Can I tell you a secret?
Something I don’t tell clients or colleagues?
That’s my unspeakable secret – I haven’t hit 30 yet.
I’ve been keeping this under wraps. I make a point of not sharing my age. If a student asks how old I am, I’ll answer, but my cheeks burn.
I’m afraid that if my age leaks out, I’ll lose credibility.
When I started my practice four years ago, I was terrified that no one would ever want to hire a 25-year-old. I was paralyzed to begin networking because other professionals would think I was a “cheeky upstart.”
It turns out that neither of those fears materialized.
As I’ve met more educators, I’ve come to realize that I’m not the only one who experiences feelings of not being competent or successful enough.
Every day I get to talk to other teachers about their dreams: launching a private practice, publishing a book, or hiring an employee. I’ll be darned if nearly every person I encounter has their own reason why they think they’re not enough.
Have you heard something like this before? Maybe you’ve even said it yourself:
- I’m too inexperienced. I can’t apply for that job.
- I’m not a “business person.” My private practice will never be successful!
- I’m too old, and people think I’m out of date. I’ll never get clients.
- I can’t save enough. There’s no way I can go back to school!
Here’s the bad news. If you tell yourself over and over again that you’re not enough, you lose sight of yourself. You lose the courage to go after your dreams.
I want to share my personal recipe with you:
Recognize You’re Not Alone
Have you ever felt like an imposter?
Have you ever worried that someone will discover that you’re actually less competent than you seem?
If you feel like you’re just posing as an effective educator, you might be experiencing the impostor phenomenon.
First described by psychologists in the 1970s, the impostor phenomenon is a person’s belief that her success can be attributed to luck, not personal accomplishment. People who struggle with this form of self-doubt live in fear that someone will unmask them.
As it happens, up to 70% of us have experienced this fear. The craziest part is that high achievers are most susceptible to these feelings.
What can you do to overcome the imposter phenomenon?
Celebrate your own successes! Acknowledge your accomplishments. Don’t minimize them. Instead of brushing off a compliment, do something radical. Take a deep breath and say, “Thank you!”
Try this: start a Personal “Wins” Document on your computer. As soon as you receive a positive e-mail or a kind comment, write it down. The next time you’re feeling like a fraud, review your list of wins. Your confidence will surge!
Here’s my challenge to you:
- Download this Personal Wins Template right now.
- Record one thing you accomplished this week, and save it to your document. It can be small: “I got a new client referral” or “A colleague noticed my professional-looking report.”
- Add a weekly reminder to your calendar to visit and update your personal wins. You’ll be amazed at what you’ve accomplished when you look back over several months or a year.
Seriously, download the template right now – I can wait.
Alright, shall we continue?
Stop comparing yourself to others. As Margie Warrell, best-selling author of Find Your Courage writes:
Most of us work hard to put forward the best version of ourselves. Heck, just writing this article took 15 hours. You can imagine how many different versions I discarded before selecting the words I wanted to use in the final post.
Next time you notice that you’re comparing yourself to someone, just say to yourself, “I’m comparing my insides to their outsides.”
- Use body language to boost your confidence. Did you know that the way we position ourselves influences our thoughts and feelings? Try out these power poses from TED presenter and social psychologist, Amy Cuddy.
Clinical psychologist Tara Brach has found that self-compassion can curb feelings of unworthiness. She recommends using the four-step RAIN of Self-Compassion meditation.
Recognize what is going on. When self-doubt starts to creep into your mind, pay attention. You might hear the voice of a damaging critic, feel ashamed, or discern a sense of heavy heartedness.
You might be tempted to get busy, distract yourself, or stop trying. Instead, just cultivate the ability to recognize what’s going on. “I’m feeling scared. I’m afraid that people will think I’m incapable.”
- Allow the experience to be there, just as it is. Once we recognize those feelings, our instinct is to blunt them. Instead of judging or distracting yourself, pause.
