About six months ago, I wandered into the world of public speaking. It wasn’t a planned career shift, but an invitation to stand on a very big stage, that launched the new adventure. Yet despite the warm invitation from a most reputable brand, never in a life so fueled by the guiding principle “fake it ‘til you make it” did I feel more like an imposter.
Now, mind you, I walked into the White House when I was 22 years old, wearing nothing but one of my mother’s old suits and a goofy “please don’t ask me any questions” panic-stricken look. I took up marathon running precisely one year after running my first mile, and competitive rowing precisely one year after stepping into my first learn-to-row barge lesson. I started my own company with no money, no plan, and no idea how to come up with either. I am no stranger to doing things for which I am completely and utterly unprepared.
And yet, each time, I had a chorus of rabble-rousing imposter-hunting demons singing in perfect harmony inside of my brain. “Get out!” “You can’t do this!” “What the hell were you thinking?” And, my personal favorite: “Everyone else here belongs here. And, psst, they know you don’t!” I was challenged to believe in my value and worth.
Last month, when readying for a paid gig — seriously, I still can’t believe people pay me money to do this — I turned to my husband and said, “I feel like the Wizard of Oz. It just feels so fake to get paid actual real money for 40 minutes of work.” And that’s when he turned to me and, with a face that can only be described as mystified, said “No, you are getting paid for 25 years and 40 minutes of work.”
And, that’s when it hit me: we are not just the person that we appear to be in the moment, we are the sum total of all that has come before us. The value and experienced-earned worth left previously unconsidered and unaccounted for. For those of us later in our careers, it is the compounded wisdom of decades of experience, of successes and, yes, failures, too. For those of us just starting out, it is the trial and error period of iteration and the strength of the network of friends, mentors, and champions that we gather around us and learn from with breakneck speed. At any place along our personal and professional evolution, it is never the momentary glimpse of genius but the hard yards that came before it.
Most importantly, it is a reminder that we have to think in terms of value and not just price. The price of my time for 40 minutes of work is far lower, according to my hourly client rates, than the value of the wisdom that I can communicate from the stage during that same period of time. And, after all, that’s what they are hiring.