Episode 024: Gabby Pascuzzi–Vulnerability and Leaning In

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Gabby Pascuzzi headshot

Episode 024: Gabby Pascuzzi–Vulnerability and Leaning In

Category:introversion,Introverted Leadership,introverts,Leadership,Podcast,STC,Summit

Episode 024 Show Notes: Gabby Pascuzzi

Introduction

Gabby Pascuzzi and Ben Woelk talk about the importance of vulnerability and openness in the workplace, empathy, and leaning into weakness.

Gabby Pascuzzi headshot

Key concepts

  • Remote work can be challenging because so much of communication is non verbal.
  • Vulnerability and openness can be a strength
  • When you lean into a perceived weakness you may find it’s really a strength
  • Leaning into a weakness can help you improve that area
  • Empathy is a key leadership trait
  • No one started off as an expert and you do yourself a disservice if you write yourself off and say, “I can’t do that.”

Quotable

On remote work–The nuances and so much of communication is nonverbal, that you really have to work hard to make sure that you’re not misconstruing something that somebody said…making sure that your tone is appropriate and thoughtful. @gabbypascuzzi

On authenticity–at the end of the day, even if we’re writing alone, we still need our teammates. And one way to build a stronger team is to let them see who you are. @gabbypascuzzi

Being comfortable with my emotions is tied to one of my biggest strengths, which is being vulnerable and being authentic and just being really present, bringing my whole self to work. @gabbypascuzzi

Empathy helps you put yourself in other people’s shoes so that you are able to do more of this servant leadership style where you’re serving the people under you. @GabbyPascuzzi

Leaning into weaknesses, meaning things that you are not very naturally skilled at. We get so obsessed with “What is your strength?” @GabbyPascuzzi

Nobody started out as an expert and you really do yourself a disservice if you write yourself off, and say, “Nope, I can’t do that. That’s a weakness,” because you don’t know if you may have more skill then you thought or you’re able to improve. @GabbyPascuzzi

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben: Joining us today is Gabby Pascuzzi. Gabby is a technical writer at Tenable, a cybersecurity company. She also competed on the 37th season of Survivor: David versus Goliath. I met Gabby at the 2019 STC Summit Conference in Denver where Gabby was our keynote speaker for our Honors event. Gabby shared her experience as a contestant on Survivor: David versus Goliath. Her presentation was well received and one of the hits of the conference. You can follow Gabby on Twitter @GabbyPascuzzi. I encourage our listeners to visit HopefortheIntrovert.com where you’ll find complete show notes including a transcript of today’s conversation.

Ben: Hi Gabby!

Gabby: Hi Ben.

Ben: I’m excited that you’ve agreed to join us today. I’m very much looking forward to chatting with you. I’m sure we will chat about Survivor, but I’d like to talk a little bit about your career in general, and we’re going to talk about weaknesses and strengths and how those should maybe be handled in life and in the workplace. So you work at Tenable, I’m in Cybersecurity, so I’m actually familiar with Tenable, but can you tell us a little bit about what you do for them and what your workplace is like?

Gabby: Yeah, so I have been a technical writer at Tenable for a year and a half now. And I write mostly user documentation, our user guides for a couple of different products. One is Nessus, which is a vulnerability scanner. Another is Tenable IO, which is our platform. And yeah, a lot of user guide content which is pretty, pretty fast. We are always coming out with new features. So we do work in an agile environment.

Gabby: I have only been a technical writer for–this is my fourth year, so this is pretty early in my career and I’ve found that it’s been really challenging, but really interesting. And another challenge that has come with working for Tenable, which is one of the things I love as well, is it’s largely a remote company. So a lot of the employees are remote. The headquarters is in Maryland, but I live in Virginia and we do a lot of our coordinating and communicating through Slack and through Zoom calls, and we have people not only in this area, but also spread across the country and sometimes in different countries. We have some people in Ireland, some people out of India, so it’s a very global company, which makes for an interesting workplace at times. But yeah, very fast moving and I’m excited to be working for them.

Ben: What led you into technical writing as a career?

Gabby: I had no idea that technical writing existed until right before I graduated from college. I went to school at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and I majored in Linguistics, and then I added a second major, which was in the English Department called Professional Writing, which is–I always laugh because what’s the opposite of that? Like unprofessional writing? But, they had a few technical writing classes and I had always been pretty technically minded. I always did well in science and I had taken an introductory computer science course at CMU, which is a school that’s kind of known for that.

Gabby: I found that the technical writing classes really merged my skills in writing, which I had always been interested in English and writing, but I had never been particularly creative. I was always more on the technical side. So that’s when I discovered that technical writing existed and allowed me to really combine those two skills.

