Quick fixes for imposter syndrome
November 15, 2015 9:57 AM   Subscribe

I'm at a conference and feeling like a failure. I know about power poses, I've started blasting upbeat music in my headphones when I'm going from place to place, and I've started doing little mindfulness/body checks if I'm feeling really alarmed. What else can I be doing to combat my imposter syndrome/crises of confidence, right now?
posted by c'mon sea legs to Work & Money (19 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry you're having a tough time. What is it you feel you are failing to do? Can you articulate that?
posted by DarlingBri at 10:18 AM on November 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Remind yourself that everyone else feels the same way, at least intermittently – they're just putting up a convincing façade.
posted by zadcat at 10:20 AM on November 15, 2015

Conferences can be so stressful. Sometimes I just give myself permission to mentally check out, take a bath in my room, go have a nice meal out alone, and then I can face it again. Sometimes ten minutes in a dark hotel room and a good cry works.

I just went to my annual conference and self care is so hard during these things. That's what you need. Walk away for an hour or two. Unless there are like 12 people there no one will have any idea you're gone. It's ok.

Try to build in some time daily to do something nice and comforting. I didn't always do this but now I always bring a book or knitting along and I make sure that every day I spend at least a little time being a person.

Conferences are rough. It's not you; it's the setting. Take care.
posted by sockermom at 10:32 AM on November 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Are you attending or presenting at the conference?
posted by boo_radley at 10:41 AM on November 15, 2015

At academic conferences when I'm feeling unsure of myself, I like to find the most obscure (but still interesting) poster I can, read the abstract and try and come up with a way that my work is relevant to that topic (even if it is a stretch), and then go listen to the shpiel of the presenter. If I feel like it, I can say "Oh, that reminds me of X thing in my research," but even if I don't feel like it, I've heard from someone else at the conference who is currently excited to be interacting with me! And I can contribute to that conversation!

It's nice because I often get grumpy and stressed that there isn't anyone who's going to find what I do interesting or useful, and that's one way to remind myself that everything in the field is applicable to everything else, however tenuous. And generally, even if there's not something directly applicable I can say, I can ask a question and be part of the broader intellectual world. Then I take a deep breath and think about how awesome what I do is, and how I am being brave and smart, and - yes - definitely play badass music on my phone to pump myself up.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:45 AM on November 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

I get this so bad at conferences too. I find it helps to allow myself to be visibly impressed by my peers who totally intimidate me--'Oh wow, you went to Harvard. Was it as great as its reputation?' 'Goldman Sachs? You must really know what you're doing.' It takes the pressure off me to immediately counter with my own credentials, and gives them an opportunity to admit to their own imposter syndrome, which a surprising number of them do.
posted by Tenzing_Norgay at 11:24 AM on November 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

I, too, would like more detail on what it is you feel like you're """failing""" at. Like, step one: why are you there in the first place? I'm assuming you're at least partly there to learn things. To hear interesting new information. It would be hard to fail at that by doing anything other than simply not showing up.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:30 AM on November 15, 2015

Also: I'd ditch the headphones.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:31 AM on November 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

do you feel up for a bit of humor? could you play bullshit bingo in your head? have fun as you try to memorize the names of the people you meet (you know, this old mnemotechnic trick)?
posted by bluedora at 11:34 AM on November 15, 2015

Response by poster: I'm leading a workshop tomorrow, but am otherwise a participant. I feel like I'm failing at networking (I'm connecting with people well but don't seem to be figuring out next steps/ongoing relationships), at representing my organization well, and at making an impression at all. It feels like a pit of sadness and alienation in my stomach. (I'm doing the headphones on the walk from my hotel to the conference site, if it helps, not wearing them between sessions around other participants or anything). Imposter syndrome is maybe inaccurate now that I'm really putting it into words--it really feels like being DEEPLY depressed, but has just hit me today out of the blue. Thanks so much for your thoughts so far, and apologies for any mobile phone-induced typos in this response.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 11:41 AM on November 15, 2015

Mindfulness Northwest offers 3-minute exercises and other resources at their website.

