#35: Vulnerability and Imposter Syndrome with Allison Kinnear

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Allison Kinnear shares her personal experiences with Imposter Syndrome on her journey to become a leader in the field. If you’ve ever felt like a fraud or thought that vulnerability is a weakness, it’s important to know you’re not alone. This episode offers tons of strategies to help you realize your power.

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If you’ve ever felt like a fraud or thought that vulnerability is a weakness, it’s important to know you’re not alone. #podcast #confidence Click To Tweet

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About Allison Kinnear

It is Allison’s mission to support women in bringing out the best in themselves.

As she reconnected with herself, she was able to find her voice and step into a more embodied life. Other women noticed and, together, she’s worked with hundreds of women supporting them in transforming their lives and finding their voice.

Allison believes that when women are connected to their feelings, bodies, and spirits in a positive way, our world changes for the better.

For over 22 years, she’s have worked with women as they navigate their vulnerabilities as children, mothers, daughters, employees and leaders. Her career has been grounded in understanding human development, leadership, and team dynamics.

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Related post: Planting a Leadership Garden

About Jen McFarland

Jen McFarland Consulting podcast

For over 12 years I’ve tackled business problems and provided simple, powerful solutions. I’ve led 7-figure projects and helped entrepreneurs and small businesses thrive.

I teach women how to build their business, not around spreadsheets, bottom lines, and formulas, but around equity, leadership, mindset, courage, and resilience — you know, the things we are born to do.

Are you starting a business? Confused about how to grow? Check out my favorite business growth tools.

Jen also loves appearing on podcasts. Here’s her Podcast Guests profile.

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Transcript: Vulnerability and Imposter Syndrome

