The Imposter

During the the past week I have had more than one person congratulate me on how good I am at networking and self promotion, citing the success of the book as an example of this. I thank them for that, I really appreciate the time and thoughtfulness behind it.

I’d like to level with you all. I’m rubbish at networking and self promotion. I simply can’t do it. I feel uncomfortable and slightly like an imposter. At a recent event someone asked me if I was a consultant. My reply was ‘um, I guess so, I mean…technically…people pay me to do stuff, so I guess I’d have to say I was, but I’m not sure I’m a proper one or if it will last’.

Yesterday someone asked me what my areas of expertise were for a speaking engagement. My initial response was ‘I’m interested in lots of things, I’d hate to claim to be an expert’

These aren’t the responses of a natural salesperson.

From the very first black tie networking event I attended in my career I’ve felt inadequate, out of place and about to be found out. So I found ways to make the experience more comfortable.

i) I find one person who I know (or who also looks lost) and I talk to them about whatever they like

ii) I try and help them with a problem if I can – I listen and try to be useful to them

iii) I assume everyone has an interesting story to tell

iv) I open up early and ditch the formality. I’ll talk really honestly with people

So I mentally exchange my forced black tie event for an evening doing what I love – learning about people and helping them solve their problems. Last week that led to me getting a visit to Facebook, a wonderful experience. I’m happy to admit it came about through me just wanting to find someone to talk to at the CIPD Centenary Dinner, primarily so I didn’t feel like a spare part.

The volume of PR around the book has been based around not letting 50 other authors down. If this was my book that I’d written on my own? There is simply no way that I’m spending days tweeting people asking them to endorse it. That is a horrible concept to me. I’m not brave enough and it’s not in my nature.The fact there is a social ambition to it and an ability for me to create success for others is what drives my behaviour.

All the good stuff that people think is me being brave is just me running scared from failure and awkwardness. I’m not leading, I’m just finding the most creative way I can to run away.

This will probably be a problem for me if I continue to be a ‘sort of consultant’. I’m not comfortable at self promotion. I’m comfortable with sharing. I thought I’d share that in case anyone feels the same way.

So I’m sharing that if you feel awkward with self promotion – well, there is at least one other person out there who feels the same way too.

15 thoughts on “The Imposter

  1. Self-promotion. Noun. The action of promoting or publicizing oneself or one’s activities, especially in a forceful way.

    Self promotion – that is an interesting term for someone to use in a congratulatory sense. You and I have spoken recently, both at the conference and afterwards. I may be wrong, I often am, and among other things said was that I saw you being intentional. Acting with intent and purpose. As someone who tends to bumble about – the apparent ease with which interesting stuff happens around you, and to and with you of late is encouraging, and has caused me to wonder if I should bumble differently. I don’t know if I will, I confess to enjoying a high degree of random.

    Here’s the rub…

    Like you – I tend to hesitate when I get the ‘what do you do?’ question. And I know that is not helpful to a lot of people, so I’m working hard to overcome my diffidence, and I have a lot still to learn. For example, I was recently in conversation with two friends who I also consider to be influential. One of the two had to stop the conversation and point out to me that I was being offered an interesting opportunity by the other person – and I might like to just say yes please!

    So – on reading your post, and thinking about my own un approach to this stuff, I just wanted to write a wee note and send good wishes, intentionally without intent.

    Have a good weekend



    1. Can’t believe you went to the dictionary, low blow 😉

      The intent is the key isn’t it? In fact the more I reflect on it I think intent may just be the key to it all – what HR has to offer the workplace and what we offer as individuals. Helping other people’s good intentions lead to good outcomes. People can smell when intent isn’t quite right. It’s our job to keep genuine and keep capable.

      I hope you took the ‘interesting opportunity’ and I know you’ve got a big year coming up…


  2. David, I share some of the same feelings and anxieties.

    I would say that I am very confident, happy to push myself forward but self promote I find difficult. I use Doug’s term “intent” a lot, and I have reflected that when I push myself forward, my actual intent is that I genuinely want to help where I can. Not through a sense of service but through a feeling that I might have some value to add to make stuff better. ( I guess thats some of the engineer in me and E/INTP). But talking about me, thats different!

    Similar to your book experience, I find it much easier to promote or “sell” others, and where I have really struggled is selling me. I go cold at the thought of the elevator speech and other networking tricks, but like Doug hints at I probably have to accept that others expect that of me, and I have to drop my arrogance and indifference and do it!

