If You’re Scared You’re Winning

If you're scared you're winning

I was at my friend’s Halloween party, standing by myself, holding a red Solo cup of Chardonnay, and wishing I’d put some effort into my costume. Wearing a flowy tank top to hide my post-partum belly, skinny jeans, and a hat shaped like a pineapple, my look was, ”I have a baby and a toddler and I am way more worried about breastmilk leaking through my bra than I am about a Halloween costume.” I hadn’t had an uninterrupted night of sleep in nearly five months.

I was mid-yawn when I made eye contact with a sexy witch. We started talking. Chatting with strangers is my jam so I was pumped to connect with SW until she said something that made me blush.

“What do you do?” she asked.

I started to sweat. I had not prepared for this. What did I do? What did I do? What did I DO? A fire alarm went off in my head while all my brain cells trampled each other to find the emergency exit. My chest tightened and I knew it had nothing to do with my breastmilk. I took a sip of wine and blurted out the first thing I thought of.


SW nodded slightly. As she stared at me and my stupid pineapple hat, I wondered where she was on Halloween three years ago when I was dressed up as Lady Gaga and had a real job. I peered into my drink as if it would reveal an answer and mumbled, “Well, not nothing, exactly,” I gave her a weak smile and continued, “I’m home with my two kids. I have a five-month-old and a two-year-old.”

At that moment, the hostess, my friend Jenni, swooped in.

“Actually, Pam is a writer,” Jenni interjected. Standing 4’10”, she exudes the confidence of a six-foot-tall model who has never been told no in her entire life.

“Oh yeah, I write stuff,” I added.

“She’s an amazing writer,” Jenni continued.

I wanted to share in Jenni’s enthusiasm about my professional identity but I couldn’t because inside I felt like a total fraud.

I had Impostor Syndrome, the feeling that you’re a sham or that any success you’ve achieved was the result of a fluke. And though it is super common (research shows 70% of people experience it at some point), that doesn’t make it any less agonizing. It tends to creep in when we’re out of our comfort zones, which makes total sense; it’s normal to feel insecure when we’re trying something new.

In my case, I was embarking on a career as a freelance writer and I was terrified to call myself a writer. What if I unwittingly happened to be talking to an experienced writer and they laughed at me? I was sure that at any moment someone would ask me for the secret writer handshake and I’d be screwed. I had a license to practice occupational therapy, a drawer full of scrubs, and dozen cocktail parties’ worth of healthcare horror stories but no credentials as a writer, other than a few clips.

It would have been extremely comfortable to go back to work as an occupational therapist at the hospital where I’d worked for seven years at the end of my maternity leave. Instead, I made the terrifying decision to pursue my dream of becoming a writer. Five years later, I still feel ridiculously scared of all kinds of writer-ly things. It is not despite stomach-churning, nail-biting, obsessive worrying about the challenges of writing, but because of them, that I love this path. It’s this anxiety that tells me I am stretching the limits of my comfort zone to become the person I am meant to be.

Growing pains aren’t just for kids.

Since that Halloween party in 2014, I’ve published a book, my work has been published in such places as the Washington Post and Huffington Post, I’ve won an award for my writing, and I have been booked and paid to speak. I’m not saying this to brag. I’m saying it to let you know that amazing things happen when you ignore your fear and keep moving forward.

Name Your Demons

In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown suggests silencing the voices in your head—the ones trying squelch your greatness—by naming them. I went a step further.

 *         *         *

I’m old Aggie. You know how in a dream, someone’s someone but they look just like someone else’s cousin or whatever? Well, my name is old Aggie and I look just like Nancy Kleinfeld*. that horrible lady your parents left you with for a week in the fifth grade. Honestly, I don’t know why they did that either. I never liked kids. And you and your brother and sister, well you were no exception. Don’t take it personally. I don’t really like people, period.

I carry a battle ax. I’m getting old and I’m not super sharp anymore but hell you don’t have to be all that sharp to damage something that’s weak in the first place. I sit around watching The Food Network and smoking Marlboros most of the time but don’t let that fool ya. I’m always listening with half an ear for you, Pam. I can hear everything in your mind. Most of that shit, I don’t care about. (Really? The perfect legging? The best way to make salmon? SNOOZER!) but when you sit down to write, that’s when I put old Emeril on mute. Then I listen up good.