Hello and welcome to the Third Paddle podcast. I’m your host Jen McFarland. On this week’s show, we talk about Imposter Syndrome. If you’ve ever felt like a fraud, you’re not going to want to miss this.
Welcome to the Third Paddle podcast recorded at the Vandal Lounge in beautiful southeast Portland, Oregan. Why the Third Paddle? Because even the most bad-ass entrepreneurs get stuck up in Business Shit Creek. Management consultant Jeniffer McFarland is your third paddle helping you get unstuck.
Allison Kinnear’s mission is to support women in bringing out the best in themselves. She believes that when we connect to our feelings, bodies, and spirits positively, our world changes for the better. For over 22 years, she’s worked with women as they navigate their vulnerabilities as children, mothers, daughters, employees, and leaders. Her career has been grounded in understanding human development, leadership, and team dynamics. She’s pursued research topics related to Imposter Syndrome, confidence, conflict resolution, leadership, shame, alcoholism, authenticity, courage, mindfulness, and resiliency. She’s spoken in places like Amazon and has upcoming speaking engagements at places like Microsoft. So let’s get started and learn more about what she has to say.The whole reason why I started Voice of Her Own, the whole reason for it, was because I would see women who would not own their voice. They would not speak up. They would keep themselves silent, keep themselves small, nudge people like me and say, “You should say that. Oh, I’m really glad you said that” and keep themselves kind of hidden and on the down low. Can I curse?
All these fucking brilliant women were just hidden in the shadows, and I kept thinking about what is this thing there is this thing that I do in which I help women show up in different ways. I help women step into their boldness. I help women find a way to step out of the shadows. And that’s where Voice of Her Own was started. That’s why it began was because of that. And considering our times now and where we are at and what is being, I think for many women, what is being called for us to step forward, there’s a greater community to step forward. And that’s why this whole thing got started.
So where is it headed?
I don’t know. I’m not sure where it’s headed. I mean it’s headed in first stepping out of the shadows. It’s headed in first stepping into our confidence, stepping into our boldness. It’s heading into getting out of our heads and getting into our hearts and trusting in that if that makes sense.
Oh, it makes total sense. That’s very beautiful. So when we think about the times that we live in, there’s a lot of complexity and uncertainty around where we are as a society like here in the states, but then also technology and war and women and how that role seems to be changing and evolving. And it all means we just don’t know what tomorrow is going to bring, right?
And how do you deal with that in your business or when people bring that to you. How do you handle that?
Absolutely. I think what happens is that we grasp for certainty, we grasp for control, we grasp for what we can hold onto and know. And one of the paradoxes in life is that there’s never certainty. There never has been. There is no control. We live in both a very fragile and, also, a very strong place at the same time. We have vulnerability and fragility in that anything can change at any time, and we cannot be in control of that. And we have resourcefulness, and strength, and faith, and things that can keep us anchored. Those two things coexist at all times.
And so part of the work, I think, becomes letting go of our need for that control, that need for perfection. I don’t know if it’s– it’s a grasping. It’s a grasping at something that you can’t hold onto. It sounds cliché, but it’s kind of like dancing in the mystery of it all. And learning to be okay with uncertainty, to be okay with non-attachments, to be okay with not being in control.
Absolutely. And one of my favorite current, I guess, philosophers – for lack of a better term – is Margaret Wheatley. And almost her entire work has been around handling an uncertain world and not knowing what to do. And, often times, she comes back to things like love, or different things that you can find grounding in. You mentioned Brené Brown and vulnerability. And that’s another person who’s basically saying, yeah, we don’t know what’s going on, but if we just share what’s going on, things will be better.
And it sounds like you’re in alignment with those folks. Yeah?
Absolutely. So one of the things that I work with a lot of clients around is that we get stuck in our heads really easily. We can live our whole lives just in our heads. And our minds are really great for thinking, they’re great for discernment. It’s great for problem-solving. And it’s hostile territory.  It can be like, yeah, warfare in there. And so what I do a lot of with my clients is helping them tap into different kinds of wisdom. To tap into different kinds of knowing. And that, to me– my most accurate barometer is the body.
Because there have been so many times in my life where I have been in an experience where my gut just cringes and is like, “No.” And then my mind is like, “Oh, it’s not going to be that bad. It’s going to be okay. We should just do it.” And then I do it, and then it’s terrible. It’s always terrible. When my gut is like [inaudible], “No.”, but I justify it, it never ends up well. And vice versa. There are times when my gut, my heart is just lurching like, “You should do this. Oh my gosh, you should do this.”, and my mind is going, “No, no. That’s too scary. That’s too scary. That costs too much. That’s too much time. Everyone’s going to think you’re crazy. No, no, no, no, no but every time I’ve listened and I’ve listened to that guy, I’ve listened to my heart and let that wisdom take over, it has never failed me. When Brene Brown, I remember listening to one of her audiobooks, when she talked about– talking about what is the key around vulnerability? What is the key to let yourself be comfortable? What is the key around just knowing it? And she was about to talk about it and I remember sitting in my car listening to it and just going, “Oh my gosh, she’s about to tell me. She’s about to say it.” And she said the first thing you have to do is get in touch with your body. And I seriously in my car was just like, “Fuck you Brene. Fuck you.”
I don’t want to get in my body. Even though my mind is hostile territory, there’s no fucking way I want to get into my body. It’s crazy. For me, that was my– I seriously turned off the car. It was just like, “I don’t want to hear this.” Because it’s funny. It’s like I hated being in my head, but it’s safe. Like sometimes we’re more comfortable in our shit than we are in our light. We’re more comfortable with the dark parts of us than we are in the wise parts of us. Even though we hate it, we are more comfortable there.
That was actually one of the questions I was going to ask when you first started talking is isn’t there value in the shadows, and why can’t we stay in the shadows?
There’s so much value in the shadows. In fact, one of the things that I have a real beef around are people who will say things like, “Oh I don’t get angry anymore. I don’t feel fear anymore.”
Who are these people [laughter]?
You need to find some new circles. They call it spiritual bypassing. There’s a lot of people who will say, “Oh I’m so enlightened, I don’t ever go to those stark places anymore.” And in all honesty, I just call total bullshit on that. Because I don’t think anger is a bad emotion. I think anger is an important emotion. I think anger is catalyst emotion. It’s like this really powerful thing that helps us get really clear really quick. We don’t want to live in it. We don’t want to stew in it, but it’s a super helpful emotion that helps us move forward. And I think the shadows are important because if we don’t pay attention to our shadows, then all these unconscious bullshit starts oozing out of us. That’s where we get all passive aggressively or we get all whatever, high and mighty or judgemental. All of that stuff starts coming out. So we have to know our shadows for sure.
Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah, I don’t believe people who say they don’t ever get angry either. It sounds actually very step forward wifey to me. I feel like, “I don’t ever get angry.” It sounds like in that space, there’s actually a lot of pent-up anger.
Yeah. To me, it’s a recipe for a pressure cooker. It’s just a pressure cooker. It’s just like you put a lid on anger and it will just start to build and build and build until you end up blowing your top, so I mean and that’s just not healthy. It’s better to have the range of emotions, without volatility certainly, but a little volatility isn’t bad. But having that range of emotions throughout a day or a week is more normal than the pressure cooker that just explodes and splatters food everywhere.
With all the collateral damage. We’re not talking about an Instapot. We’re talking about [laughter]–
We’re talking about old school [laughter]–
We’re talking old school pressure from the fucking ’70s where even your mom was putting that shit on the stove, and you’re like, “Duck and cover. Duck and cover [laughter].” Everybody thought that that was about nuclear war. No. Duck and cover [laughter] was actually about pressure cookers– no, they weren’t. It was actually about nuclear war [laughter], but it’s a lot more funny if it’s about the pressure cooker.
That is true. That’s true.
And if you hold things inside and you don’t let them out, then you’re preventing the healing that can take place from letting go of that emotion. And that can be anger or celebration or happiness. I mean it’s the full range, right, of things that if you keep it inside forever, it’s, “How’s that working out for you?”
Yeah. And there’s some that– it’s interesting. Some of my clients fall into kind of the super-empathic, huge heart completely compassionate people. And some others fall, on the other hand, where they’re so guarded, and their hearts are just like shut off where it’s like, “No one’s coming in, but no one’s getting out.” And part of the work becomes learning for both ends is, but especially the kind of heart-and-heart side, is to learn to step into that vulnerability bit by bit. Because there’s a lot of [inaudible]. There’s a lot of protection. But then you don’t get access to real joy. You don’t get access to deep love. You don’t get access to strong commitment because all of that falls on the other side of vulnerability.
And that’s true. But I will tell you the first time I hear Brené Brown, I was like, “This is fucking weakness on a sadness platter [laughter].” And there is no fucking way that any of this could be true. I had so much resistance to Brené Brown. And I think a lot of it was just conditioning of, “Nobody’s getting in here.” And vulnerability is bullshit because when you’re vulnerable, you’re open to getting hurt.
Yeah. One of the main things for people who are new to vulnerability, one of the main things that is important to know is not everyone needs to see that vulnerability. It’s really the trusted few. And by few, that could be one, maybe two, people. So it’s important when we are showing our vulnerabilities, that we’re doing it in trusted places with trusted people. People who can hold that heart tenderly and not destroy you. And that is not always our families of origin like the families we grew up in. It’s more than likely not in the workplace. It’s with a trusted few. For some people, it may or may not be their partner or spouse. It’s really if you have one person, that’s huge. And I’ll tell you, for me, vulnerability is my superpower it is. And it is also my weakness. I don’t necessarily like vulnerability, but every time I cross a vulnerability platform, it takes me to the gold.
Okay, explain that, to me. A little bit more. Vulnerability is a superpower.
Vulnerability is a total superpower. Because look, we’re tallking– your podcast is so much about business, right?
And what is more vulnerable than putting everything on the line to run a business? What is more vulnerable than being a parent to a child? What is more vulnerable than loving someone with no guarantees of their love back or how long we have in this life? These are the– our life demands vulnerability, it demands us to step into that. And taking the plunge to say, “I’m going to start a business even though there’s a potential to fail, even though there’s a potential to lose all your money, even though there’s a potential to get criticism and judgments from others.” It’s really powerful to step into that vulnerable place and say, “Yeah, I know I feel that but I’m doing it anyway.” And for most people who take that plunge, there’s a yeah, it’s hard but totally worth it.
Okay. So how can it be a weakness then? Sharing it with the wrong people?
Sharing it with the wrong people is no Bueno. I’ve had to. I’ve had to learn the hard way around there are some people in my life who I’ve opened up to and it’s backfired where I haven’t exactly gotten what I needed from that situation. People either dismiss, “Oh, it’s going to be okay,” or ignore, or, “Oh, I’ve got one better than that.” Where they are like, “Oh, I see your pain and I’m going to raise your mine,” that kind of stuff that’s ultimately not helpful or try to fix it. There’s something really amazing when somebody can just be there with you.
Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, yeah.
That’s magic, right, that’s when vulnerability when you can be with someone who can just be in that vulnerable space with you and be like, “All right, that’s just where we are.” And then we just kind of naturally find our way out after that. The people in our lives who have said, “I can’t believe you took this risk to start this business. I couldn’t that.” There are some people who will say things like, “Well, that’s crazy, I don’t know if that’s going to work.” And then there are other people who will say things like, “Wow, that’s really risky, that’s courageous, that’s bold. I don’t know if I could do it, but I’m so incredibly impressed that you are.”
Yeah, exactly.
Those are the people that you’re like, “Cool.” Right?
They’re not trying to fix you. They’re not trying to protect you in some way. They’re just witnessing you.
Right, and they’re also not pretending that your decision is comfortable for them.
It’s authentic.
Yeah. That’s really great. I know that your other work too is around imposter syndrome and confidence, and these things all seem to really be interrelated to me.
I mean, it’s hard, I think to be vulnerable if you feel like a fraud.
Oh, yeah, feeling like a fraud puts you right into that vulnerable state, right?
Well, unless you’re in denial [laughter]. Right? I mean, are you following me on this? It does if you feel like a fraud, but then you can put up that veneer and not let anybody in and you just deny the fraud and you deny the vulnerability, and then you’ve kind of cornered yourself in there.
You’re walled in.
Yeah. And I think some people quit then. That’s when the quitting happens.
That’s when the quitting happens.
Yeah. Well, I guess I don’t deserve this. I guess I should just back out. And people do that. Whether they’re entrepreneurs or they do it in the business world, it doesn’t work–
Yeah, jobs or anything.
–in whatever work, any kind of job.
