Last week I taught a workshop and my biggest fear came true.
The workshop was From Idea to Action, (based on the Map Making Guide
) at a small community college in North Carolina. Handmade in America sponsors these, so they're free to attendees (while I get paid). This is an important plot point, because there is a decidedly different audience for a free workshop at a community college, than my at my usual teaching venues where tickets for a 2 hour workshop are around $50.
Now that the scene is set it's time to tell you that not only did my most-feared interaction occur, but I survived.
You see, my biggest fear (and maybe yours too?) is that someone is going to point out that I should not do what I do. That I do not have good ideas. That I have nothing of value to add. This is such a universal fear that there's a term psychologists have for it - Imposter Syndrome. Most of us, even when we're accredited and degreed and certified for our exact job (which I'm not!) still worry that others are going to recognize that we are not good enough to do what we do. Recognize it - because we ourselves believe that it is really true. That any minute the rest of the world will suddenly have a moment of clarity and truth and look at us and say: What in the world are you doing? You're not special!
Well, friend, that happened to me. At the end of a very fun, student-response-filledworkshop, a guy, who stumbled in 45 minutes late and asked a long question about copyywriting his idea for a sitcom before he told anyone else about it, said: "Cause what's to stop people from ripping off any idea I have? I mean, you're not the first person to tell people how to get stuff done, this is all in a hundred books already, no offense. You're not even the first person to have pink hair, but are you paying the person who had that idea first?!?"
Now, you can probably recognize that this is not a figure of authority telling me I'm not good enough and yet, did you catch it - he said that I'm not original, that I'm not teaching anything new, and of course my internal dialogue jumped right into agree with him that I really shouldn't even be doing anything, ever.
But somehow, I managed to smile at him and said, "Thank you" and moved on to the next raised hand. The next students said, "Actually, even though I know I should break down all my ideas like this, I have never done it, so this workshop was so valuable because I finally did it. I really have a plan now!" Other students chimed in about how they loved it, I thanked them and brought class to a close.
It was only on my drive home that I absorbed what had really happened: my biggest fear - being called an imposter in front of a room full of strangers - came true. And I survived. I smiled. I spent the rest of my evening chatting with students who bought my book, told me all about their businesses, and signed up for my very next workshop.
In other words, the evening was a success.
As I've pondered this* (I flew to Boston the very next day and taught 3 more workshops in the next week - no time to start doubting if I should teach!), I've come to appreciate the moment. I survived. In fact, I've thrived since coming face to face with my fear. Instead of having that dude's voice in the back of my head, terrified that he's going to pop up, I've seen him face to face. And frankly, he's a little unhinged. Just like the Doubt in my head, the guy is not someone that has authority. He is not in charge of my gifts and how I need to share them in the world. He rants about a lot of things, and lives in fear. I am so much stronger than this voice.
I bet the same is true for you. I even bet, that if the worst thing happened - if someone pointed to you and called, Imposter! - you would survive.
If that's true, what's stopping you? If you can (and will) survive the worst, what are you waiting for? What's really holding you back?
I hope you keep beaming,
*To be honest, even writing about it is bringing his voice back, but I'm repeating something I learned from Brene Brown: I am vulnerable, and I am grateful.