    From a far, if its running away then it looks like you are doing pretty well, and I wonder if its about what type of consultant you want to be. IMHO its all about connecting now, I have managed many of my fears about networking by seeing it as relationship building.
    Interestingly as I write, many years ago when I was a young engineer at Boots, one very sage and wise Senior Manager had words and tipped someone off that I would be worth keeping an eye on with regard to moving into a Key Account Management role. I saw it as sales so killed the connection and idea. Maybe it was me that was missing something!!!

    I wonder if you are missing something that others see?


    1. Thanks Ian. Thanks for responding and thanks for being so open. I’ve reflected a lot on whether I’m missing (or failing to acknowledge) a strength, but I’m in a similar position to you. My drive is to help, as soon as I feel that is something else and it becomes about me I just go flat. Other people see me and assume a different motive to my conversation, so assume something else or something planned is happening (I think…) The reality and the appearance are quite different.

      I’d be happy to be a helpful consultant (help is a very powerful word). I’m not sure how I’ll cope in the market as the ‘running away consultant guy’.

      My wife is aware that I’m happy to attribute any success so far down to luck and I’m prepared for that to run out at some point. I’ll enjoy it whilst it lasts though and I’ll always enjoy meeting people, helping people and learning about people. We work in a great industry and in great times for doing that. Have a top weekend


  3. I completely get the concept that you can project a self-assured and calm demeanor to the rest of the world while inwardly you are a kid in the corner with their hands over their eyes hoping it goes away or running from it in a destructive or constructive way, as the case may be. However, this blog is a little chicken and the egg. Can you really talk about self-promotion without being very self-promotive in an intentional way? Perhaps I delve into a philosophical argument here, but it depends on whether your reality is shaped by your own construct or those of the people around you? Which way did you draw the E?


  4. I wrote in after a conversation midweek with someone who seemed to think that I had some kind of formula for success that I could share. I shared my lack of formula for success – initially to collect my thoughts for them – also because I thought it might help some others. Pretty clear on my motives if that helps? So the intent is to support, not to promote. I doubt posting that I think very little of my perceived success is down to me or planning is a great promotional tool, but it might be helpful,.


  5. Thank you for this discussion. It seems so easy from the outside to assume others are confident in their endeavors without knowing their internal dialogue. As a self-doubting HR generalist I found your comments on intent particularly helpful. For Halloween this year I dressed up as a speed bump in an attempt to be humorous about how HR is often perceived. I dislike this perception which often becomes a reality in the workplace. I think we mean well in the field however we often spend more time discussing with our coworkers and executives what they can’t do instead of what they can. Back to your inspiring comments, regarding intent; “Help other people with good intentions lead to good outcomes. People can smell when the intent isn’t quite right.” It’s on me to steer the projects and conversations to how we can develop and give our employees opportunities to grow and be trampolines for growth instead of speed bumps. And pay attention to our intuition, when what we are asked to promote, doesn’t feel quite right.


    1. There are a few things I’d like to say.

      i) I’m really glad if me sharing has helped in any way at all. That makes writing it really worthwhile.
      ii) I love trampolines rather than speedbumps. That is a brilliant analogy and a great visual. I’ll be repeating that in years to come with ‘someone once said…’ before it
      iii) I’d agree, if it feels uncomfortable it may just be out of your comfort zone or it may just be wrong (or wrong for you). Tricky to tell them apart.

      Have a great weekend and have a good week of trampolining.


  6. Great post dds and I loved our ‘are you a consultant’ conversation! Honesty and humility are two great qualities that not everyone has. And being authentic will get you more success and happiness than any other way of being 🙂


  7. Thank you for speaking up on behalf of others like me who are in a similar position. Sometimes we fight ‘lonely’ battles unaware someone else out there faces a similar challenge


  8. Feeling awkward doesn’t have to preclude being good at something – does it? Maybe we need our feelings of doubt occasionally to help us keep questioning ourselves.

    The best sales people and I’ll offer up my definition of “best” based on many years experience of working with the good, the bad and the ugly! They make high volume sales that stick, they make high volume because they love being useful for their customers and believe in their product.. They aren’t motivated by the money although they believe it will be an outcome that they deserve. They enjoy talking to people.

    I dunno – perhaps you have stumbled upon a new skill in yourself. My observations are that you been purposeful and proactive about achieving your goals- ie sales for the book. You have shared your honest excitement when you have met heroes, experienced something new, and have been bold in your ambitions for the book. My interpretation of this is that you have high aspirations and will work hard to fulfil them.

    Nothing wrong with any of that!


  9. So that’s how we got chatting at BraveHR, I must have looked lost 🙂

    Good to know that someone like you who comes across as in their element at networking type events is probably feeling just as awkward/nervous/uncomfortable as the rest of us.


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