As soon as I took a sip of my dirty paintbrush rinsing water, my first thought was, “Did anyone see that?” My second thought was, “That will fit in a column some day.” So, here we are.
I recently attended a Paint and Sip situation, a birthday party for a friend. This is not my thing, at all. While we had a very fun girls’ night out, I don’t have a deep desire to do it again. I did indeed pick up the wrong liquid and take a sip of my brush water that was awash with acrylic paint. Another woman rinsed a paintbrush in her wine. And this was early in the evening.
We had fun, and walked out of there with 100 percent decent work, as you see above. My snowman approximated everyone else’s snowmen. Now, I can’t paint to save my life. But Joe Warnement, the Apollo Career Center floral instructor who guided us, is really good at this Paint and Sip thing. He instructs, step by step, and he uses participants’ canvasses to explain. Along the way, he works a little magic, which is to say he fixes your painting. Because my lovely wife and I both attended, we actually have two of these snowmen paintings at home, which is as funny as you think it is. I put mine on the mantel, and our son said, “I like Mama’s better. Put hers there.” Mine went on a wall darn near directly across from the other, and together they make quite the conversation piece.
In a fit of over analyzing the Paint and Sip experience, I was feeling ill at ease about my painting. I knew I couldn’t produce something like this by myself, and it felt fraudulent to claim it as my work. I felt like an imposter. I’ve been researching Imposter Syndrome; leadership development expert Susan Ritchie blogs about it and has a small e-book you can download from her site, susanritchie.co.uk. She is based in England, but many leadership challenges are universal. Her focus is on women’s leadership development, but I think much of what she addresses can apply to men as well.
As Ritchie writes, Imposter Syndrome is characterized by a believe that you are a fake, and that one day you will be found out. Research shows that women are “particularly affected” by debilitating significant self-doubt that can affect their own career success. Anyone in a new role, particularly a leadership role, knows what this feels like.
Ritchie offers several practices to overcome Imposter Syndrome, one of which she calls career mapping. It involves showing yourself a realistic picture of how far you’ve come in your career, with actual milestones and challenges you’ve overcome. She also suggests to ask yourself this question: “In what ways am I not an imposter?” She advocates saying the answer out loud and writing it down. Repeat until you have a good list to stand up to your imposter self. Ritchie has much more to offer on the topic, and I would invite you to check it out.
My Imposter Syndrome feelings came early and often as I made a career change, from journalist to nonprofit director. For many years as a reporter and even as an editor, I joked that someday I would have to find a real job. First, reporting and writing fit like a glove to me, and it never felt like “work.” Second, anyone who’s spent time in a newsroom understands it’s a unique environment. To paraphrase a former boss of mine, it’s no insurance agency.
And, so here I found myself, leading an organization, working with a governing board, joining organizations and other boards I had previously reported on. I resisted joining Lima Rotary Club, and even after I was in, didn’t feel comfortable. As a reporter, I worked to be connected and knowledgeable about my community, but it was purposely from the outside. You don’t get much more “inside” in Lima than in Rotary.
What got me over my Imposter Syndrome? In my new career, I applied a core belief of my journalism career: that my work is important because educated people are the ones who make positive change. I still see the function of Allen Lima Leadership through that lens. In my other roles, I looked for places I could help, and started making myself useful. I feel more comfortable earning my keep.
The research is clear that there remains a gender gap in leadership roles; Ritchie says that’s because not enough women are in the pipeline to begin with. That is for many complex reasons. Don’t let one of them be your own self doubt.