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From Dread to Delight

From Dread to Delight

In this episode of the Impostor Syndrome Files, we dig into some of the childhood influences that lead to impostor syndrome, including messaging from our parents, educational systems, etc. My guest, Linda Ugelow, a speaking confidence coach, shares her personal experience with self-doubt and “comparisonitis” and how she’s learned to manage them. She also shares powerful insights and strategies to empower ourselves to stop hiding and be more visible.

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About My Guest

Linda Ugelow (YOU-guh-low) is a speaking confidence coach with a fresh approach to overcoming the fear of speaking. Formerly stricken with public speaking fear herself, she now helps entrepreneurs, business owners, and corporate leaders to transform their experience of speaking from dread to delight whether they speak on camera, on stage, in the media, or in the meeting room. She is the author of the book, Delight In The Limelight: Overcome Your Fear of Being Seen and Realize Your Dreams.


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Kim Meninger Welcome, Linda, I am really excited to talk to you today. And I’d love to start by inviting you to introduce yourself.

Linda Ugelow I am Linda Ugelow, I live in Massachusetts, and I am very passionate about helping people get to the other side of, of being comfortable or going from being afraid to put themselves out there, whether it’s speaking, or sending emails, or any way that you find in your work that you need to be more visible and, and put your ideas in front of other people that may be uncomfortable, and helping people to get to the other side. So I am a speaking confidence coach in the specific and the author of this book, Delight in the Limelight, helping people overcome their fear of being seen so they can realize their dreams.

Kim Meninger Wonderful. And I can’t wait to dive into more of the, the themes around that. I want to start by asking you just a couple of questions that I generally ask, which are, number one, what does impostor syndrome mean to you? And number two, how if at all hasn’t shown up in your life or in your work?

Linda Ugelow Sure, impostor syndrome to me, I mean, I can go in anyone can Google what the origin so I’m sure you’ve covered that in your, in past podcasts. What it means to me is feeling like I’m not good enough, that somehow if people knew that, who I really was, they would have a different image of me. So it’s like that feeling of being an impostor, feeling like a fraud. And in terms of where it’s shown up in my life, you know, it’s interesting, because I don’t know, I didn’t hear the word impostor syndrome until I don’t know in the last five years. So in the past, I wouldn’t have named it that. But I remember times when I was a dance teacher, and I was using this therapeutic process for people to get comfortable actually being seen, not heard, but seen. It was called authentic movement. And I remember going into a bathroom a public bathroom in Cambridge. And when I closed the stall, there was this beautiful flyer, these were the days of the flyers, putting up flyers, of someone I knew who was offering an authentic movement class like I do, and it was so beautifully written. And I burst into tears. I mean, this, you know, kind of overlaps with comparison-itis. But I was just thinking, I, I’m not good enough. And I don’t know, whatever I could do, to feel like I was good enough as a teacher and in my work. And more recently, I actually had a very deep impostor syndrome come up as a performer because I’ve been a performer for 40 years with a women’s world music group called Levana. And people would assume that uncomfortable singing, and I went through this period in the middle of that career, and that I feel like I’m still coming out of, where I felt like I, I was afraid to sing. I was afraid to sing in front of people and certain situations were okay. But when people would say, Oh, you know, of course, you’re a great singer. And I’m thinking now No, I’m really not. Or, of course, you’re comfortable. You’ll come in, you know, sing, help me lead this or do that. And I was thinking, no, no, don’t ask me. It was like I was petrified that people would, well, I don’t know if it was petrified, I was petrified of having to actually sing in front of like, intimate groups. But I felt extremely uncomfortable with the idea that people had a particular image of me, which I felt was not true.

Kim Meninger Do you see parallels between what you’re describing as your experience and what people come to you for?