Ben: Yeah, it’s interesting. I took linguistics classes in college also, though I actually did an anthropology undergraduate, which I’m certainly not doing that now, but I found the linguistic stuff absolutely fascinating–just how much it could inform a culture and tell you about a culture, but also in some ways determine how a culture acted in some ways. So it was always a really, really interesting field. I didn’t go there, but it’s definitely an interesting field. So do you work as part of a team at Tenable? How often do you see each other?

Gabby: Yeah, so I am part of our technical writing team and there are 10 of us and we have a manager that’s just our manager for the technical writers, but each one of us focuses on a different product. And so then we’re also integrated onto those development teams. I’m pretty well connected to the developers for the products I write about as well as the product managers. And as you know, with all of us tech writers we’re always talking to everybody. So you get to know a lot of people, even though I’m not seeing them all face to face all the time, and my team gets together at least once a quarter, which I feel like is important for us to have that bonding time and remember that each other are people, not just our little screens. We Zoom call a lot so we make sure to do video calls. So we do see each other face to face, which I feel like is important in a remote context, because you don’t want to just always be communicating via Slack message or email and then you really–you don’t even know what the other person looks like or sounds like and you lose some of that personal touch.

Ben: Yeah. It’s interesting because at the Summit conference where I met you there was one woman I had been mentoring for the last three years, and we’d never seen each other face to face. We’d seen each other on our screens through Slack calls or whatever. But it was so funny. It’s, “Oh, you’re really tall,” and all that sort of thing, which you obviously can’t tell that when you’re just talking virtually, but I agree. I think that face-to-face connection makes such a dramatic difference in terms of–well you catch nuances that you wouldn’t catch otherwise and just getting to know each other a little bit better.

Gabby: Yeah, definitely. I mean, working for a remote company definitely has its pros and cons and a pro is that you really have awesome team members that are not limited by geographic location. Right. We have some brilliant people that they happen to live a state over so they can’t come into headquarters, so it’s great in that way. But yeah, there are drawbacks, which is that you don’t have those face to face. I agree with what you said, the nuances and so much of communication is nonverbal, that you really have to work hard to make sure that you’re not misconstruing something that somebody said as well as you have to make sure your intentions are clear when you’re just chatting over Slack, making sure that your tone is appropriate and thoughtful. And that is, that’s relevant to us as writers, you know, because we care about our tone, but definitely something to keep in mind.

On remote work--The nuances and so much of communication is nonverbal, that you really have to work hard to make sure that you're not misconstruing something that somebody said. @gabbypascuzzi Click To Tweet

Ben: Yeah, definitely. So I have a question. For our listeners, one of the things that we do, is our guests fill out a questionnaire and they describe themselves in the questionnaire. And Gabby described herself as an awkward extrovert, which is interesting. And I was curious, what do you mean by that and how does that play out?

Gabby: Yeah. So when you asked me to be a part of your podcast, the first thing I said to you was, “You know, I’m not really an introvert. I am actually an extrovert”, but I can relate to introverts because I can be awkward and I can be shy at times. And not to call introverts awkward and shy [laughing], but I feel like a lot of introverts might describe themselves that way. So to me it means that I am extroverted. I really get my energy from being around people, talking to people. That’s how I recharge. I’m very outgoing, but there are definitely times where I find it hard to reach out, especially if it’s someone that I don’t know very well. And so there’s definitely a little bit of a hump for me to get to that extroverted part of myself.

Gabby: Being an awkward extrovert is also sometimes challenging in my remote workplace because, for all of us as technical writers, we have to initiate a lot of conversations because we need to ask somebody for information. We need to ask for clarity; we need to ask for reviews. So it’s hard because a lot of technical writers are introverted or are a little awkward, when really we need to be very bold and not shy. And that can be really hard for a lot of us. It’s hard for me and it’s something that I’ve definitely had to work at, just being confident that, okay, I’ve got to get an answer so I’ve got to reach out and you really can’t be too shy about it.

Ben: Okay, awesome. So what do you see as your main weaknesses and strengths?

Gabby: I think my weaknesses and strengths are very linked and I feel like that’s true for a lot of us. So when I think about my weaknesses, I think about things that affect me. Sometimes I can be a little disorganized. Sometimes I have a hundred ideas at once. I like to multitask. And that can be challenging. Things that other people have said are weaknesses of mine, and this actually for me, it came out in the context of Survivor, which I’m sure we’ll talk more about later, is that I am a person that definitely wears her emotions on her sleeve. [laughing] So I think that some people might view that as a weakness because you’re in a workplace, you’re in a professional place, and it’s not to say I’m having emotional breakdowns in the middle of the workday, but I’m pretty open with my emotions, and some people might take issue with that, and I think it ties in perfectly to what is my strength.

