Earlier this week the folks at PASS reached out to last year’s speakers asking us to share a story of how speaking at PASS impacted us professionally or personally. The first idea that popped into my head was to blog about how speaking at PASS Summit lends you a bit of unique professional credibility in the SQL Server/Microsoft Data Platform world – because it absolutely does. That said, I figured a lot of folks would blog, tweet, or make videos around exactly that subject and likely handle it more creatively that I would have. So, while speaking at PASS Summit has definitely had a positive impact on me professionally, I decided to blog about what I believe the biggest impact of my speaking at PASS Summit 2017 has been – a weapon I can use to battle impostor syndrome. I saw myself as the impostor I mentioned in the title of this blog.
If you’re unfamiliar with impostor syndrome, it is described (via Wikipedia) as “…a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud””. As I’ve been fortunate enough to get to know more and more people in the SQL community over the last few years, I realize that many, if not most, speakers suffer from impostor syndrome. This is true for both first-time speakers and even speakers who would all consider “rockstars” in the community. I remember sitting in a speaker room at a SQL Saturday last year and hearing one of the presenters wonder aloud (as they left the room to give their session) “Is this the day these people figure out I have no idea what I’m talking about?”. I’ve certainly battled this and, while it’s gratifying to realize others struggle with this, that’s not necessarily particular helpful to keeping that “impostor” voice quiet!
When I received the email that I had been selected to speak at PASS Summit 2017 I was sitting with my kids as they finished some homework. They were initially quite alarmed when I screamed and ran down the hallway with my arms in the air. Once I came back to them and explained why I was so excited they looked at me with blank stares for a while until my son said “so people are actually going to pay to hear you talk?”. He was shocked! That was also when it really began to sink in for me what a big deal this was going to be.
While I am always incredibly gratified and humbled when I’m selected to speak at any event, my previous speaking experience has been confined to SQL Saturdays and user groups. Those are wonderful opportunities but, as I often joke at the beginning of my sessions, “you are guaranteed to get your money’s worth from me” because those events are free to attend. If I disappointed an attendee at one of those (and I’m sure I have), I haven’t cost them any money.
While people often describe Summit as a “massive SQL Saturday”, the fact that people were spending their own (or their company’s) hard-earned money to attend ratcheted up the pressure for me. That said, once the talk was complete and I had fielded questions (and some compliments) from the folks that attended, that pressure transformed into some measure of validation. The fact that people spent money to be there and that 60-70 of them took the time to attend and applaud my talk was validating and invigorating to me. Now, when that impostor syndrome voice on my head gets louder, I can remind it that I spoke at PASS Summit. And I hope do it again to keep that voice at bay!