process — what was going on re your own warm up and self talk…. illuminates for all of us as you demonstrate how you used (in situ) your strengths to give yourself strength. Your use of self compassion and strengths focus gives us a road map in regard to how we can anticipate and manage the ‘thoughts’ that come up that might derail us — and how to cope adaptively in order to generate positivity and engage our whole being! This indeed is hope theory in action. Thank you!
Love what you wrote about coping adaptively – what a powerful phrase that I will “Borrow” from your wise words. And thank you for those greatly appreciated words about my presentation – it means so much to me to know that it had that impact. May we always be hopeful!
Hi Denise: Loved your article and got some great tips to build confidence for a presentation I’m doing this week. I’ve shared this on two Facebook pages that I manage. Everyone, spread the word!
That is wonderful to hear – hope your Wholebeing presentation goes great this week, and thank you for sharing the post with your community!
Thank you!! Terrific to hear that the timing of the presentation and this article was just what you needed – it’s always amazing to me how many of us are working through our imposter syndrome, and how we need to embrace and celebrate our wholebeing strengths! Please stay in touch!