“I’m Emma and I work……….”
After I finished my introduction, which I had tried to start on a number of occasions due to the person before me not quite ready to pass the gauntlet, I remained silent. SILENT!
Throughout the two-hour meeting.
There may have been the odd audible grunt of approval but I most definitely became mute towards the end!
I started making score of how often each other attendee had spoken and how valid their point was – that soon stopped when it became apparent that I was the weakest link.
Time was ticking on. I still hadn’t said anything. I had written a list of points that I could say but couldn’t find a way in to interject. I leaned forward, to feel like I was participating. Then leaned right back when I felt the meeting veering off course, bouncing from one topic to the next.
I saw the confidence and intelligence seeping out of every person as I scanned the room. Doctorate. Masters. Consultant. Degree. Little old barely educated me. My heart dropped. I was a spare part. Insignificant. I felt invisible.
If I couldn’t speak. I could learn. Be interested. So…I wrote. Noting every word. With an odd doodle here and there. And I worked hard to keep the burning tears of an imposter at bay.
‘Don’t worry if you’re quiet in a meeting. Don’t feel like you have to try and fill the space with a pointless comment just to get your voice heard. It’s much better to speak when you have something valid to say.’ That once soothing advice from a Manager went through the shredder in my mind.
Saying anything would’ve been better than this – wouldn’t it?
I LOVE LAMP
Hmm, okay almost anything.
As the meeting progressed the thought of participating became a harder task. If I spoke now what would they think? Would they jump from shock? Turn their nose up at my point? Were they wondering why on earth I was in the room? I know I was. My voice was shackled – and I began to beat myself up.
This wasn’t even a heavy bout of Imposter Syndrome. I was actually an Imposter. I had no right being in the room. I watched the time slowly pass and thought of other jobs that I was more suited to.
End scene – the meeting comes to a close.
“You’re a really good presenter” said the guy sat next to me
I found my voice and engaged in conversation with the guy, who I had recently done a joint presentation with at an event. A presentation that I had coined ‘the worst I had done in a while!’
My heart jumped as I greedily fed off the compliment. Feeling less of a failure.
I’m not even going to lie. A HUGE part of me thrives from external validation. I’m not sure if the guy could read my ebbing energy but his feedback came at the right time. Saving me from an evening of anxiety and self-loathing.
Most people who know me well don’t believe me when I say I am painfully shy in some aspects of my life. I can understand why they don’t instantly believe me when they:
- hear my big bellowing Yorkshire voice
- see the constant selfies
- watch as I share my life online
- find out about another course or event I’ve attended alone
They believe what they see.
And as much as it hurts not to be believed – it hurts more to be in the above situation. A situation I’m finding myself more and more in due to the nature of my job that has changed significantly.
I can speak in public thanks to the courses I’ve put myself through – but only at staged events. Knowing I have a presentation to deliver and knowing what I’m going to speak about. That still doesn’t come without sleepless nights and fearful sweats.
I struggle to articulate myself at the best of times. Speaking ‘off-the-cuff’ doesn’t come naturally to me. I often find myself listening to colleagues and mentally storing certain words and phrases they say as they sound so intelligent and knowing.
Last year I went on an improv course so I could better ‘speaking at will’ – it was a fun course but as it was comedy and nonsense was appreciated – I struggled to transfer the skills into corporate office life.
Put me in a room full of people that I don’t know and you can guarantee I will be one of the quietest people. In a round robin of introductions I half listen to what people are saying so often end up forgetting who they are and what they do. One quarter of me is practicing my spiel whilst the other quarter is judging what they’re saying to get some tips. Woe-betide if I’m one of the first to speak – I spend the rest of the introductions wishing I had said some of the things I later hear.
Sharing how I feel in certain situations isn’t new. I’ve written about this situation before – The Way of the Ambivert.
I absolutely buzzed off a book I mention in that post and felt better knowing that there are a lot of people like me in the world, and that we’re important cogs in life. Unfortunately, as real-life circumstances accumulated, that powerful knowledge that built me up and protected me, soon wore off.
Last Friday whilst waiting for my train I browsed a shop and took photos of books that I was interested in buying. One of those was ‘Quiet Girls Can Run the World’ by Rebecca Holman.
I didn’t even read the blurb but I 100% know that is one of the next books I’m going to buy and devour. Rebuild the armour. See if there is a way to become confident with my quietness.
As despite what people may think or say. I am a quiet girl.
And despite how this blog comes across. I’m actually happy being one of the quiet people in meetings. I get to people watch. See the dynamics. Learn.
I just want to improve. Therefore, my aims are:
- to be able to speak up when I have something important to say
- not to fill my head with unconfirmed thoughts of what I believe others are thinking of me.
- To feel like I am meant to be in the room
I left the meeting still feeling a tad deflated, that I almost passed on my free class trial at a new gym. I talked myself back into attending as I knew that an exercise class would be a perfect way to forget about the day and to top up my energy reserves.
What could be more fun than getting fit in a Music Video dance class? Hmmmm
5 mins in – This is fun
10 mins in – FUCK!
13mins in – I’m Shit
17mins in – Skeg the room to find someone worse than me
22mins in – Compare myself to the better dancers
I was basically reliving the earlier meeting but in dance format.
It didn’t matter to me that I was one of 3 women that were new to the class.
30mins in – “Yes – like that!” said the dance instructor as she pointed at me as I practiced a move when I thought no-one was looking. ‘Feed off the compliment’
45mins in – Cringe when the ‘not so confident’ dancers (as she put it) – which I was one of, performed the routine to the rest of the class. Before watching the regulars perform a slicker version.
60mins – class over. Mixed feelings and a lesson learnt.
I was the new dancer in the meeting. Being quiet was my slight un-coordination. If I stick with it, practice and learn in my own time. One day I may not be that silent one. Or the worst dancer in the room.
Although I am frustrated that I feel like my shyness has become debilitating again – I am pleased that I’m paying attention to it. As I know I can and will make it out of the other side.
I would love to hear how you’ve coped with the Imposter Syndrome or gained confidence where you once had none.
Love Emma x
p.s. I drew all of these elephants this morning. They’re not great but as I don’t want to be an artist I’m not even bothered about sharing them. I followed some simple step by step instructions (okay I may have traced one of them) and voila – here they are. If only I could be like that with other aspects of my life – i.e. my writing!
p.p.s. if you like this post, don’t be shy (see what I did there) and drop me a comment, give it a like or go all out and give it a share.