Drink tea, maybe get soup, please don't forget to eat.
posted by Little Dawn at 12:01 PM on November 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Connecting with people is the only thing you really need to be doing at a conference - that's not really the time to try to figure out next steps or develop strong ongoing relationships, so don't worry too much about it. If you've had a promising conversation with someone, ask for their business card or contact information, and say something like "I'll follow up with you about this conversation in the next few weeks - it was great chatting with you!" I keep a note on my phone with people's names and what we chatted about. Then, when you're back home and a little more laid back and out of the stressful conference vibe, you have some time to do a little more research into that person or organization and figure out what those next steps are going to be.

You can also use those connections over the longterm to plan something to make your next conference feel less terrible. Once you've established some mutual project or shared some data or a technique, you can start to identify collaborators for the next conference - someone who will be on a panel for a workshop you organize, someone to grab coffee with after the working group you both attend, etc. And then conferences will feel less alienating. At least, that's been my experience attending the same conference three or four times annually. At first, the faces are all strange and I know nothing and nobody and am all alone and sad, but now I'm starting to identify my people and community, and look forward to chatting with people and catching up from year to year.
posted by ChuraChura at 12:16 PM on November 15, 2015 [9 favorites]

c'mon sea legs: are you someone who in general fits the description "introverted"? Because speaking as someone who does, your second description sounds very much like how I feel at conferences where I don't already know a solid percentage of the attenders. That's definitely an extrovert's world. I've often found that I'd give a talk or be on a panel that went quite well, and have some good interactions right afterwards, but feel totally out of place during the social breaks and meals, to the point where it was much more comfortable to go back to the room to get work done, go outside to take a walk, or whatever. And since it's often drilled into one that "the real point of conferences is the out-of-session networking you do", that can make it feel like you're failing.

If "success" at the non-session parts of the conference isn't critical to your professional standing/goals, I'd suggest giving yourself permission to blow off the parts that make you uncomfortable or don't work out. If it is, and if being an introvert is one of the issues, then maybe if you haven't already take a look at the books on introversion out there by Susan Cain, Sophia Dembling, etc., for strategies they've found useful in these situations.
posted by Creosote at 12:19 PM on November 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

Every single person you talk to, ask for their card. That's all you need to do. You don't need to figure out 'next steps' right here and now.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:04 PM on November 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

In my experience, it takes at least a week or multiple conferences to make conference friends. If you are connecting with people in the moment, that is plenty for this conference.
posted by yarntheory at 7:24 PM on November 15, 2015

Response by poster: I skipped a session and went to a yoga class and feel so much better. Thank you all so much for your answers and support!
posted by c'mon sea legs at 7:47 PM on November 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

Yes, take lots of breaks, because conferences are overwhelming and draining. Appreciate the connections you DO make and acknowledge that because there's luck involved, you won't always move the networking forward. (E.g., you picked a lunch table with nobody relevant to your cause.) Make things easy on yourself by coming up with 2-3 jokes or pieces of small talk that you can reuse. Good luck.
posted by salvia at 10:45 PM on November 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you are feeling like an imposter, it might help to recognize that you are experiencing the Dunning-Kruger Effect.

tl;dr version: Very capable, smart people tend to believe that they are less competent than they are because they compare themselves to the brightest lights in their fields, against whom they tend to find themselves lacking. Conversely, people who are incompetent and ignorant in a field tend to believe that they are more capable in their field because they are too unknowledgeable to even recognize their own lack of knowledge.

So in other words, if you're attending a conference in your field and you're feeling like a failure it's probably because you are not a failure. Just your brain doing a little jujitsu on you.
posted by rkriger at 6:53 AM on November 16, 2015

A bit late to the game, here, but Creosote supports what I was thinking: your description of the depression that hit you is exactly how I feel if I've been around too many people. Knowing that it's a sign of my introversion and not a sign that I'm messing anything up has really helped me accept and get through it. It might be helpful to explore ways that introverts can practice self care and just understand what it means to be introverted in general vs. exploring imposter syndrome, because so much of the advice out there on networking is geared towards extroverts and will make you feel worse about yourself.

Hope the conference went or is going great and that you're feeling more at ease!
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 12:04 PM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

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