Gabby: And I actually feel that being comfortable with my emotions is tied to one of my biggest strengths, which is being vulnerable and being authentic and just being really present, bringing my whole self to work. I don’t feel like I bring a fake version of myself to work. And, what that means to me is that I’m able to show up and connect with my peers, my coworkers, and not just be a robot behind a screen. Especially, like I said, especially if we’re just talking over Slack, somebody that’s just asking for this, asking for that, let’s get the job done with no sense of personability. Is personability a word? [laughing].

Being comfortable with my emotions is tied to one of my biggest strengths, which is being vulnerable and being authentic and just being really present, bringing my whole self to work. @gabbypascuzzi Click To Tweet

Ben: Sure. We’ll go with it.

Gabby: The thing is, as writers and as linguists, we can just make up words. But yeah, if you’re not bringing your authentic self to work, I feel like you’re missing out on an opportunity to build those connections with your peers.

Gabby: And at the end of the day, even if we’re writing alone, we still need our teammates. And one way to build a stronger team is to let them see who you are. And that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t still be boundaries and that there aren’t things that are appropriate and not appropriate to talk about or to show at work. But when you’re able to be–have a little fun and tell people when you are really excited about something or tell your teammates, “I’m really frustrated about this, can I vent to you for a second?” And maybe you’ll find out that they’ve been experiencing the same issues too. And what can you guys do about it? Maybe you can trouble–you can brainstorm how to fix this issue. Maybe it’s a culture issue that you guys are going to bring up in your next team meeting, but that really isn’t possible unless you are open and show up every day. So that was a long answer to your question.

On authenticity--at the end of the day, even if we're writing alone, we still need our teammates. And one way to build a stronger team is to let them see who you are. @gabbypascuzzi Click To Tweet

Ben: No, but it’s very interesting issue because I think for most of us in the workplace, the idea is that–maybe the idea is that you squashed down your emotions and you do your work and then you some ways you are not yourself in the workplace. There was–actually part of the Next Big Idea Club, which is a book club, which I don’t read nearly as many of them as I should, but one of their recent offerings is called No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work. And that’s by Liz Fosslien and Mollie West Duffy‎. And that one gets very much into really being, I think completely at the workplace and recognizing that you need to be able to share your emotions. And I think that’s in some ways it’s a corrective, I think to a lot of the business type writing that’s been out there in terms of what are we supposed to be like in the workplace. We’re supposed to be very just not emotional or just always focusing on work. So I think it’s a really interesting discussion and an interesting thing for a lot of people.

Gabby: Yeah, definitely. That book sounds really interesting. I am going to have to take note of that and read that. It’s something that I’ve thought a lot about. Can we have emotions at work that are appropriate and be more authentic? Rather than squashing them down because everybody knows what happens when you squash down emotions. They are going to bubble up. And I don’t think people at your workplace would like that very much either, if suddenly there was an explosion of emotions that you had been letting pent up, because you weren’t comfortable talking through anything that came up. And I think with emotions and with emotional intelligence also comes empathy. And empathy is very important for interpersonal skills in the workplace, especially if we’re talking about leadership skills. Empathy is one that I feel you must have as a leader; it helps you understand if you have people below you, it helps you relate to them. It helps you put yourself in other people’s shoes so that you are able to do more of this servant leadership style where you’re serving the people under you.

Can we have emotions at work that are appropriate and be more authentic? Because everybody knows what happens when you squash down emotions. They are going to bubble up. @gabbypascuzzi Click To Tweet

Empathy is very important for interpersonal skills in the workplace, especially if we're talking about leadership skills. @gabbypascuzzi Click To Tweet

Empathy helps you put yourself in other people's shoes so that you are able to do more of this servant leadership style where you're serving the people under you. @GabbyPascuzzi Click To Tweet

Gabby: And I know for me, I’m not in a real leadership position in my team. I’m a technical writer. I’m on the same level as a lot of my peers. But for example, in a group discussion, so once every two weeks we have a group meeting where we revisit our style guide and we make decisions on outstanding items where we haven’t come up with a standard for our style, or we revisit past decisions if they’re not working for us. And it’s definitely a group conversation. And I think when you are empathetic, for example, in that situation, you’re able to understand everybody’s viewpoints and listen to each person fairly and not be biased and not take things personally if somebody’s opinion doesn’t agree with yours. So in that kind of situation, empathy really is key.

Ben: And I think that gets back to our comments early on about nonverbal communication. And I’ve just seen too many times somebody gets an email and they read it–I’m assuming they misread it in terms of the emotion or the intent that was behind it. But having that ability to see each other face to face and catch those nuances is critical as well.

