How Improvisation Helped Me to Overcome Feeling Like a Fraud

For women in the workplace confidence does not always come easily. We often downplay our accomplishments, have trouble accepting credit and compliments, and avoid pursuing positions that could offer considerable challenges to us. Although well-qualified, many women don’t attempt to obtain certain jobs if they do not feel one hundred percent confident and capable. I have experienced this fraudulent syndrome first hand when I applied for my first college internship. My first day at this internship, however, served to validate my concerns and restore my faith in myself.

This past summer I began searching for an internship for the upcoming school semester. I knew that I was passionate about women’s issues and aspired to work in a position where I could help individual women use their talents to flourish. As a Communications major, I was hoping to do so while using my knowledge of media and interpersonal relationships.

When I heard about the Integrating Woman Leaders Foundation’s Marketing and Communications internship, I was excited about the potential opportunity to be working with an organization so dedicated to diversity and female empowerment. I hadn’t had much professional experience, and wasn’t quite sure that my skills met all of the requirements of the job description.

But, I was passionate about the organization and applied anyway. After a phone interview, I came to the office for an in person interview, and was nervous about how I would explain my lack of experience. During the interview I was excited and engaged with IWL’s Executive Director Maggie Anderson, as we discussed power poses, Lean In, and both the internal and external problems women face in the workplace.

Then came the questions about my experience. Have you ever blogged before? No. Have you ever written a press release? No. Any experience in video editing? No. E-mail campaigns? E-newsletters? Event planning? Twitter?

I really hadn’t done any of those things. But I ensured Maggie that I was a skilled communicator, passionate about women in leadership, and dedicated to learning the tricks of the trade. I was offered the job on the spot.

It was reassuring to know that my passion and potential was valued over my experience. I was so excited to have just been given an opportunity to develop relationships with some incredible and powerful women, and to learn hard skills that could be utilized in a future career.

That being said, I was still anxious to start my internship. I was feeling fraudulent, as though it were a mistake that I had been offered a job in marketing. I knew so little about marketing and PR and doubted that I would be able to catch up as quickly as was needed. I was hopeful, but lacked confidence and resources.

My first day as an intern was at the IWL Indy Women’s Leadership Conference in September, where I had the privilege of hearing Karen Hough speak. Her presentation resonated with me, as she explained her background as an actor, transitioning suddenly into a technical role. Hough described how she dealt with the transition, having no previous experience in the field she was entering into. At work, she simply improvised, acting confident and competent, saying “yes!” to all that was asked of her.

Improvisation in and of itself is the act of creating something without a script or plan. It’s a performance that often takes many humorous and unexpected turns. As a musician or actor skilled in improvisation, you are required to be flexible, creative, engaged, and optimistic with little to no resources, such as sheet music or props.

Hough improvised her way into understanding all the in’s and out’s of the organization, encouraging others to put faith in her. Improvisation is a sort of “fake it ‘til you make it” technique that not only allows others to perceive you as being capable and poised, but causes you to believe in yourself as well. She exuded confident energy, seeming prepared and knowledgeable during work, and after work studied up on what she didn’t yet understand.

On my first day in this new role as marketing communications intern, it was very comforting to see a successful, motivated, and confident woman on stage speaking to a room of over five hundred women – a woman who, like myself, had experience in trying something new with few resources and a lack of training. She is now the Founder & CEO of ImprovEdge, the author of her own book, and a resource and inspiration to women.

Standing at the back of this ballroom, with 550 women in chairs in front of me, I was watching them all nod along to Karen Hough’s presentation in empathy. At thirty, forty, and fifty plus years old, these successful female leaders had nearly all experienced “feeling like a fraud” which made me feel like less of one.

The IWL’s Women’s Leadership Conference was a great experience and brings together incredible women for moments of validation. Women meet and hear from others in their field who have overcome the same obstacles they have faced. Furthermore, these women are validated, empowered and equipped. They are given the resources and connections to go back into their workplaces to become the leaders they are capable of being. For me, learning about improvisation has changed the way I feel about myself and gives me the confidence to believe in my abilities.

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