Linda Ugelow Absolutely. And this was actually a surprise to tell you the truth. Because when I first started to help people overcome their fear of being seen and heard and the way I do this, I’ll just describe is it’s not about like, pushing it away or finding management techniques. Although those things are perfectly good, and they’re wonderful, but they’re not, they’re not long-lasting. I would, I’m particularly interested in helping people to find the root causes the experiences they had, the messages that they received that led them to believe it wasn’t safe. And then we work to resolve those things and heal them so that they’re no longer being triggered whenever people are wanting to stand up and speak or, or to share at a meeting, or to get on video as an entrepreneur and get in front of their audience, any of those things. So what surprised me was, I think it happened two years ago, someone came to me and she said, I feel like a complete impostor. I have impostor syndrome. And it was the first time that someone had actually used those words when they came to me. And I said, well, let’s, let’s investigate because that’s what we always do is we investigate, and what, what came out from her experience, which really kind of like, was a lightbulb moment for me was that she had two parents actually. But subsequently, I’ve seen this happen with even just one parent, where she felt that nothing she did would ever be enough. Nothing she did, would ever please them, that she was constantly trying to win their, their positive regard, win their love. And the way that she received it was whenever she got that A+, whenever she got that, you know, first place, she had to be exceptional, in order to get any kind of feeling of, okay, my parents love me, I belong. And, unfortunately, even though she would get it in those moments in between, she got a very different thing where they would put her down, they would say, why did God punish us with you? You know, why can’t you be like this? Why can’t you be like that? You are so…It was constant, like, cutting away at her, her sense of self and her, you know, being like she was okay. And I just have to say that she’s a beautiful woman, you know, classically beautiful. So it’s kind of like, wow, I can’t believe that someone would be so, so mean and injurious to her. But, you know, it’s not about blaming, because as we, she and I came to understand, and which I believe very deeply is that people who are injured, often pass that on because they don’t have the self-awareness, they didn’t have the resources to have that self-awareness in order to do it differently. So she recognized that her parents also got this from their parents. And unfortunately, and it was cultural as well. But I have since come to see that everyone who, who has that sense that comes to me with this idea of I feel like a fraud. I feel like an impostor. If I asked them, was there someone that you tried to please, that you couldn’t? They all said? Yes. And so I’m really curious, Kim, does this match up for what you’ve heard? What you’ve experienced?

Kim Meninger Yes, absolutely. It’s, you’re hitting on one of the most powerful triggers or underlying influences of impostor syndrome. And it’s that early childhood relationship with a primary caregiver, could be, like you said, one parent, both parents. And usually, it’s interesting, it could be one of two key scenarios. Number one is the parent that’s overly effusive in their praise. So the parent who says you’re a genius, you can do no wrong, they basically over-inflate their child’s ego, for lack of a better term, and then the child goes out into the world and starts to get more nuanced feedback from other people that are influencers, like coaches or teachers. And they don’t know how to reconcile that because they trust their parents, they don’t know who to trust and, and it becomes this seed of self-doubt. And they might find that they’re so eager to please their parents who have told them you’re so smart and so wonderful that they don’t want to put themselves into positions where they’re not going to be able to achieve that outcome because they’re afraid they’re going to disappoint the parent. And then on the opposite end of the spectrum, is what you’re describing, which is that critical parent and you know, maybe it’s a parent who actively criticizes or is really, has really high expectations of their child, or it’s somebody who doesn’t give enough feedback and the child just always feels like nothing I do is good enough and they’re constantly trying to please a parent. And that creates that sense of self-doubt.

Linda Ugelow Hmm, yeah. Yeah, that’s so interesting that you, what you said about the overinflation piece I’m going to, I’m going to ponder on that one. Because I, I, I have seen, I have seen that, but it’s not come to me. I’ve seen that in other people. And, but that’s not been in people who have come to me for work, so I’m gonna have to investigate that. I’m gonna, yeah, thank you so much. I’m thrilled by that, actually. Because I’m always looking to see how I can, you know, deepen my understanding, so I can help people better and what they’re struggling with.

Kim Meninger Yeah, frankly, that’s my story. So I didn’t grow up with critical parents, I grew up with a mom, who was overly you know, just everything I did was perfect. And it was such high pressure. And it gave me the impression that anytime I tried something new, or did something new that I should be perfect. And when I wasn’t, and I never felt good enough. And, you know, so I’d quit early, I would take a, you know, take a new class, and it didn’t come naturally to me, obviously, because I was there for the first time. And then I would say, well, obviously, I just can’t do this. And I would, as opposed to recognizing there’s a lot of effort involved, a lot of practice involved in mastering something new.

