engineering bigness and imposter syndrome


"Real talk," my friend said, "I'm craving a deeper dive into my work."

"God, it must be in the air," I responded.  "Me too."

 Even though I’ve known that this was a year I had to go big with my business, for the past four months, I’ve been doing what my friend Brené calls “engineering smallness” into my life. Every idea I've had, I've been tentative.  I've been operating from fear and scarcity.  I've used "I'm so busy" as a rationalization, and while it's true that I've been doing a lot of speaking over the last few months, the truth is that I was relieved for my full schedule -- it meant I didn't have to face the small voice in my head that kept hissing, "what if it doesn't work?"  

But I've run out of excuses:  I have several months ahead of me with no speaking gigs for a while.  There's no reason not to try to dive deeper.

Ironically, while at the Mom 2.0 Summit last week, I was on a panel with my friends Laura Mayes, Jenny Lawson and Katherine Center, talking about imposter syndrome.  During the panel, I claimed that I didn't really feel like I suffered from imposter syndrome; or at worst, I suffered from mere "bouts" of it ("like diarrhea," Jenny quipped).  But the truth is that I've likely been in the middle of a pretty severe bout right now.  Because for the last four months, I've been asking myself, "who do I think I am, that I dare play big?"

As luck would have it, through our discussion on that panel we came up with some tactical ways to push through imposter syndrome.  Jenny shared how she writes "pretend you're good at it" on her arm whenever she's having self-doubt.  Katherine talked about how important it is to call a trusted friend.  And I remembered a friend who once told me that whenever I get down on myself, tricking myself into believe that I've never shown any capability of achieving what I want to achieve, I should remind myself that I have evidence to suggest otherwise.

So since returning home, I've taken both of those pieces of advice to heart:  I grabbed my journal and my pens (when I go analogue with my journal and my pens, I mean business), and began writing down the evidence that indicates that I'm more than qualified to do the things that I want to do.  Where I've felt a little shaky, I've found online courses that help me learn what I need to learn, and taken copious notes (and bonus, some of these courses count toward the continuing legal education credits that I'm required to have to keep my law license active every year).  I've even spent time creating a goal map*, outlining the steps that I need to take to reach my goals.  In just the last few days of doing all of these things, I've grown more confident.  

I'm beginning to realize that "engineering bigness" is not about lying to yourself about what you're capable of doing.  It is, in fact, the opposite:  it's about setting a goal -- even an audacious one, if you'd like -- and then gathering the data and the evidence of your capabilities that indicate it's absolutely possible to make it happen.  And where you have gaps -- in knowledge or skill -- you figure out how to close the gaps.  Because you've figured out how to close gaps before (you have the evidence in your past, after all), you'll just do it again.  One step at a time.

So here's to big dreams and making light, friends.  May we all go forth and engineer big.


*  When I shared that post about goal mapping, several folks mentioned that they'd like to learn more about it.  I think I'll put together a little ecourse on how to do it -- I'm finding it to be really effective.  Stay tuned.


Soundtrack:  The greatest by Sia featuring Kendrick Lamar.  Because every bout of imposter syndrome needs a good anthem as an antidote.