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By Jessica Nollett, KCSAE Allied Director

Everyone experiences it. We all have that moment where we have a new role or are asked to sit at a new table. We take a deep breath and say to ourselves, “I don’t belong here, I don’t know everything these people know, how will I be an asset?”

Whether it’s a new job, a promotion, or a board/committee chair position, you are all of the sudden put in a situation where you feel like an imposter and want to run or ball up and hide.  Don’t! We have all been there, and will be there again. And while I may even feel some bits of imposter syndrome writing this, I have experienced it enough and have received some great tips along the way, I am excited to share my lessons in hopes you feel less of an imposter the next time this sneaks up on you.

To make it an even playing field, I want to share one of my imposter syndrome stories. Last year, I was asked to help KCSAE with the silent auction. I felt good about that. I know how to fundraise, I can organize, and it’s not a huge undertaking. With that, I was then asked if I was interested in being the Allied Board Member for the organization. While I have been involved with KCSAE and other organizations, I had never been on a board, let alone with a table of seasoned association executives, who all have CAEs, and valuable insights into associations. I know money, I know people, but I have no clue on membership, non-dues income, or the CAE exam, but here I was with a table of people discussing programming content, COVID rules for our events, and how to better engage new members. I knew I couldn’t contribute at the same level as the others, but I needed to find my place. My first step was to meet several of the other board members for coffee, get to know them, and listen. I then found the areas I felt I could be helpful in, and then tried to support in the areas I was not the strongest. I definitely did a bit of faking it while I learned, but now I know that while I am not able to contribute in the same way, I do bring a different perspective to the team, and with that, I am an asset.

So the next time you feel like an imposter, think of these practices to help you move through that moment and into the next:

  • Find a mentor: Look to other organizations for a peer that has been in a similar role and can give you guidance. Offer to take them out to coffee and pick their brain on how to navigate your own unknown waters. Most of us have had a mentor, and are always willing to help another. Also, leaning on someone outside of the organization will give you a new perspective and give you space and comfort knowing they aren’t directly related to your situation.
  • Turn to a group: At KCSAE, our SIG groups are a wonderful way to connect with others that have similar roles and issues. Similar to mentors, conversations within these groups can strengthen your acumen and make you more comfortable in your new position.
  • Fake it till you make it: Tried and true, sometimes putting on a smile, and just pretending will help make you feel comfortable. Pay attention to the others around you, how they interact, and how they handle situations. Copy their behaviors, but put your own spin on it.
  • Lean into it: Remember you were given your new role because you have earned it and deserve it. It is well known that you most likely are going to stumble a bit, but your new perspective can be a huge asset to your organization. So when you have an idea, think it through, but do share. It is always okay to say,“ I am new here, but…” or when asked something, be comfortable saying ” I don’t know that answer, but will get the answer for you.”

On the other side of things, if you are a seasoned board member or leader in your organization, and you recognize someone who might be feeling a bit of imposter syndrome in their new position, reach out to them and offer an informal meeting to help them become more comfortable in their role and help them see their strengths they are offering. Small gestures go a long way and building that camaraderie will strengthen the whole organization.

Lastly, one of my favorite phrases of 2022, give yourself and others “space and grace.” It is okay to take time to learn something, and it’s perfect to not be perfect.

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