Linda Ugelow Yes, yes. In fact, I think I there was an article some years ago about this situation where, where kids who were told that they, you know, we’re fantastic, got the impression that it should come easy. And that when everything got, seemed difficult, that they didn’t have the, the stamina, for enduring, being a beginner and going through all the things that you have to do as a beginner, which is that you suck. You know,

Kim Meninger My husband has helped me with that because he is, you know, he’ll, he’ll say this in a loving way. But he’ll say, how, essentially, this is my interpretation, like how narcissistic of you to assume that you would be perfect at something that you’ve never done before? Yeah, I started taking piano lessons when I was pregnant with my older son. And I thought, well, I can type. So obviously, I’ll be really good at playing the piano. And it was so hard. And he’s like, why would you think that would come easily to you? There are people who spend their whole lives mastering this, and it made me realize, like, you know what, you’re right. It isn’t a realistic expectation, and it doesn’t mean that I’m not capable of it. I just have to reset expectations around what, what’s realistic.

Linda Ugelow Yeah, yeah, you know, I see a similar kind of thing with education. So a lot of people who have gotten, you know, really good grades in school, then they will, they’ll think that because in school, you know, you can figure out what the teacher wants. And you do what you do in order to, it’s kind of like the strategy game that you go through that you give the teacher what they want, and you get the grade. But in real life, there are too many people, there are too many people to please. And so a lot of people will, as just as you describe, will not put themselves into positions where they feel they can’t control that they will be at the top or they’ll be perfect. Because they, because they’ve come to identify themselves as I’m a great student, I’m always at the top and if I can’t be at the top, I don’t want to be there at all.

Kim Meninger Yes, yes. And that’s reminding me of I’ve heard you say this before, which I’ve so appreciated and have taken with me is this idea of school, really valuing perfection because you’re graded based on your performance against a scale that goes up to let’s say, 100 right and you get the, the best score is the more perfect you are and so I hadn’t thought about it that way before but that conditioning, right, that we spend so much of our lives in school trying to be perfect according to the standards of the system.

Linda Ugelow That’s right and not making mistakes, we get graded on making the fewest mistakes which you know, you kind of buy into as well that’s a good thing, but is it really a good thing because like in business, let’s say and research and was the R&R. What does that stand for R&D, research and development? Yeah, research and development, they actually build in time for, for making mistakes, you can’t know what you want until you also see what doesn’t work. So there is a very different mindset around, like experimentation, you have to try things out and see how they go. And that there are no real mistakes. It’s only, it’s only data. It’s like, I’m going to try this. And let’s see what happens. I’m going to try that. And let’s see what happens. But if you’re, if you’re feeling like it’s not okay, if it doesn’t work out, then then we’re suffering so needlessly, because really, life is so much about experimentation. And that’s not what they’re teaching in school. What they’re teaching in school is that I mean, they give lip service, I believe, but you’re always after the right answer.

Kim Meninger That’s right. Yes, you’re exactly right. And I think I love the idea of treating everything as a science experiment, or an experiment of some sort, right? You’re collecting data, but we get so emotionally attached to the outcome, and it becomes so intertwined with our identities that it feels too unsafe to take risks.

Linda Ugelow Right? And unfortunately, then we feel like so much of life is not safe, right? Yeah. And that’s, and so we carry around this anxiety with us, and people go into their workplaces with so much anxiety, worried about all these things, as opposed to, here I am. Tell me what I can, how I can help. Mm-hmm. How to be helpful, but being comfortable with the idea of, I’m here to serve, I’m here to help out, I’m part of the team, as opposed to, Am I good enough? What do people think of me? You know, this, the whole, you know, amygdala fear center being activated and on alert all the time. I think that we get that from school people, kids, they’re stressed out all the time. And I think people in their work lives get stressed out for the same reasons. Yes. Yeah.

