No one knows what they're doing
My heart was beating through my chest and my hands were dripping with sweat.
I kept looking at my notes for comfort, but none of what I had written down seemed to make any sense.
I was panicking.
I was minutes away from kicking off an all-day management training session in front of a packed conference room. As soon as the CEO wrapped up his welcome message, it was my turn to take center stage.
I had spent weeks preparing for this moment, but as I looked around the room, I began to wonder why I was even in the building.
I eyed the audience sipping their coffees and intently scribbling notes as the CEO spoke. They were an impressive bunch—a mixture of seasoned veterans and energetic new hires—and they were triggering my imposter syndrome in a major way.
Oh my God they look so eager and excited, I’m going to be such a letdown.
What in the world could I possibly teach them that they don’t already know?
Should this even be my career? Maybe there’s still time to go to grad school.
I seriously considered faking an illness and running to my car. Then the CEO asked everyone a simple question:
“What are you hoping to get out of today’s program?”
Silence at first, but eventually one brave soul spoke up.
“I think I’m a pretty good manager, but I’m not really sure, so I’d like some reinforcement.”
This opened the floodgates.
“Yeah, I’d really appreciate hearing what you all are doing because this is hard.”
And finally, my favorite response:
“I have no idea what I’m doing.”
Everyone laughed, including the CEO. Thanks to this display of vulnerability, the mood in the room became noticeably lighter. In an instant, everyone relaxed, including me.
In that moment I relearned a lesson I have been taught countless times—no one really knows what they’re doing.
Most of us have bouts of imposter syndrome, no matter how much we achieve. We wrestle with the feeling that deep down we are frauds—our achievements the result of nothing more than luck and circumstance.
One of the best ways I’ve found to squash these feelings is to remind myself just how common these feelings are, but as I sat in that room I forgot this fact. I saw the composed, successful (looking) managers before me and I let doubt creep in.
I was fortunate that morning. Thanks to a brave audience sharing their own feelings of inadequacy, I was able to calm my racing mind in time to lead a successful session. Most of the time it’s up to me to remind myself that no one has all the answers, even if they act like they do.
I think I frequently forget this lesson because in some ways it would be comforting if it weren’t true. It would be nice to know that there's always someone out there who can tell me the answer or what the next step is.
The fact that no one can is both terrifying and liberating.
During childhood we assume the grownups know everything. Then one day we come to the stark realization that our parents and teachers don’t actually have it all figured out. Once the shock of this wears off, we become free to try our own version of things, without fear of failure.
No one knows what they’re doing, so we might as well have some fun trying to figure it out.
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