Imposter Syndrome

Squaw Valley

I teach a class at UC Berkeley called Leadership and Effective Management and during one of our discussions the subject of imposter syndrome came up. Imposter syndrome is the feeling that you will be called out as a fraud and that you are not worthy of your own accomplishments. The discussion began in relation to a presentation on bias. One of my students asked if we can be biased against our own accomplishments? And, the answer is yes, it’s called imposter syndrome. This is why I find teaching fascinating. I am constantly presented with new ideas and have the forum to direct and guide my students, and choose topics that will make each of them better in their role as a leader. However, this topic has not been part of my curriculum, but it impacts leaders and especially women leaders profoundly.

As I listened to the input of the students in my class and thought about my own career imposter syndrome was something I had not identified with. I am not a perfectionist, and I live a fairly authentic life both personally and professionally. I did not think I had ever felt like an imposter.

However, while skiing the following weekend I found a hidden bias within myself. I realized that even though I spent two years taking weekly ski lessons and skiing every Thursday in college, and then after skiing with the Portland Rose City Ski Team at Mount Hood weekly when I was working in Portland, I have never thought of myself as a good skier. This is irrespective of the fact that I am a certified ski instructor.

My first year as a ski instructor I taught group lessons in Tahoe and during that time I was the most requested instructor with the highest return rate (16%) of the 300 instructors that I worked with that season. Many of my students requested private lessons with me, so I moved to the exclusive private lessons office and out of the busy and hectic ski school. This was a relief because I would often have a class of ten children and it was a job just keeping track of them for six hours.

My second season, I was immediately assigned to the prestigious Ritz Carlton Hotel built into the mountain with a chair lift at it’s back door. Here, I was hired by usually just one individual and I would ski with them all day and often multiple days. I had one client that hired me for several weekends. I was giving her instruction when she told me that she didn’t want me to do that. She just wanted to follow me down the mountain, so she could learn to ski like I did. It was also here that I met the professional ski instructors. This breed of ski instructor would travel around the world teaching at different resorts chasing the snow all the way to South America. I became friends with one such person and as we skied together he would take a jump and do a helicopter and then elegantly touch down. I found it hard to believe that I was in the same league as he was, but there I was.

The next year my husband decided he didn’t like me being away so much, so I quit my ski instructor job to ski with just my family and friends.

The weekend after my class on bias and the conversation on imposter syndrome I was skiing and berating myself for not being a better skier. It was while doing this that I discovered I do have imposter syndrome. I was really astounded by this discovery. I always tell people that I’m really not that great of a skier. I feel that once they find out I was a ski instructor they will think I should be better. I also suffer high anxiety when I have to ski with expert skiers fearing I will slow them down. I used to ski with two brothers who grew up in Banff, Canada. In truth they slowed me down because they were so competitive that their recklessness caused many spectacular crashes where we had to pull their skies out of the trees.

The evidence supports that I am likely a very good skier and this was a revelation. After thinking this through I ended up having an exceptionally enjoyable day skiing, but it made me wonder where else do I have these hidden biases about my skills and abilities?

One of the things I tell my students and my coaching clients is that awareness is your scalpel. Once you are aware of something you can change it. I can choose to embrace my talent in this area instead of shying away from it. So, if you want a ski lesson you can meet me on the mountain.

Love and blessings to all.

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