Kim Meninger You mentioned you said comparison-itis, which I love. Do you have thoughts on what we do about that? Because it is so deeply ingrained in us or conditioned within us?

Linda Ugelow I’m so glad you asked that. Because yes, I do. I struggle this, with this so deeply. In fact, I felt that it was one of the major reasons why I quit teaching dance because I could not tolerate feeling so badly about people who I, who are my colleagues. I couldn’t stand this feeling of feeling so negatively. And I thought I don’t want to bring that negativity into the work that I do. And then when I became an online coach, I started to feel it come up again, even though it was like 20 years later, and I did a lot of research on it. And I found a personal way of dealing with it. And this is what it is. When I look at somebody who I feel, I start to feel like a little jealousy of, I’ll stop. And I think one of your other guests said this, they love the word curious. I do too. I let myself be curious, okay, what is it about what they have or what they’re doing, that I desire. And then I will list those things. And I’ll say either is this, I’ll make sure as I go down the list, is this something I really want for myself? And if it is, let me celebrate that desire. Because we’re taught, I also think that we’re taught that desire is somehow bad, that we shouldn’t have desire, but desire actually is this deep longing and motivation that we have to create and I think that we need to honor it and celebrate it and it’s very tied in with this comparison-it is. I think that other people when we see other people doing things that we also want, it triggers that desire and what we need to do is separate out the pieces that we don’t want and keep the, recognize the pieces that we do want and also say this is what I’m going to go after because it’s one thing to just like oh my god, I don’t know what to do about this. I’m just gonna like wallow in my bad feelings as opposed to this is something I really want. And if that’s something I really want, I’m going to keep that front of mind. And I’m going to go after that, I may not know what the next step is, but I’m going to take us, I’m going to head in that direction. And as we’re active, I feel like that the, we feel like we can honor where we are on our personal journey, we stay in our lane, and we allow other people to be in theirs.

Kim Meninger I really like that for so many reasons, I think that it, it is. Not toxic, may be too strong a word, but there’s so much negative energy that comes with comparing ourselves to other people and feeling like we don’t measure up and then there’s all kinds of bitterness, or jealousy, or whatever, like you were describing. But I also love this idea of when that comes up, using it as a moment to really reflect and ask yourself, huh, what does this say about what I want? And to with more consciousness from that, well, what? What does that need to look like? Then rather, what are what can I be doing differently? Or more of, etc, to put myself on that path?

Linda Ugelow Yeah, yep. I and I, so I do think it’s an opportunity. And unfortunately, we start when we get into that feeling, it kind of takes us over. Whereas we could use that feeling as a signal, oh, here’s my opportunity to understand more of what I want. And actually to tell you the truth that happened. I’m so glad you’re saying this. Because there, I don’t even remember who it was. But in the last few days, this happened to me where I had a, a trigger of jealousy. I don’t even know the person. But there was something about it that that triggered in me. And because of my life circumstances, I did gloss over it. But now I’m going to go back. And I’m going to do what I just said to do. Because I know, I know that I will, I’ll benefit from that.

Kim Meninger Hmm, that’s great. Yeah, I think one of the things I’ve been trying to do with, or to at least give us a message to my children, as opposed to, you know, the you’re wonderful, or you’re perfect kind of messaging that didn’t work for me is to say to them, you don’t have to be the best, but I want you to do your best. And I always tell them, there will always be people who are better at something and they’re all you’re always going to be better than, than some people. But what I want you to feel at the end of anything that you do is like you gave it your, your best, right? So sometimes if I feel like they’ve slacked off or didn’t do it, as well as they could have also does that feel like your best? Right? And so one of the things that I’m realizing, as you and I are talking is that I could probably do that with myself a little better.

Linda Ugelow I know. And the other thing can is, you know, do we always have to do our best? That’s the other question.

Kim Meninger That’s true, too. And what does your best mean in any given situation? Because I think sometimes the, when those perfectionistic tendencies come out, we need to recognize you know good enough is good enough.

