To the coaches who struggle with the impostor syndrome

Photo by Liana Mikah on Unsplash

She was an illiterate woman, a serf, her hands calloused, her skin wrinkled and dry. Her hair was covered by a kerchief, common for the Russian serf women of the time, her service devoted to a wealthy family of aristocrats. She poured her life with its rich treasury of stories, legends, folk songs and short poems into the family’s children.

She’d always done it, it’s one of her chores: feed them, watch them, rock them to sleep. Quiet lullabies and sweet tales to send the children into slumber. But one child’s imagination would come alive, awake, aflame. These stories would one day make him famous.

One day he would become Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin — the father of the modern Russian language and literature. One day we would read his books to our children, sharing those special bed-time stories from 2 hundred years ago, as they were told by the old serf woman, Pushkin’s nanny, Arina Rodionovna.

The fact that a nineteenth century aristocrat in Russia was raised by an illiterate nanny wouldn’t surprise many.

However, I always found it fascinating that the very language he later polished, refined and willed to the Russian speakers as the “modern Russian,” with its rich folk legacy and storytelling tradition, was something he learned from the humble Arina Rodionovna, not from his refined, French-speaking parents.

So what was it about her that inspired, enthused and ignited the boy’s imagination? And how come that her “limited” knowledge was enough?

The first time I thought I was not enough.

I started my blog for online teachers at the end of 2014. Before that, my first online teaching business had fallen apart, most clients lost, stress and anxiety soured, passion waned. In my search for “what’s next,” I began answering people’s questions about online teaching.

I’d show up on LinkedIn forums and answer a few questions, then add comments, then write some more. I found meaning in being useful. Useful is what we want to feel when the world’s injustice declared us bankrupt and void.

This pursuit soon transformed into a blog of my own where I’d write long and detailed posts about finding clients, creating online courses, niching down, selling a product, teaching in different formats. The blog looked ugly; I used a free template and a default, black-and-brown palette.

But worse than the visual imperfections was my sense of inadequacy, as the little voice inside me kept yelling the not-enough obscenities,

I don’t know what kept me going. Perhaps I was writing for someone like me. Someone who was tired of stellar success stories and needed something smaller, more down-to-earth, more real, more doable. I was writing on the off-chance that I would connect with people like me, stressed, anxious, doubtful, fearful and yet a bit obnoxious to keep pushing through.

I brought my 5 loaves and 2 fish when everyone said it was not enough. When everyone doubted the small amount would feed anyone. But audacity + internet made the small contribution more than enough. Scarcity multiplied into abundance.

When “crazy enough” became my measuring stick.

The switch went off when the big black void which I addressed in my every post materialized in a form of another fellow teacher from across the world. His comment showed to me that what I was writing mattered to another human being, not just me.

Such a small victory, but enough to make me keep writing. Keep believing that there are others like this teacher, others who need to hear this, others who need to see my crazy enough.

How do the “not-enoughs” inspire art and creativity?

Fast forward a few grinding years (for the sake of brevity, not to downplay those testing times), and I look back and wonder what would have happened had I stopped half-way. If I had believed that I was a nobody with no credentials or proven “track record” of stellar business achievements?

These days I coach online teachers like myself several times a week, and this I believe is a huge miracle. All of them had found me through the Internet, through the humble-looking blog, through the workshops and webinars where mics didn’t work, and PowerPoint presentations would freeze. I still don’t have a business degree nor have I made six figures, but somehow, I was and am enough.

Of course the subject of the impostor syndrome comes up, as other teachers and coaches struggle with it daily. No matter how many self-help success-driven books you manage to read at 5 AM in the morning, after a brisk icy-cold shower, the self-doubt prevails.

So in response I choose to think of Arina Rodionovna, the 19th century “influencer” for A.S. Pushkin’s glorious career and legacy. Her simple language, unrefined and pure, was enough to inspire a young poet to create his masterpieces.

Why?

I believe there are 3 things:

  1. She did what she loved. She shared stories, sang songs, told tales. She brought her heart into the tedious work she did.
  2. She showed up. She didn’t have a choice actually, but each day as she did her small and seemingly insignificant tasks that were beneath the dignity of the wealthy aristocrats, she made her small and valuable contribution.
  3. She loved children. Pushkin’s poems to his Nanny breathe love and kindness, a response to all the warmth he soaked in from her as a child.

So next time you’re plagued by the impostor syndrome please ask yourself,

  • do I love teaching this or am I doing this for the money?
  • am I willing to show up, doing small and unnoticeable things that will eventually build up to something more solid?
  • do I care about the people I want to serve? Do I want to give them my very best?

If you have said “yes” to these 3 questions, please know that you are enough, and you don’t need to get “a bit more of this and that” to be more “legit.” People will stick with you when you love what you do, care about those whom you serve, and show up every day despite setbacks and disappointments.

Coach for online language teachers. Writer. New book: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B088Y47N39

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