When you’re trying to be funny, that’s when I like to remind you, you can’t force humor. That you’re no Tina Fey.

When you’re trying to come up with new ideas of what to write about, I’m fond of reminding you there’s nothing new, and if there is, you’re not gonna be the one to come up with it.

When you’re in that moment of trying to get into that piece that was so brilliant and fresh in your mind, I’m proud to say I’m the reason it looks like doo-doo once you start typing.

See, you don’t know it’s me but I’m whispering, real subliminal-like, You’re a hack. Real writers write every single day. You’re a wannabe.

I like whacking my axe against your writing because, well it’s just so easy to do. And like I said, I don’t like people. And I like to give the cooking shows a rest once in a while.

     *         *         *

I’m Julia. I’m perfect. My skin is constantly dewy, my hair is beach wave perfect from the moment I wake up and I don’t have to consult Pinterest to figure out how to cuff my skinny jeans with booties. I could wear pants as a scrunchie and I would still be hot. I hang out around mirrors with a dagger. I’ll never actually puncture your skin with the dagger, you know that. I do that thing your brother used to do to you, where he’d poke his finger within an inch of your body repeatedly, while saying “I’m not touching you,” which technically was true, over and over.

When you come near mirrors I put down my nonfat grande sugar-free vanilla latte and poke at you with my little dagger and whisper stuff like, “I need to eat less,” “Have I always looked like this,” “Why do I look so tired?” “My stomach is gross,” and “Everyone in this town looks like a fitness model I should just move to Tulsa so I could maybe be happier.” It’s so fun because you think you’re saying these things to yourself. I mean it used to be more fun. I don’t know what happened lately, though. I haven’t seen you as much. I’m getting bored. It might be time to pack up and hang out with someone else.

     *         *         *

Hey remember me? Jenny Fuckface,** your lacrosse coach from high school. I married a hedge fund manager whom I loathe.*** I also hate my kids and my life. And I’m still bulimic. Oh did you not know I was bulimic back then? Yep, I was. Still am. My life is a pile of shit. My hobbies are Percoset, shopping binges, and torturing you. I carry a big hedge clipper in my purse and I get it out whenever you think about being a run coach. I like to just trim back all those ideas about you helping people, about you having any special knowledge or expertise. I like to keep all those visions tiny, tiny, tiny, trimmed back to just a sliver, if that. My clippers could use some sharpening or maybe I should cut back on the pills because I’m not as powerful as I used to be.

     *         *         *

We all have mean voices in our heads, trying to keep us small. This is part of why Impostor Syndrome is so tricky. (You knew this was going to be about Impostor Syndrome this whole time, didn’t you?) You hear these voices over and over and over again, and after a while, it’s hard to tell the difference between them and the truth (e.g. you are great, you might as well try, the worst thing that could possibly happen if you fail probably isn’t even that bad). Even the greatest people in the world deal with Impostor Syndrome. Did you know John Steinbeck wrote in his journal, “I’m not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people.”? JOHN. STEINBECK.

I’m giving a talk on Impostor Syndrome at Flatirons Running this Wednesday 1/18 at 7pm, right after the 6pm fun run. I’m going to explain what Impostor Syndrome is, how to determine if you have it, and offer strategies so you can move through it reach your goals—in sport and in life—right now. It’s free, it will be fun, and you don’t have to show up for the run. They are going to raffle off some prizes, including a copy of my book. I hope to see you there!

Name Your Demons

*name changed to protect the meanest nanny in Pawtucket, Rhode Island ca. 1990
**name changed to protect the most vapid, self-absorbed high school coach I’d like to punch in the face.
***I actually have no idea who she actually married or what happened to her.
**** She seemed unhappy and maybe this was because she was hungry/had heartburn but I’m just surmising.

I am a Recovered Impostor Syndrome Sufferer

When I was a kid, I hated sports. I dreaded gym class. I was picked last for every team. I flinched when anything smaller than a soccer ball came near me. Or not near me. And if we’re being honest, it wasn’t just the smaller balls that gave me panic attacks; dodge balls, volleyballs, and tetherballs terrified me. They still do. Although adulthood affords me the luxury of never being forced to play ball games, it’s hard to fully relax because every so often, Dan tosses me the car keys.