Linda Ugelow Mm-hmm. Yes, and that we’re not going to be at our best at everything. We do need to prioritize because we have the capacity that we have at different times in our life. Sometimes we have greater capacity, and sometimes we have less.

Kim Meninger That’s right. Yeah, I think it does all boil down to this idea of not beating ourselves up over every, everything that we feel we don’t do well enough or constantly comparing ourselves to other people. There’s just so many messages that we’ve internalized that are not productive or helpful.

Linda Ugelow Yeah, yeah, that reminds me of something that I love to do at night, which is I love to state five things to myself that I’m proud of from the day. So these could be big things or little things. It could even be like I made a good meal for myself or I sent out that email or I reached out to this person. And then the same thing with what I forgive myself for, forgiving myself for things that I didn’t get to things I didn’t do as well as I had hoped to. And in this way, kind of honoring where I am, you know the things that I want to elevate and savor as well as the things that I want to release and let go of.

Kim Meninger That is so powerful. I love that and I love that too because I’m always encouraging women in particular to spend more time actively reflecting on what has gone well because I think so often we’re either tuning into the negative or we’re breezing past the positive. And so by the time we get to, you know, the next stop, whatever that is, it feels almost like a fluke, right? It feels like how did I get here because I haven’t stopped and appreciated all of those moments along the way that have led me here, all of the choices that I made, or the risks that I took, or the ways in which I’ve used my strengths. And so that kind of a system that you’re describing is so powerful because it balances out, What did I do? Well, and not, you know, what didn’t go well. But what do I forgive myself for? Which is a really great way of framing that.

Linda Ugelow Yeah, I like, I always am looking for ways to feel better. I always think if I have a choice of feeling bad about something or feeling okay, about something, which would I choose? So yes.

Kim Meninger That’s a great habit to get into. Is there anything else that you think has come up in the conversations that you have with the people that come to you or anything else that feels important to you in this conversation that we didn’t get to yet?

Linda Ugelow I would say I would encourage people to, to look at you know, we got into this a little bit at the beginning, to look at what are the messages that you received, what are the experiences that you had earlier on that may have led you to believe that it wasn’t okay for you to be as you are, that either pressured you to perform before you felt ready or that diminished or, or ridiculed or shamed or hurt you in some way, and honor those for it needing still some, some healing or resolution so that you can feel like you’re not carrying them on in perpetuity, but you are allowing those parts of yourself to get some attention so that you can kind of put them away. And of course, they’re still part of your story, but they’re no longer dictating or driving your, your choices. Because of how things were, that doesn’t mean that’s how you need to be going forward. But you won’t be able to really feel free moving forward without addressing those things in the past, in my opinion.

Kim Meninger I agree with you completely. I think that’s such a great recommendation to everybody. And I’m assuming, although you can correct me if I’m wrong, that you go into some of this in your book. Can you remind us what the name of the book is?

Linda Ugelow Yes, the book is Delight in the Limelight, overcome your fear of being seen and realize your dreams. And I do go over all of these things, how to discover what those experiences and messages were, and how to resolve them and clear them away. I also spent three chapters on transforming your inner critic and healing your self-image because that’s something that we all have been injured by in our society I believe, as well as kind of replacing the repatterning the habits that we have because we become who we are because of the experiences we’ve had. And so how do we then, once we clear the past, how do we move forward and create the kind of habits of confidence and, and ease and relaxation and dynamics was like the dynamism?

Kim Meninger Yeah, it sounds funny, but I think it is, yeah, that it was.

Linda Ugelow Just, how to free our self-expression, as well as how to prepare, whether you’re speaking spontaneously, or you are memorizing for one of the places where you are wanting to speak up.

Kim Meninger I think that sounds like an amazing resource, Linda, and I’m gonna put the link in the chat and more information about you too. So anybody who’s interested can follow up. And thank you so much for having this conversation with me. I feel like I can talk to you all day. I know you and I’ve had these kinds of conversations in the past and I always learn from you, you’re very inspiring, and I’m just grateful that you’re here.

Linda Ugelow Well, I feel likewise about you Kim. Thank you so much.

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