Overcoming Imposter Syndrome at Conference

It’s that time again, conference time, in another bright and bustling city with incredible analysts and vizzers mulling about, buzzing around. There are zen masters, ambassadors, user group leaders, and so much more all bursting with skill and talent. Your heart is racing with them, this year to the beat of a big brass band. Until suddenly, your heart has a strangely familiar dip in it. “These people are AMAZING. So why am I here?”

This is the drooling sting of imposter syndrome here to douse your flames of excitement and energy. I am personally no stranger to its presumptive seat at the dinner table and just like clockwork, I find myself sitting across from it again at TC18. Many people come face to face with imposter syndrome at some point, especially folks who have traditionally been excluded from their own seat at the table such as femmes, people of colour, and people with disabilities. Even Adam Savage, last year’s myth busting guest speaker, shared that no matter how much recognition and celebrity status he achieves, that feeling of doubt never goes away.

I am noticing that what’s different this year though, is my brain seems to be armed with its own arsenal of tools to confront this unwelcome guest. I thought I would share them in the hopes that even though imposter syndrome will most likely linger for many people, we just might be able to keep it in the back seat of the auditorium.

1. Remember the turtle

When I was growing up, I remember the parable of the tortoise and the hare, the story of how a slow-moving tortoise manages to outwit its speedy opponent in a race by keeping its cool and moving at its own pace – “slow and steady wins the race.” When it comes to learning any new skill, I have found that keeping this story in mind can help soothe thoughts that I am not progressing fast enough, especially if I start comparing myself to people I have seen over the years at Tableau Conference.

Everyone moves at the their own pace and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. In fact, its quite possible that a slower pace allows you to pick up nuances that other people might be able to nail by running through a syllabus at the speed of light, but then might forget in a few weeks because they haven’t taken the time to properly digest. For example, I personally still struggle with Table Calculations, and it’s been 3 years since I’ve been a Tableau user! However, even people I have met at conference who seem to be super confident with table calculations can struggle with the simplest of Workout Wednesday challenges. Which brings me to my next tip:

2. No matter what your level, try beginner sessions

There are some amazing Jedi-level sessions at Tableau Conference. And as much as you might want to learn the Jedi-est, most complicated Tableau tricks, sometimes it can be refreshing to take a beginner session and learn a new perspective on something you thought you were pretty good at. Those tricky table calcs? Maybe someone has managed to come up with a funky metaphorical explanation that just clicks for you and you FINALLY get the hang of things. It can be a huge ego boost to realize that you can grasp the trickiest of concepts, and there is absolutely no shame in going to a beginner session to gain that perspective. On top of that, there are often beginner sessions that have nothing to do with technical skill, but instead focus on creativity and inspiration that can really add some fuel to your fire.

3. Don’t even attempt to do everything

Those amazing creativity-fueling sessions are EVERYWHERE during conference. Don’t even try to attend all of them because you will BURN YOURSELF OUT. You might even feel like even more of a failure because “what? I can’t even keep up with a schedule that’s right in front of me!” That schedule is a trap, many of the sessions fill up 15 minutes before they even start and you’ve jogged halfway across the convention centre only to be told there’s no more room available. Definitely have a few choices available, but don’t make all your selections with the assumption that you will be able to go to all of the sessions. Instead, use them as Plan B options with different locations so that if you find yourself stuck in front of an “at capacity” sign, you can go to a different session you’re interested in that might even be physically closer to you. Worst case scenario, you can take a break and browse the awesome booths at the Data Village. Or maybe even try out the new Braindates feature in the app! A break can give you the space to process what you picked up in the last session and possibly even share with others who didn’t have a chance to go to that at-capacity session.

4. Celebrate the accomplishments of others

As much as it can feel like a hit to the ego when you see someone who was a complete beginner last year now outshining everyone around them, remember what most likely went into that process of growth. That person has probably worked really hard to get to where they are now. Most of the time they have done it with a sense of wonder and dazzle that you yourself might have had the first time you used Tableau and found golden nuggets of insight that you had never conceived of before. Don’t let the green-eyed monster take hold of you and push you away from these people. Try to talk to them and ask them about their journey, you’d be surprised how infectious their excitement can be and how willing they are to share a bit of their light with you. Celebrate their accomplishments with them, and I am sure that in this community, they will be more than happy to celebrate your own successes when you are ready to achieve them.


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