For reasons I will never fully understand, I tried out for lacrosse when I was a freshman in high school. Most people look back the team sports of their youth and recall friendship, laughter, teamwork, and the development of self-esteem and confidence.

I look back on the three seasons I played lacrosse and wonder why I did not quit sooner. It was painful, and not the kind of pain that breaks you down, only to build you back up. Mostly it was just painful in the breaking down way, but I pretended it wasn’t.

I pretended I wasn’t waiting for the coach to give me a  pep talk. I pretended not to silently wonder why all the girls who’d started as beginners like me, figured out how to maneuver gracefully across the field, making assists, scoring points, and generally looking sure of themselves, while I remained awkward and afraid of the ball. I pretended I didn’t mind being on the fringes of the sport that I assumed would make me one of the gang.

I have two distinct memories from my time on the lacrosse team. One was right after a game against our biggest rival. We won and the mood was giddy as we piled into the team van. A hot, fresh bag of McDonald’s fries was being passed around. My arm was extended toward that bag, and just before I plucked a few fries for myself, one of my teammates—the quintessential mean girl—noticed me.

 “Why don’t you save the fries for those of us who actually played?” she asked. It was not so much a question as it was an accusation. 

My stomach dropped as I lowered my hand to my lap. After a beat, the rest of the team continued laughing and recalling the highlights of the game while they polished off the fries, while I sat in silence, alone with my shame.

The other vivid memory I have of lacrosse is coming in second in a timed two-mile run. My teammates and I complained whenever the coach made us run, but secretly, I enjoyed it. With running, there was no ball.There was no stress. All I had to do was put one foot in front of the other. Even I could not mess it up.

On that mild spring afternoon, we charged down Blackstone Boulevard and to my shock and delight, I found myself at front of the pack. I nearly killed myself in an attempt to edge out my closest competitor and finished a very close second. When I finished, my legs burned, my lungs were ready to explode, and I was on the verge of puking.

I could not wait to do it again.

When I was 22, I ran my first marathon. By that point, friends and family frequently referred to me as a runner, but it was very important to me that I set them straight. I was not a runner, I would tell them. I just liked to run. That I would I would, in fact, pay money and travel to run for over four hours at a time was actually no indication that I was a bona fide runner, it was just evidence that I enjoyed my hobby. It sounds ridiculous now, but at the time it made perfect sense because I still thought of myself as the un-athletic kid I had always been.

Shortly after I trying a spin class a few years later, I dove headfirst into road biking and triathlons. When I was not working or trolling for guys, I was biking, swimming or running. My friends and I joked we wouldn’t recognize each other if we weren’t wearing a cap and goggles or sunglasses and a helmet. But when I admitted to a friend that I wasn’t sure I “deserved” to use race wheels at an upcoming bike race and he said “But you have the same right to race wheels as any other athlete,” I thought he was crazy. “You think I’m an athlete?” I asked, incredulous. “Why wouldn’t you be?” he asked me. “You are always training for a race.  Sometimes you work out twice a day.” I was flattered but I remained skeptical.

I am a recovered Impostor Syndrome Sufferer

Right before my first sprint triathlon in Lake Murray, SC,  2004. I would end up winning the novice category. I didn’t think I was an athlete (yet).

When I was 28 I did my first IronmanTM triathlon. That’s a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike, and a 26.2 mile run. I spent the better part of a year training for it. In preparation for it, I crossed the finish of my fifth marathon and I travelled with my bike to a training camp in Spain. I planned every aspect of my life around training for that race.  Yet I scoffed when anyone called me a triathlete. “I do triathlons,” I remember correcting my sister, “but I wouldn’t call myself a triathlete.” She told me I was nuts; and not just because a triathlon was my idea of fun.

I wish I could tell you I realized I was an athlete when I crossed the finish line of that IronmanTM. What I remember about that moment was pure joy, a sense of accomplishment, and the piece of pepperoni pizza I inhaled immediately afterward.

Did I mention the pizza at the finish line?