Divorce? Absolutely. In our relationships with other people, it shows up, it shows up a lot. One of the things that struck me around imposter syndrome when I first encountered is funny, I didn’t even know that the term imposter syndrome existed until years after I had all ready kind of like found my path and dealing with it [laughter]. And then was like, “Wait a second, there’s a name, there’s research. Where have you been? Why weren’t you here two years ago or more?” I mean, I remember seeing my– I actually went to my therapist and told her that I got a job at Google. And she said, “Oh, wow, Google?” And I said, “Yeah, so I’m going to be moving and we’re not going to be able to do this any longer.” And she said, “Wow, you must be really good at what do.” And I said, “Oh, no, not really.” And she said, “What do you mean not really?” And I said, “I mean, I’m good enough, but if they only knew, if they only knew, I feel like such a fraud.”
Yeah, because I’m sure that the person who cares for their children has to be a total failure [laughter].
What do you mean?
Right? They only hire the best at everything at Google.
Yeah, absolutely.
So why would you think you would be any less than anybody else?
Oh, but I so did. And in fact, I felt like a fraud not only in terms of being hired. At the time, I didn’t realize like less than 1% of all applicants get hired at Google. But I also– I was just about to get married to my husband, and I felt like a fraud with him too. Like if people really knew me, if they really saw me, if they really heard all the dark thoughts I run through my mind that they would just walk away, and I would be left alone with nothing. That was that. It sounds dramatic, but that was the fear that was ruling so much of my decision making and so much of my life and then I started working for Google and was promoted within a year to managing a team of 18 people and there is nothing like imposter syndrome to flare up than when you become a people manager. You’re managing a team of people and your perfectionistic, micromanaging, overworking ways suddenly it’s herding cats. You can’t control everything that’s happening. So all the things that got me promoted suddenly became a total liability.
That happens a lot.
Yeah. It’s oh, good. I was a good little girl. I was the golden girl. The good little golden girl that did everything she was told to do. I totally worked my butt off, was totally all in and then I became a people manager and I had to get used to the mess. Because managing people is messy and what I didn’t realize at first is that it’s messy but it’s messy like art is messy. There’s artistry. An art is not– there’s a science. It’s art and science. They’re together and that’s what managing a team is. It’s that art, that science and building that synergy, building those communities, building that teamwork. That is where I love that stuff. I love that stuff and kind of saying, okay, you need to come out of the shadows more. I want you to speak up more. Step into your boldness. But you, I hear you and you are taking over this [laughter]. You need a little more uh-uh. No. I need you to stop. Some people need a little gentle coaxing and others need, I want to be really clear about what is expected of you right now [laughter] and this is something that I talk to a lot of people about too. I need to trademark this or something. But one of the things that I do is that I talk to people about the compassionate to honesty continuum. When we communicate with people what I find is that some people fall on the compassionate side where they are so heartfelt. They are so empathic. They are so compassionate. They are so worried about what other people think that they’re trying to communicate but really being sensitive to the other persons needs the whole time and so then the message comes out all convoluted and confusing and the other person doesn’t hear the message. And then on the other end of the spectrum is the honesty side and there are some people who fall it’s just blunt force honesty. They don’t care about what you think about it. They just it’s just boom, boom, boom, boom, boom and that has– it’s great because it’s clear but it’s not great because the effect it has is total devastation. People maybe get completely defeated or maybe they get really defensive and pushback. That there’s something about the way it’s delivered that they rebel against it because they’re not being seen as a human.
I think well unless they’re talking to another super blunt person.
Unless they’re talking to another [laughter]–
It works. That’s one of the cases where like and like kind of get it.
Do you know what I mean?
Yes. Yes.
But you’re right. Most people get that and they’re like, the fuck you say [laughter].
They either go cry or they perhaps don’t like authority and that’s just absolute– they talk in absolutes. Absolute authority and that doesn’t fly for a lot of people.
Exactly, and what I love is that sweet spot in the middle where you can remember you’re talking to another human being but you can also be clear. Because people like clarity. People like clear. Even if it’s hard as long as there’s enough I see you as a person in there, then they can kind of take the painful clarity message and incorporate it.
Okay, and is this how it is because this conversation started around leading a team as a manager? But is this how it is you think that continuum, that’s just in life?
Absolutely. Absolutely.
Right, and then we all are on different parts of that continuum and we don’t often– okay, I speak for myself. I don’t often stay in that sweet spot [laughter].
Yeah. We have our comfort zones.
We have our places, our home bases that we’re like, oh, our snuggly blankets that we can be in on that compassionate to honesty spectrum and we have to sometimes depending on who we’re talking to we have to find a way outside of our norm. So if I fall on the compassionate side and I’m talking to someone who falls on the honest side, I have to bring myself more in the middle and if I’m on the honest side and I’m talking to people who are on the compassionate side, then I have to bring myself more in the middle so that they can hear me. Because to me, what I always think about is you do what works. We have to do what works. So many times we’re like, well, this is just the way I do it. So you all–
This is just me.
This is just me.
Work it out.
Yeah. But which is great to know yourself and to know how you operate and if it’s not working then you got to change [laughter]. You got to do what works. Do what works.
Absolutely, and I agree and I think there are times when you have to absolutely challenge. But most of the time, yes. I think you need to meet people where they’re at and walk with them so that you can communicate and in fact, I would say that many of the problems that we have especially on the political spectrum are around this idea that ideas become doctrines and if you don’t follow mine then I want nothing to do with you. Instead of they become absolutes and instead of saying, I’m a human. You’re a human. We’ve all got to live here. Why don’t we just work it out and walk together? That’s what really seems to be lacking and I honestly think that one of the things that we need to work on as a globe, everybody is around love. It’s really around love and that the more– on an earlier episode when I talked to Colina it was throw more love at the problem, not less and I don’t think it matters what problem that is. I have the mug. We’re in the Vandal lounge today so it’s upstairs [laughter] and that’s the mug and I was in New Mexico and it’s this beautiful earthen mug that an artisan in New Mexico, in Taos where I was at, had made. And it just says, “Throw more love at the problem, not less.” And when I saw it in this gallery, I just started crying. It was just like it just spoke to me, and it is the most unusable mug in the history of mugs [laughter]. And I use it all the time and it burns my hand because it has no handle. Who drinks coffee out of a mug that has no freaking handle [laughter]? However, I love it and I continue to use it because the message is just so important. And I think that when we talk about things like politics or Me Too or women and gender and men, I do think that we are talking about a lot of self-hate that then gets pushed out onto somebody else. And it’s the vitriol in it, that they’re spewing all of this hatred at somebody else because they’re challenging your ideas just by being different from your ideas. And it becomes black and white, and we live in a maddening world of grey.
