This is Dr. Robyn Odegaard, who among many things, is a TEDx Speaker Coach and author. I am also proud to say she is a friend of mine on Facebook, which is how I came to know her.
Yesterday, she sent this to me from a TEDxWilmingtonWomen event she hosted last month and I’m so glad she did. My wife was driving my daughter and I home from a doctor’s appointment, so that’s when I decided to watch and listen.
She speaks here about “Imposter Syndrome.” The imposter syndrome is the belief that we aren’t worthy of the success that we work for. Robyn describes this syndrome as it occurred in her own life – and in the lives of her clients. Despite her achievements, that voice of the imposter followed her throughout life. Robyn shares the one question that helps her and her clients overcome the imposter syndrome and live without limits.
This hit me incredibly hard, which is why I believe that even after posting it to her Facebook page, she decided to send it to me directly. I can relate to what she speaks about. I wanted to share some of the ways in which the Imposter Syndrome has ultimately dominated my life, even often to this day.
But first, please watch the video above. You may learn a lot about yourself through some of Robyn’s experiences.
As for me, some of this will be a bit difficult to write, but I will push on anyway. This also may come across as “bashing” of certain individuals, but that is not at all my intent. I just feel like I need to write this and stop fooling myself (which is what I’ve ultimately been doing), along with blaming myself, totally unsure as to why I was doing so. After watching this video, it made some things in my own life quite clear.
As a child, I spent a lot of time feeling the Imposter Syndrome. I do feel like I struggle with this at times even now.
Today, I am a very shy person, but more so back then. I was also very smart and often got good grades. There was even a point where a few members of my family thought I was gifted. Considering the attention they gave me over it, I brushed it off and just hoped that wasn’t the case. I didn’t believe I could possibly be among the smartest kids out there. No way.
The first time this really became evident was after our school’s math bee. I was in the third grade and won it for my school. I advanced to the next level where of course, I competed against students from other schools. I lost that one.
So many people said that they were incredibly proud of me. Being that I loved math (I love numbers and used to always play with calculators), the attention actually didn’t make me uncomfortable for once. I believe under normal circumstances, it would have, but doing something I enjoyed allowed me to sort of “hide” behind it.
There was one person, no question, the biggest person in my life who did NOT give me that same level of praise. That person?
Again…this is not to bash my mother. I love my mother very much. But I have to be honest about this and explain why what Robyn says above has impacted me as much as it did.
Later, in the fifth grade, I was at a different school and won’s that school’s math bee as well. After that, same thing. Lost at the next level.
Thinking back now, the reason I lost both times was purely a lack of confidence and focus. In the third grade, a money question got me. Normally, when we were given a list of coins and the amount of each in which to determine the total value, most often, it would be listed from highest coin value to lowest; i.e., 5 quarters, 2 dimes, 6 nickels. That made it easier to figure out. But for some reason, the question I lost on was, “23 pennies, 2 quarters, 3 dimes.” Just the fact that they started with pennies threw me off, mainly because I had gotten used to the standard way.
In fifth grade, the question I lost on was “16 x 7 =”. My focus shifted more to the number of people in the audience (which I had done a great job of not paying attention to up to that point), and I became distracted.
Anyway, in both cases, my mother had a very nonchalant attitude, giving me the impression that I wasn’t really meant to win at those next levels. “The kids are just smarter there,” I remember her once saying. That is the point I believe it was first planted in my mind that I was good enough for one level, but not often the next. Despite the enormous praise I received from everyone else (I was practically a “celebrity” at my school both times), it stuck out more than my mother didn’t say a whole lot, while giving me the impression that I “shouldn’t be surprised” that I lost at those next levels.
I also have an older brother. I don’t need to explain how that goes. We were/are rivals, but it’s usually been friendly competitions in pretty much anything and everything. We would make “games” out of the craziest stuff, hell bent on beating the other. Even cleaning our room became fun, because throwing trash away became the shooting free throws in the NBA Finals.
As with many younger siblings, I was beaten to death with how much better he was than me at practically everything. It didn’t bother me so much at first; however, when my mother contributed to it, that’s when it stung a bit more. Friendly competition between my older brother and I became my mother taking his side and/or cheering more for him. Whenever I would follow in his footsteps, I often got, “Why are you doing that? Just because your brother is?” or “That’s something for him to do, not you.” There was even one time where I conquered something, and my mother’s response was, “Well, he watched his brother do it, so that how he knows.” I wasn’t supposed to have heard it.
My brother played high school football. I hated football back then. But seeing the attention my mother gave my brother, I decided to try and learn to play as well. I did lousy and lasted three practices.
Again, my mother just chalked it up as just “doing what my brother was doing.” I felt terrible, because I really wanted to do well. This was something else my brother was better at and my mother held him up because of it.
This all matters because of the fact that in learning so much from my brother, there wasn’t a whole lot I knew of that I could do on my own; at least not until later. So in essence, I was following him, but I felt I had no choice. I didn’t know much else.
My brother graduated high school in 1995. That day was met with quite a bit of fanfare from our relatives. He had the graduation parties, but an aunt and uncle were looking to start a business in which they were to videotape special events, such as birthday parties, weddings, etc. So they were there and videotaped everything. When we got home, we all watched and on more than one occasion, they told me, “When you graduate in two years, we’ll be doing the same for you!” Of course, I looked forward to it.
My brother also joined the Army shortly after graduation. Again, it was met with tons of praise. Fast forward to two years later. Not so much when I announced that I would join then. Once more, it was believed I was “only doing it because my brother was” and that I “probably wouldn’t last.”
Then it was my turn to graduate high school. I was in my room and getting ready and beyond excited. I may have worn a suit and tie two or three times all the way up to that point and I was about to on that day, so I knew it was a big deal. I had the tickets sitting on the nightstand. I already knew who all would be there, so I figured, it was just a matter of them showing up.
As time went on, I began to wonder why not only had no one called, but no one was there yet. I believe I was about three hours away from when I needed to be there, so I went into our living room to ask my mother. To my surprise, she was sitting on the couch and watching television in house clothes. So I asked her, “Mom…where is everybody? Are they still coming? Aren’t you getting ready for my graduation soon?”
Mom looked at me and said, “No. I am not going to sit here, you treat me the way you do and now you want me to do something for you like nothing is wrong. No.” And then she went back to watching television in the most nonchalant way possible.
Now, let me be fair. I was NOT an angel of a child by any means. My mother and I did not get along growing up, mainly because of my father, who was in and out of the picture. I did a LOT of back talking and sassing. I can admit that. None of it was right. I didn’t run the streets, get in trouble in school or anything like that. But I definitely was NOT the best or kindest child at home toward my mother. I can give all the reasons as to why, but I don’t feel they really matter at this point.
However, she treated my high school graduation as if it were a favor I was asking her to do. A favor. “Can I borrow five dollars?” is a favor. “Pick up my dry cleaning” is a favor. Attending your son’s high school graduation, well…I thought it was a little more than that and something she would want to do. I was clearly very wrong about that.
I went back into my room, sat down on my bed next to my cap and gown. My cap fell onto the floor. I just kicked it somewhere and began to cry. My heart was broken.
*Continued in PART TWO* (below)