Best. Pizza. Ever.

I wish there were a specific race or workout that I could look back on and say “That was when I realized I was an athlete.” The unglamorous truth is that over the next few years, I gradually shed that sense of myself as a ball-challenged, athletic failure and finally understood that I was an athlete. That I had, in fact, been an athlete since the day I tried to win that two-mile run in the tenth grade.

I wish I’d figured that out sooner. But upon immersing myself in Impostor Syndrome Research, I realized something kind of epic. It turns out, over the course of my painstakingly slow path to figuring out that I was a legit athlete, I had inadvertently tested nearly every strategy, tip, and trick promising to cure Impostor Syndrome.

I will share more about that soon. For now, feel free to check out my previous posts on Impostor Syndrome here and here.

Are you into this? Do you think your group would enjoy it? I’d love to chat with you about speaking at your next meeting. Feel free to contact me at pam.sinel(at)gmail.com

I beat Impostor Syndrome

My Impostor Syndrome Workshop at the DU Women’s Conference

If you haven’t used Powerpoint in over ten years and if you’re giving a 90-minute talk for the first since, well, ever, then there are no words to explain how highly I’d recommend choosing Impostor Syndrome as your topic.

If you don’t know what Impostor Syndrome is, in a nutshell, it’s a fancy way of saying insecurity. It’s when you feel like you’re out of your league, like you might fail at any moment, or like you are a fraud. It’s extremely common. A recent study found 70% of people experience it. Everyone I mentioned my talk to said they have felt it. And now that you know the term, you will hear it everywhere. I was probably way more jubilant than was reasonable when I heard Lena Dunham mention it in the post-show interview on a recent episode of Girls.

About six weeks ago, a friend asked me to submit a proposal to present at the 21st Annual University of Denver Women’s Conference. I was flattered. I was thrilled. I love talking. The idea of talking to people who had an idea of what I was going to say and who would willingly show up, just to hear it? Amazing. I should  add that just a couple weeks prior, a good friend got me to admit I have a secret desire to someday get paid to be a speaker. So this felt like the universe telling me, “Great idea, Pam!”

So after hours and hours of researching, then writing and rewriting and Google searching various aspects of Powerpoint, and practicing alone, trying again on a friend, and then another friend, and practicing it I swear for the last time in front of Dan, and telling Dan I hated him and why did he have to be so mean when he told me part of it was boring and then apologizing because actually I wouldn’t want to be married to someone who has low standards, poor taste, or who would rather yes dear me than challenge me, and then re-writing the boring part… the day arrived.

I was nervous and I was excited and I felt confident but not confident to the point of arrogant. I wasn’t afraid I’d forget what I was supposed to say because I’d been engrossed in the material for a month. I wasn’t afraid people wouldn’t be engaged because I was going to make them pair up and converse every so often (and converse they did. I heard lively discussion, laughing, and even sniffles). And every time I did get afraid…

How am I qualified to talk about Impostor Syndrome?
Why should anyone listen to me?
I’m never going to organize all this information and give it to people in a way they’ve never heard before?
And Oh My God the person who basically INVENTED the term Impostor Syndrome gives talks on Impostor Syndrome so why should I bother??

… I was able to avoid spiraling down the self-doubt spiral because all of my reading, copious note-taking, TED talk viewing on the topic of how to keep Impostor Syndrome from holding you back, served as my mostly impenetrable Impostor Syndrome armor.

The talk was Friday. I will have to wait till later this week to receive any feedback from the attendees, but I think I nailed it.
Here’s why:
-I got a lot of eye contact.
-Phones remained out of sight (which I did not specifically request).
-People took notes.
-One of the organizers said she heard people saying it was great.
-Several people stayed after (on a Friday afternoon) to chat with me.
-Three of the twenty attendees bought my book. (I would have been happy to sell one. I schlepped twelve along, just in case).

Dan gave it a B+. (Dan came!). I don’t think that means I didn’t nail it. I just think it means I could improve (he gave me a few specific pointers), and that Dan is like a Russian judge when it comes to certain things. Also, I know a B+ isn’t a bad grade. I’m just used to getting A’s or working at jobs where no one has a clue what I am doing so my performance review is like, “You were not late too many times. So… that’s good. And no one is getting raises this year, which includes you. Thanks for everything you do for our team.”