So this is where I go, “Fear is powerful.” Fear is a powerful tool, and we have a choice to listen to our fearful side or listen to our hopeful side. We have a choice– when it comes to– bring it back to imposter syndrome, we have a choice to listen to our inner critic or our inner contender. And what I mean by inner contender is that part of you that’s just like, “I just want to show up and do amazing work, show up as my best self and just crush it.” That boxer in the ring that’s just kind of bouncing around being like, “Yeah, bring it. Come on, let’s do this.” That part of us. And what I found– I had my journey around imposter syndrome where I went down the rabbit hole, where I was– [laughter]. It’s funny. So I had that conversation with my therapist, and then I got promoted, and I’m trying all these ways to kind of keep my head above water, and I got a boss that was the physical embodiment of every negative thought I had ever had about myself [laughter]. She would say things to me like, “You’re just not pushing it hard enough.” She would say things like, “Why did you make that mistake? I don’t know if this is the right job for you. I don’t if it’s the right career for you.” And I totally went down the rabbit hole with that. And I got to the point where that’s all I heard. Imposter syndrome lies to you. Imposter syndrome says, “Oh don’t pay attention in a performance review to all the positive remarks. Only hyperfocus on the negative comments. Only hyperfocus on the areas of development. Pay no attention to all that fluff, that, ‘Whatever. People are just being nice.’ That kind of stuff.” Imposter syndrome is the thing whispering to you, saying, “Only pay attention to the fear. Only pay attention to the negative. Only pay attention to the critic. Only pay attention to me, the critic.” And I went down the rabbit hole of believing that even though everyone around me was saying things like, “You’re being too hard on yourself. Gosh, you really beat yourself up, don’t you? Gosh, you’re really great.” And I’d be like, “Yeah, whatever. Whatever.”
Look, my critic knocked me on my kitchen floor, and it was the contender that said, “I need to start my own business. This is bullshit.”
Mine left me in a heap on my shower floor. My husband is like, “I never want to go back to that place. I don’t.” He walked in with me sobbing, feeling so stuck and so torn. And there was a part of me– I actually asked for a demotion at Google. I didn’t ask for the demotion. I asked for what my salary would be if I was demoted, and now mind you, this is right after our first child was born and my husband was being a stay at home dad. He had left his job to be a stay at home dad. And when it came back, what my salary would be, I– initially, it’s interesting, what I normally would have done is called my husband right away and just told him everything that happened. But I was taking this mindfulness-based stress reduction class, which is the work of Howard– not Howardson, it’s Jon Kabat Zinn out of Harvard University, and I was taking a class and I was like, “No, just breathe. Take this in and breathe. This is the number. We cannot live in Silicon Valley, raising a family of three with this number.” And I just breathed and breathed and breathed, felt every emotion that was there, sadness, despair, anger, until I got down to the bottom of it, which was fear. And once I realized like, “Oh, I’m afraid,” I started laughing. I was like, “Oh, I’m just afraid,” Like, “Oh, it’s just fear.” I wasn’t running from the fear. When you run from the fear, the fear gets bigger and scarier. But when I turned toward it to be like, “Okay, let me feel every crappy emotion that I’m feeling right now and just continue to breathe,” then it’s like fear just felt laughable. And I was like, “Oh, I’m just afraid. Oh, well, I can figure things out. We’re good at figuring things out. I’m good at figuring things out. We’ll figure things out.” And that was when I started to be like, “Okay.” I realized I had a choice to listen to my inner critic or listen to my inner contender. And what I learned to do is turn the vol– I listened to the inner critic with the volume on high. I could not hear my inner contender, I didn’t even though she was there. All I did was listen to my inner critic, and I got to see what was at the bottom of that. And let me tell you, there’s no good. There’s nothing good at the bottom of listening to my inner critic. I always thought it would whip me in shape or get me to this better place, but it didn’t. It just– the lashings continued. I never got out of it. And once I learned to turn the volume down on my inner critic and turn the volume up on my inner contender, that’s when the magic started happening. That’s when I started doing the best work of my life. That’s when the promotions came. That’s when the pay raises came. That’s when all of that stuff started coming back to me, was once I learned to kind of get a handle on those dials.
So how do you help somebody else who’s dials are way out of whack? That person that lashes out at you is governed by fear.
Yeah. I mean, there’s nothing we can do around the other people around us, but there’s stuff that we can do for ourselves.
Right. Because we can’t change somebody else.
Yeah, I know. And one of the things that I think about is we teach people how to treat us. And so I was– I think one of the reasons why my boss was such a physical embodiment of all of my negative thoughts, part of it was her stuff but part of it was I went right into my victim mode. And she was– I’ll tell you when it comes to the compassionate to honesty spectrum she fell really on the honesty side [laughter]. And I think for some people, they’re like, “Oh, you’re going to be a victim.” Well, I’m going to– what I always said about her personality was that she approached her work like a wrestler in a ring. And for other people, they’re just walking to the concession stand. And she’s taking them down [laughter]. And she’s like, “Fight back.” She’s like, “Come on. Push back. Push back.” And they’re just like, “I just wanted popcorn and a soda. I just thought I was–” And that’s how I was. I was like, “I’m just minding my own business.” I’m like, “You’re taking me down. It feels like assault.” And she’s like, “No. We’re in the ring, man. Show up. Show up. Push back. Show up. Come on.” And it took a while to– she was trying to get my inner contender to show, I think. And the more I was–
Or she was a bully.
Or she was a bully. We can cast in either way. But what she did for me. So this is how people who– let me tell you. I wish her the best. I hope she gets whatever healing in her life. And I don’t want to ever interact with her again. Those things can coexist. And the gift that she gave me is she helped inner contender show up. And for me, like I said, vulnerability is my compassion. Sorry, vulnerability is my superpower. And for her, vulnerability was like, “Swat that shit away. You keep that shit under wraps. Vulnerability is a weakness. You shut it down.” And here I was, “No. There’s another way to be where vulnerability can be your superpower. It can be the thing that brings people together. It can be the thing that creates amazing work. That can happen too.” And I think the way she treated herself– and she actually ended up admitting that to me. It was like the way she treated herself is the way she was– she [suffered that?] one point because she had a realization that she was treating other people the way she treats herself, which is what we do.
