“Standing before 100 women that morning was daunting.”
I stood in front of the stage taking deep breaths as I looked out into the Sunday morning crowd. The synagogue-turned-venue in the Lower East Side was stunning. Age had crept into the walls and pastel lighting gently played upon them, giving the building character and personality.
Around me, women congregated in excited voices, discovering their mutual love of travel. My coffee was still scalding, but I sipped it anyway in an attempt to snap me out of my head and into my burning tongue.
“I’ve got this,” I said to my friend who joined me that late winter morning in New York. “I’ve got this.”
I knew I did, but also, I knew I wasn’t sure. Is it possible to feel both? Absolutely.
When I was asked to speak at the Women’s Travel Fest eight months earlier, it was one of the best days of my life. The founder, Kelly, reached out to invite me. We had known each other for years via travel blogging. She had a vision to bring women who loved travel together to encourage them to see the world and empower them.
I felt the comingling of excitement mixed with dread. The idea of speaking and being on stage was exciting. Exhilarating. Being asked to speak validated my work. But, there was also hesitancy.
How I would stack up against the others?
Would my words be powerful?
Would I even do a good job?
I hadn’t been involved in the travel blogging industry for years. When I returned from living abroad, I pivoted from travel to vegan food. The vegan industry had just started to blossom. Travel had peaked and changed from narrative to SEO-driven drivel and influencers in gorgeous clothing posed in front of competingly gorgeous scenery and landmarks.
A few weeks later, Kelly and I chatted about what I could talk about. I didn’t feel like I had anything of value to share as it related to the travel industry, which I had left years earlier.
But, Kelly? She saw something I hadn’t yet. She saw my adaptability, and she wanted me to speak on my experiences the last decade. About taking risks. Trusting the universe. Sharing my story from unhappy publicist to travel blogger to elephant rescuer. My transformation as a leader in the vegan movement and the successes and accomplishments I’d achieved.
I could do that.
However, standing before 100 women that morning was daunting. The line-up of speakers was impressive, including the incredible Gloria Atanmo and dynamic Alex Jimenez of Travel Fashion Girl. These strong, powerful women had made names for themselves in the travel world and beyond. They had successfully taken their work and made it into a profitable business.
I looked at them as people I aspired to, not someone I already was. It’s hard to be in the same line-up and know my life is dramatically different, living nearly paycheck to paycheck while I work to make my dreams come true. In some ways, it made me feel like I wasn’t worthy to be on the same stage as them. It was difficult to encourage women to follow their dreams when I was scraping by, on the precipice of something big … but not there yet.
I was opening the second day of the event. I sat with my coffee, staring into the crowd repeating: I belong here. I belong here. I belong here. As Kelly introduced me, I stepped onto the black stage and held the slide remote in one hand and the mic in the other.
I took a deep breath and began. After my shaky introduction, voice wavering, I started to tell my story. My anxiety evaporated as I shared my journey, my truths. The words flowed from my heart and my 45 minutes passed before I even knew what happened.
At the end, a group of women encased me, eager to talk to me about my presentation, to thank me, and to let me know it resonated with them.
I did belong. I just didn’t believe it until it was done.
And, that’s the thing about impostor syndrome. It’s this nasty black cloud that hangs over you and fogs moments which should be exciting and joyous because you’re stuck in your own head. Listening to those little voices telling you:
I’m not good enough.
Everyone else here deserves to be here. I don’t think I do.
What did I do to be here? Why am I here?
I am not as accomplished, as known, as successful as these other people.
What if people don’t think I deserve to be here?
What if I fail?
As I’ve navigated the last decade, I’ve faced impostor syndrome often.
The first time was when I was invited on my first press trip to Spain. The group of bloggers on the trip were all well-known, and there I was. This 30-year-old who entered the mix only nine months earlier and was doing this on her backpacking journey. I had no cute clothes for dinners. I couldn’t take things with me because they’d add weight to my backpack. I had my little blog and wasn’t in a blogging network or group like most of them.
It continued over the years, speaking at travel blogging conferences. Even though I had been a major force in the start of responsible animal tourism and had served as the spokesperson for elephant tourism for a few years, I still didn’t think I deserved to be at the table with the other bloggers. I never made a lot of money from blogging. I never had hundreds of thousands of visitors to my site. But, I made a change.
At that time, the popularity was what I didn’t have and what made me feel like I didn’t belong. I’d introduce myself to people at the events and was always surprised when they knew who I was.
Even when the James Beard Foundation asked me to curate dinners at The House, I didn’t feel worthy. Who was I? Not a chef. No background in culinary arts. I was someone who loved food and knew a lot about vegan dining, particularly in Las Vegas. Sure, I had been the catalyst for a lot of the change to the vegan dining scene in the city, but my lack of credibility in the form of culinary knowledge and expertise made me feel inadequate.
The thing is: I am aware of all I have done. I know I’ve worked hard. I know I’ve earned everything I have. I know I provide value.
But, impostor syndrome doesn’t care. Even now, as I work towards my dream, there’s that chirping in my ear saying “other people have worked hard. Other people are talented.”
What makes me special?
I answer back: ME.