I’ll write a few follow-up posts to share some of the content of my workshop but for now, here is my first slide.

Impostor Syndrome- Pam Moore talk

I guess the name of my workshop was catchy because it was one of the most well-attended sessions of the afternoon.

This was the description of my workshop on the conference website:
When the term Impostor Syndrome was coined in the late 1970’s, it was largely considered a women’s issue. Subsequent research reveals that most people- regardless of gender- experience Impostor Syndrome at some point in their lives. If you’ve ever doubted that you deserve your success, didn’t feel you truly earned your title, or attributed your achievements to luck and/or an error…. you’ve been victimized by Impostor Syndrome. But you don’t have to be anymore.

In this workshop, you will:
• Learn to identify Impostor Syndrome
• Discover strategies you can start using NOW to minimize it or even eliminate Impostor Syndrome
• Be able to determine when Impostor Syndrome can in fact be useful and how to let it motivate you.
• Take action to start moving toward your dreams and goals today.

I am available to do this talk, or a version of it for your group. I am also happy to speak on other topics, so let me know if you have else something in mind. Feel free to email me at pam(dot)sinel(at)gmail.com.


You Can Go Away Now, Impostor Syndrome

Catching up on the phone with my best friend on the phone other day, I told her, “I’m writing a book… I’m kind of embarrassed to tell you that. I feel like such a fraud. But you’ve known me forever so I can tell you.” Dear old friend that she is, she told me “Of course you’re writing a book. It’s the natural thing for you to do.” She reminded me that all women, (including herself, a physician with three young children) tend to feel like imposters when we take on something new. Men, on the other hand, tend to overestimate their skills and abilities when taking on new responsibilities. Don’t ask me to cite the exact source of this information, but it’s definitely true because my best friend and I both read it in Lean In. Also, if you live on Planet Earth then you have surely observed that in general, women tend to be much more insecure than men about going after what we want.

Worrying that the rest of the world sees you as a fraud is a big fat waste of time. I can say that with some authority, having felt the fraud thing and then gotten over it a number of times now. When I signed up for an ironman triathlon, at first I was embarrassed about it. I told myself, “Who am I to seriously tell people I plan to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run 26.2 miles?” Even though I had run several marathons, and completed plenty of other, shorter triathlons, even biked my way across the Rockies, covering nearly 500 miles in one week, I still didn’t think of myself as an athlete. I told people my friend and I had talked each other into this race, and I had promised that I would sign up if she did. Which was 100% true. But it was not the whole story. I left out the part about how this ironman was something that was really important to me, something I felt compelled to try.

When I hired a coach to give me objective feedback on how to train for said ironman, I was embarrassed to tell people about that, too. Coaches were for serious athletes, and it had only just occurred to me that maybe I might be an actual athlete. I didn’t want anyone to get the idea that I thought I was special or important or, god forbid, serious- about triathlon.  Looking back, this is laughable. Of course I was serious. I was training six days a week, anywhere from two to seven hours a day, including runs that sometimes began as early as 4:30 am, and swims that didn’t get me out of the pool until 9pm two nights a week. I spent $500 just to register for the race. Some days, I showered twice a day. I did about three loads of laundry a week (It doesn’t sound like a lot to me now, but this is a lot of dirty clothes for a single woman with no kids). I was not kidding around with this triathlon stuff.

And now with the writing- it is nearly as hard for me to say the words “I am a writer” as it was for me to say, “I am an athlete.” I have been blogging since 2007, but I needed Dan to practically jump up and down and yell at me to sign up for the BlogHer conference last summer. I’m writing a book, and I can barely admit it to my best friend who has known me since I was seven. WTF? This impostor complex is not doing me (or you, if you are a fellow sufferer) any favors!

Dan read a passage at our daughter’s naming (a Jewish ceremony to celebrate the birth of a baby girl) that I think accurately identifies the source of the impostor complex:

 Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. –By Marianne Williamson

Here’s to letting our light shine…

I’m writing a book. What are you doing that is equal parts scary and exciting?You Can Go Away Now, Imposter Syndrome (6)