We do that.
Which is why when people are judging you, one thing I always try to keep in the forefront of my mind, it’s like, “Oh, people are judging my parenting? That’s because they’re feeling insecure about their parenting.” If people are judging me about my weight, then that’s because they’re feeling insecure about their weight. If people are judging me about whatever, then I’m like, “Oh, you must be really hard on yourself.” And it’s not to say there may be– because judging is really different than discernment [laughter].
Yes, it is.
And you can feel that difference. You can hear that difference when people are talking to you. It’s one thing to say– I remember having a poor parenting moment and my husband just saying like, “Yeah, that was a bad choice [laughter].” And I was like, “Yeah, you’re right.” He wasn’t being judgemental of me. He wasn’t saying, “You’re a terrible parent.”
Being observant.
He was being observant. He was being discerning, to be like, “Yeah, that, what you said was the completely wrong thing to say [laughter].” I was like, “Yeah, you’re right.” But he wasn’t saying it with judgment. He was just making an observation.
Making an observation. It’s so funny because sometimes it’s received as judgment.
Yeah. Well, and that, I think, is our own inner work to be done.
Absolutely. So as you were describing the reflection, right? People being judgy and saying things that are actually bothering themselves, a lot of what we’ve been talking about reminds me of Amy Cuddy’s book, Presence. And she doesn’t talk as much about being in the way that Brené Brown does, she talks about it in different ways. And one of the things that shows up in her book versus the TED Talk– the TED Talk is amazing–
Oh, the TED Talk is–
–and it’s what led me to the–
–book. The book goes more into the details of the research and what she’s learned. And one of the things in the research that I thought was so fascinating is how we have nonverbal cues that are so quick that we don’t even see them or become aware of them. And to the point where if somebody– and I was talking to my photographer, Barbara McIntyre, about this earlier in the week how– she was mentioning how she has clients who’ve had botox and they’re really sensitive about when they can’t show emotion because they’ve had botox. And I said, “Well, Amy Cuddy talks about how people get botox to be happier, but they’ve actually found that it makes them sadder because they can no longer have that nonverbal reflection of showing happiness which gets flashed back to the person they’re talking to.” So if somebody is having that– so you see your boss and you get all freaked out because you don’t want to see your boss, right? And if she sees that and shows [a backy?] and it shows up in a different way than verbally. And we forget that, that tenseness, that all of that nonverbal self-stuff that we carry around, that then, when it’s shown back to us either with compassion or with judgment, a lot of it starts with us.
Absolutely. I’m reading this great book, The Confidence Code, and one of the things they talk about is that confidence matters more than competence. So think about that. Confidence matters more than competence. And what happens for women, what the studies have shown is that women, before asking for a promotion, will make sure that they hit all 100% of the criterion for that promotion before they ask for a promotion. And for men, on average, it’s 60%.
Right. The same is true of women versus men applying for jobs.
Most men are like, “Whatever. I don’t know how to do half that shit. Whatever,” and they apply anyway. Whereas most women expect perfection.
Exactly. And I think part of that– getting into our bodies, part of what building confidence is is trusting in our resourcefulness. But what imposter syndrome does, it lies and says, “You don’t know anything you don’t know anything and if we believe that lie, if we go down that path of that fear place– now it’s not to say that we start showing up with our balls hanging out all swagger like and just saying, I know everything and I’m so amazing at everything. It’s not saying that because that’s not authentic, right. It’s saying part of what makes people I think with imposter syndrome so amazing is that they’re self-reflective. They’re willing to kind of think things through and be like, okay, wait. How am I impacting this situation and is there anything I can do to change that, right? Those are really great skill that makes for a wonderful person in life, in business, at home for somebody to be self-reflective. The thing that gets us tripped up is if we’re self-reflective through that negative lens. Through that inner critic lens only and we don’t allow ourselves to trust in our resourcefulness, to trust in our intelligence, to trust in our ability to figure things out or trust to go with the flow even though things– or too, if things feel stuck to kind of find our way. I had a client this week who said, “I realize that there are no dead ends. Every decision I made whether it was a good one or a bad one, there’s no dead ends. Even if it seems like a bad one, I find a way out of it.”
So there’s no right or wrong decisions. There’s no good or bad decisions because there’s no dead ends. Yeah, there are decisions that we make that like I said when we trust our heads over our gut [laughter].
But we then learn. We figure things out. We move on. So I had a client this week who was saying how she made a mistake at work and where she went to immediately was, they should hire someone else for this job.
It’s a little dramatic.
Yeah. But it–
And yet very real for her.
Very real. It’s a real feeling, right and she acknowledged it was a dramatic statement. It was a dramatic thing to say but that’s the roaring inner feeling that can come up–
Oh, I’ve had that feeling. I’m not being– it sounded and I was aware of how it sounded when I said it [laughter].
Drama queen.
That’s a little dramatic and then I was like, I felt it. It was kind of the second thing and I think that that’s part of it is that for me, it’s when I feel that a lot of the work that I’ve done myself is around black and white thinking and realizing when I am subjecting myself to that. Because that’s what my critic does to me. It says, absolutely this, that and the other. You are wrong. How dare you? And because there are no dead ends [laughter] and because like I said before we live in a maddening world of grey. There is no black and white and that’s where that comment came from. That it’s dramatic to say that because they hired you. There was a process. There was other people they could have hired and they hired you. So you have to stop with that and if you can despite how real it is.
It’s so easy to go there from an outside perspective. From an outside perspective, my inner critic catastrophizes. I’m great at catastrophizing. I’m like, I am [inaudible] about catastrophizing. I’m just like, “Well, that is not going to work out,” or whatever it is, and my husband starts singing, “Let’s get cynical, cynical [laughter]–”
Oh my God.