Investigate with kindness. Brach recommends asking, “How am I experiencing this in my body? What am I thinking and believing?” Delve into those discomforting sensations with curiosity. Then respond with kindness.
If you’re not sure how to do this, try something:
- If a friend told you she felt ashamed, how would you respond?
- Now, practice saying the same words to yourself.
- Non-identify. In this final step, recognize that your thoughts aren’t you. You are so much more. In our daily lives, thoughts and feelings pass over us just like clouds pass over the sky. The negative thought you’ve observed is a storm cloud – fleeting and impermanent.
Seek Social Support
Have you ever told a friend about something you’re struggling with and received a “Me too!” in response? The problem is still there, yet it feels as if it’s been halved.
A great mentor or a supportive social circle can help make sure that your fears don’t hold you back.
- Find a mentor. Mentoring has been shown to help teachers develop feelings of professional commitment, boost their students’ achievement, and help teachers learn more effective instructional practices. (Ingersoll & Strong, 2011).
Because mentoring requires a significant outlay of attention and expertise, I recommend pursuing a formal relationship through a higher-education institute or professional organization. Make sure your mentor receives compensation for their expertise.
You will benefit greatly by finding a mentor who:
- Works well with mentees. The mentor respects the mentee’s boundaries. Listens to and addresses the mentee’s goals. Recognizes the interplay between professional skills, emotions, and real-life demands.
- Is respected and well connected. Possesses depth and breadth of expertise.
- Communicates clearly and reliably, balancing positive and constructive feedback.
How can you attract the best mentor to work with you?
Since your successes reflect back on your mentor, think about how you can attract the best. Board Certified Educational Therapist, Pamm Scribner, says, “I look for someone who has a strong ethical core, is willing to try something a new way, and has a good rapport with clients and families.” I recently interviewed Pamm on the Exceptional Educator podcast. You can listen here.
Dr. Alexis Filippini, literacy coach, provides these recommendations for attracting professors: “Ask thoughtful questions, demonstrate an interest in a research partnership, and show organization skills. Sharing personal interests helps too.” Dr. Filippini looks for individuals who share an interest in social justice and equity.
I’ve been fortunate to work with both Ms. Scribner and Dr. Filippini. You can reach Pamm Scribner at pammscribner AT gmail DOT com and Alexis Filippini via her website.
Join a supportive community. Just as a mentor can validate your feelings and experiences, finding a group of like-minded people can boost your confidence.
- For readers in the US or Canada, I recommend joining a local chapter of the Association of Educational Therapists. If there isn’t a chapter near you, check out the virtual study group.
- For readers in the San Francisco Bay Area, come join us at the San Francisco AET Study Group. Contact me for details!
- Not just educational therapists attend AET Study Groups. Classroom teachers, speech-language pathologists, and tutors also participate.
Find the silver lining. Sometimes weaknesses can make you stronger.
I started off by confessing to you that I’m embarrassed about my age.
Lucky for me, this problem has been working itself out.
I even have a few grey hairs to prove it!
The part I didn’t expect was for clients to see my age as a benefit.
Last week I began working with a family who is also searching for a language therapist. The mom told me, “We want someone gentle, cheerful, playful. Someone like you, Anne-Marie. You know…. young.”
Effective educators teach kids to read, write, and do arithmetic, but more than that, we teach students to find their strengths.
The great news is that you already know how to be gentle and encouraging. The challenge for many of us is channeling that empathy in a new, inward direction.
Learning to approach yourself with kindness is difficult at best. Trust me, I know.
Take action today towards self-kindness. You deserve it.
Maybe finding a mentor is the right step for you. Maybe just practicing naming your feelings or starting a Personal Wins Document is your answer.
But whatever you do, don’t forget –
You are enough.
P.S. – Will you do me a favor? If you know someone who might benefit from this post, please share this article on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter!
Ingersoll, R. M., & Strong, M. (2011). The Impact of Induction and Mentoring Programs for Beginning Teachers: A Critical Review of the Research. Review Of Educational Research, 81(2), 201-233.