–which helps me laugh and pull myself out of that, and I’m like, “Oh yeah. I’m catastrophizing aren’t I?” One of the things that was so beautiful about what my client did– because she’s like, “I’m really struggling because I feel like somebody else should be in this position because I made this mistake.” And I said, “Well, what did you do after the mistake was made?” And she’s like, “Well, because of our work, I’ve learned that I shouldn’t spend a lot of time beating myself up over it, that I should take action and move forward. So what I did is instead of apologizing to every single person who sent me an email, I triaged it, and I sent one email to everyone saying, ‘Hey, just discovered a mistake and an error. I’m in the middle of fixing it, and I will get back to you individually after it’s resolved.'” And she’s like, “And so I did. I went through. I fixed everything, and then I started going to every person saying, ‘Hey, [did this meet?]?'” And she’s like, “So I felt good about how I solved it, but I also felt terrible that I didn’t anticipate the mistake. I felt–” even though it wasn’t her fault – it was a system glitch – she’s like, “Maybe they should hire someone who double checks things more. Maybe they should hire someone who was better about the communication,” because there was a mistake in her email that she sent too, like, “Maybe I should’ve hired someone who could anticipate those things.” And one of the things that came up was like, “Well, what did you learn from this [laughter]?”
All of the things that I just said they needed to hire somebody who could do [that?]–
Now all of a sudden she is that person.
She is that person because she learned that.
That’s right.
Yeah. That’s why I don’t actually– and people say, “What’s your worst failure?” like in a job interview. I’m always stumped by that, and I’ve had conversations with people who are like, “Well, wasn’t that a failure? Wasn’t that a failure?” And I just don’t think of things in terms of failure anymore because I always just kind of learn from it. I kind of ride through it, and I learn from it, and I just move on. I don’t think of it as like, “Ugh. [It’s a?] horrible failure.” I just keep going.
This is the difference. When I was diving into my studies around imposter syndrome, this right here is a significant difference. For those who do not suffer from imposter syndrome, they still feel that vulnerability. They still feel that edge of, “I might make a mistake.” They still feel that edge of, “Yeah. This could totally fail.” But it’s kind of like, “Yeah. Well, that’s just kind of the– that’s just how it is, and if it fails, then I’ll learn something, and then we’ll go on.” It’s seen as just part of the process, and for those who suffer from imposter syndrome, because they’re so afraid of being found out as a fraud, there’s a great care around never making a mistake. And a mistake is an indication that they are a fraud, and then other people will find out, and then they will be exposed, and then their life will end. That’s the trail of thinking that starts happening when you’re suffering from imposter syndrome. It’s like no mistakes can be made ever, at all, and that’s what drives the perfectionism. That’s what drives the long hours [that?] is what drives so much of the micromanaging. That’s what drives the procrastination. Well, you should never really do it because–
If I do it it’ll be wrong or if I do I’m going to fail or if I do it’s not going to be perfect and they’re going to find somebody else or they’ll find me out.
Or maybe I just need another degree. Maybe I just need one more certification. One more degree.
Hey, now.
But those are ways imposter syndrome shows up, to safeguard us from failure as opposed to just being like, “Yeah. Failure is going to happen.” And you know what we can bounce with that. I trust in my ability to figure things out. I trust in my ability to be resourceful. It’s really different.
It is different. It’s a sea change, at least has been for me. I went for years in this black and white world. And I went for years in thinking I was a fraud. It’s so interesting listening to your boss, who was a woman at Google, which you could say, women in tech. But she was removed from that world in large part, yeah? Or was she still affected by– I mean, being at Google–
Because I was in the people ops benefits side of things. That culture is so–
It’s still pervasive, right?
Oh, yeah. Because all the people you’re working with–
Are a part of that world.
And so a lot of what she was talking about it sounds a lot like– or how she was interacting with you, it sounds a lot like women in tech and what they deal with is that like not being good enough. Not being heard. Interrupting. Telling you what to do. Making you prove it. I mean, a lot of that is– I’m listening to that and I’m like, “Oh, okay. yeah. That’s a woman-in-tech situation.” paying it forward, woman to woman because maybe that’s how she felt like she needed to earn her chops.
Exactly. And I think that’s so spot-on. I think that’s exactly where it was at. And what I was so fascinated to learn about with Imposter syndrome – this comes from Valerie Young’s work – is that it is not– it feels so personal when it’s happening to you even though it can be so pervasive. But what she has discovered or uncovered is that it is definitely tied to societal things. So the people who are more likely to suffer from imposter syndrome women, people of color, LGBTQ, people who grew up with abuse, or addicted people who grew up in a lower social economic status. So that’s why it affects 70% of the US population, right? Because you just hit– right there I just hit the 70% of the US population, if not more. Because what happens is, when we feel–
Where were the rich white guys–
Oh, yeah. They don’t really experience imposter syndrome so much.
Wait. What? Gee, why am I not surprised? If you own everything–
And when you don’t ever feel like the other. When you feel like the other. When you feel in that place of less power. When you have experienced your life as the other, as the non-dominant one, then you don’t– when you start mixing and mingling with the rich white guys, with the people who are always confident, you’re kind of like, uh
do I have– how did I get here? This must have been luck. This must have been these, these, these people just were being nice to me. Or whatever the thing we tell ourselves because it doesn’t line up with all the stuff we’ve absorbed over time. All the beliefs that we’ve absorbed over time.
And the beliefs and the aggression and being told that you’re not good enough for– yeah.
Because then that’s what we’re telling ourselves. You’re not good enough.
Yeah. Well, that sucks. We can’t end on that [laughter].
Well, so, okay. So I really want to tell my “Fuck Janis” story. Can I tell my “Fuck Janis” story?
Yes, you can tell your “Fuck Janis” story, but you can’t use the word “Fuck,” I’m just kidding.
I’ve done it.
But it would be a lot more fun if it was just “Antelope Janis” or something, but I guess I’ll just put the explicit next to this episode because we’ve already used a lot of swear words today. I’m still recovering from the “That doesn’t mean you have to show your balls to everyone at work.” So I’m a little damaged by that, just so you know.
Too much boldness?
Nope, you’re never too much for me. It was just a visual, I’m a very visual person, and I was like, I really didn’t need that because I was thinking and when you said that I was thinking about like a tennis player whos shorts were a little too short.
You can’t unsee those things.
You can’t unsee those things. So now everyone else can’t unsee that.
You’re welcome. You’re welcome.
Thank you, listeners, all two of you now that have made it to this point in the episode just because [inaudible] actually not drinking, so.
Not yet [laughter].
We might be after this.
I’ve got a gin and tonic waiting for me, I’m sure.
Somewhere. Okay so, “Fuck Janis.”
Okay. So when I was– I had hit rock bottom. Down the rabbit hole of “You’re not good enough. You have no skills. You’re not smart or intelligent.” I had hit rock bottom and kind of went, “Okay, where do I go from here?” I can continue believing that or I can believe a different story. So, I decided to believe what the people closest to me were telling me. The people who really knew me and loved me were telling me “You’re really amazing. You’re really smart. You should maybe stop beating yourself up.” All that kind of stuff and started slowly started tapping into that. The question that I remember asking myself is, “What if I’m not a fraud?” “What if I’m not?”
Wow, that’s super powerful.
Because we can so easily swallow “I’m a total fraud.” But it really made me pause to be like, “Okay, wait, what if I’m not?” So I have this amazing co-worker Janis Kizer. She’s incredible, she just retired from Google, and she’s written books, and she’s just so smart and so rock solid, and so kind and so generous and compassionate and just strong. She’s just one of those people that, kind of, everybody loves. And so articulate, and every time we had to co-present together, which we did often, I would be stuck in this, “Oh my God what is Janis thinking? Oh my God Janis thinking? Oh, You sound like such an idiot, Janis is so smart, so articulate, you’re not.” That kept happening, right and so I remember I was in my place of, “Well, wait a second. What if I’m not a fraud?” space that I was trying to kind of cultivate more of in my life, and we had a meeting that we were co-presenting at. She did her talk first, and there was a part of me that was just panicking. Just like, “Ugh. Here you are. Your job is kind of on the line. Everybody’s eyes are on you. You’ve been–” because when I was down in the, “I am such a fraud,” the quality of my work diminished greatly. I was not a very good– not to say I wasn’t a good employer, but I wasn’t– or employee. But I just wasn’t showing my best self. My best work.
Well, how could you if you’re just–?
Yeah. You can’t.
If you’re beating yourself up all the time?
Yeah. It’s like nothing could really come through. And so here I was at this meeting. There were like 40 people there in attendance, and I had to say my stuff. And what’s happening inside my head– this is what my inner dialogue sounded like. “Oh, my God. Oh, my God. You have to talk in front of Janice. You’re already in trouble. You might get fired. What will Janice think? What will Janice think? What will Janice think? What will Janice think [laughter]?” And this other part of me reared up and said–
Well, fuck Janice.
“Fuck Janice. Fuck her. Fuck Janice. Fuck her. Fuck what she thinks [laughter].” And I love Janice. Sorry, Janice. I love you. But that part of me that was just like, “Fuck her. Just talk.”
Right. Because it’s not about her. You’re just–
It’s not about her.
Because at that point she’s just the archetype of any person that you think is better than you.
That’s right. I’m just wrestling with myself at that point. And so it was like, “No, fuck her. Just say what you need to say [laughter]. Just say it, and deal with the consequences later. Just put it out there, and deal with the consequences later.” And so I did. I was able to– that’s how I found the dial switch on my inner critic. I was at that point being able to like, “Nope. I’m turning you down by saying, ‘Fuck Janice.'” That was my way of turning down that inner critic and turning up that inner contender that was just like, “Just say it. Just do your thing.” And so I did. I talked. It was kind of a tricky topic. I was getting a lot of feedback. I had to field a bunch of questions. And I just did it uncensored, without second guessing myself.
Right. No apologies.
No apologies. Just straightforward. And I shit you not, that meeting ended and Janice makes eye contact with me, and bee-lines over to me. And I’m like, “Fuck [laughter].”
Oh, no. Then you have that other like, “Fuck. Janice.”
“Oh, no. She’s going to come up to me, and she’s going to be like, ‘Well–‘”
“What did you do?”
“I don’t know what you were really talking about, but.” And I’m dying inside as she’s walking to me, and she just– she goes, “I just wanted to say that was amazing. I’ve never heard you talk about your work like that before. That was incredible. There were some really hard questions and you answered them beautifully, in a way that I would never have thought of answering those questions. It was so– wow. You handled that so amazingly. Great job.” And that was when it–
And the [inaudible] [center] is like, “Fuck, yeah. I win.”
It slowly began to dawn on me that– I was like, “Oh. Maybe I should do that more [laughter].” Like, “Okay. Do that more.” Right? LIke, “Do what works, and maybe second guessing myself every second of the– every nanosecond is not helpful.” Because it’s not. It interrupts us. And I’ve seen it time and time again. When I’ve mentored people, I see it time and time again. They are brilliant, they’re beautiful, they talk just– one on one, they’re great. They get up in front of a crowd, and everything goes to shit. You can’t even understand what they’re saying. It gets really confusing, convoluted, because the whole time that they’re trying to talk, their inner– what’s happening in their head is, “Oh, my God, what are they thinking? Oh, my God, what are they thinking? Oh, don’t mess that up. Oh, what are you thinking? Oh, why did you say that?” That’s what’s happening, which just totally interrupts the message.
Oh, it does. People can feel that.
And they can witness it.
And it’s terrible. As an audience member, you’re kind of rooting for the person on stage, usually.
Oh, yeah. Usually.
Usually. You don’t want to see them get all awkward and fail-y [laughter].
Awkward and fail-y?
I just made up a word. Fail-y. You want them to succeed, and so–
And you don’t want to waste your time. I mean, that’s part of it, too. Right? In the self-serving way?
Yeah. You don’t want to waste your time. Exactly.
You want to be somewhere that it makes sense, and so you root for them because you’re kind of rooting for yourself at that point.
Yeah. So I just encourage everyone to find their inner, “Fuck Janice.” It’s a way to help battle the imposter syndrome.
Well, yeah. Because the minute that you turned off that voice that was telling you she was better than you, you stood up to the challenge.
Yeah. And then part of that standing up to the challenge is trusting that I will be able to deal with whatever fallout happens as a result. Because that was the thing. I’m like if this all goes to pot, and everyone’s like, “Why did she say that? That was crazy,” then I would be able to deal– which was totally my fears. That wasn’t anywhere near what happened, but that’s what we tell ourselves. Right? But to be able to trust in my, “I will figure it out.” I will figure it out. If the shit hits the fan and the fallout happens, then I will deal with that, should that moment come.
I hope you enjoyed this show as much as we did. Allison Kinnear is available for speaking engagements, workshops, and individual coaching. Her website is www.voiceofherown.com. Today, she’s offering listeners her Imposter Syndrome Survival Guide, which you can find online at www.voiceofherown.com/guide. We will also have a link in the show notes. Allison also has weekly Wednesday Facebook Lives at 9:00 PM Pacific called the Late Night Snack, where she tackles a variety of topics to help women bring out the best in themselves. You can learn more by following Voice of Her Own on Facebook. Thanks for listening to this week’s show. Be sure to tune in next week, where we talk about gratitude and leadership. You can follow the Third Paddle on Twitter or Instagram @thirdpaddle. Have a great week. [music]
Thank you for listening to the Third Paddle Podcast. Be sure to catch every episode by subscribing on iTunes. To learn more, check out our website at www.thirdpaddle.com. The Third Paddle Podcast is sponsored by Foster Growth, LLC, online at www.fostergrowth.tech

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