Gabby: Definitely. Yeah. So many times things can get misconstrued. And I think if we all just try to remember that most people are coming from a good place and things usually are not personal in the workplace, then hopefully we can avoid some of that. And that also comes with lowering your guard a little bit and not being so on defense. Right? If you’re always playing defense, then you’re possibly going to take things as a personal attack, when really it may have just been somebody posing an alternative and it’s nothing personal against you. And the more empathetic you are able to be, the more open minded and emotionally intelligent that you are, the easier it will be for you to listen to feedback like that and not take it super personally.

The more empathetic, the more open minded and emotionally intelligent that you are, the easier it will be for you to listen to feedback and not take it super personally. @GabbyPascuzzi Click To Tweet

Ben: Yeah, and I think it’s hard. For instance, if I have an idea of doing something in a different way and I’m very, very invested in it and I’m very, very passionate about it, but then it’s not received well, it’s very hard for that not to feel like there’s a personal element there. Mainly because I’ve probably invested too personally in whatever the idea was.

Gabby: I’m definitely guilty of that. Yeah. I’ve seen it go that direction as well. And it’s really hard sometimes to not feel attached to your work because we do care about it so much. And you know that that happens to me even with things as simple as I send things for a peer review and they didn’t like the word I chose. And I’m like, “What do you mean? I really thought about that word.” Because you really have to remind yourself sometimes it’s not personal. If you’re on a team, you’re working together to create the best outcome and there are always going to be differences of opinion.

Ben: Yeah. It’s funny because you’re gonna get that. But that was, what do they, what are they saying about me if they don’t like my word, you know? Yeah. It’s funny. Don’t they appreciate me?

Gabby: Yeah, definitely.

Ben: Gabby, one thing that you had mentioned to me before we started recording today, was this idea of leaning into weakness. And when we had talked about leaning in, you said it wasn’t necessarily in the sense of the book for women in the workplace called Leaning In. Can you expand on that a little bit? What do you mean by leaning in and especially in the leaning into your weaknesses?

Gabby: Yeah, I am very big on this idea of leaning into either what you perceive to be your own weaknesses or what others perceive to be your weaknesses. When I think about the idea of leaning into your weaknesses, I see two halves to this. One is the idea that what people may see as a weakness is not really a weakness. So by leaning into it, you’re really highlighting a strength of yours. So for example, like I mentioned before, as a person myself who is very in tune with her emotions, some people may see that as a weakness. I see it as a strength. So if I know that I can’t really help but be emotional, let me think about how I can use that as a positive influence in the workplace.

Leaning in is the idea that what people may see as a weakness is not really a weakness. So by leaning into it, you're really highlighting a strength of yours. @GabbyPascuzzi Click To Tweet

Gabby: So can I use it to connect with a coworker that is having a bad day? And I’m able to empathize with them and we’re able to talk and, and I help then refocus is, is it possible for me to use my emotions, my emotional intelligence to have a tough conversation with a manager about a culture problem that I see that needs to be addressed that I noticed because I’m in tune with my emotions. So I think when you lean into something that is supposedly a weakness, it actually might highlight it as a strength.

Gabby: The other half of it is leaning into weaknesses, meaning things that you are not very naturally skilled at. So I really feel like sometimes we get so obsessed with “What is your strength?,” “What are your strengths, what are your strengths? “And that’s great. We should also be doing jobs that highlight our strengths. However, you don’t want to become so scared of leaving your comfort zone that you never try anything new. For example, if I am scared of public speaking and I consider that a weakness of mine, what if you really tried to lean into that and signed up for a toastmasters club or went to a public speaking class or volunteered to lead the next meeting that your team was having? If you really try to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and do things that make you uncomfortable, I wonder if you might discover that it’s not as big of a weakness as you may have thought.

Click To Tweet

If you really try to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and do things that make you uncomfortable, I wonder if you might discover that it's not as big of a weakness as you may have thought. @GabbyPascuzzi Click To Tweet

Ben: Well, I think you also have the perception when looking at someone who’s been speaking for a while, that they’ve always been a good speaker. And I think realizing that it is a process. And it’s a learning process and that goes from everything from initial podcasts as opposed to 20 episodes in, to being willing to speak in front of a team meeting to maybe addressing several hundred people like you did at the STC Honors Event. I think what happens is I think you get more comfortable with it the more often that you do it in that example and I think the leaning into that weakness or knowing it’s something that you want to maybe turn into a strength. I think makes a lot of sense.

Gabby: Yeah, I definitely agree. We really have to remember that not everybody–actually, nobody started out as an expert and you really are just doing yourself a disservice if you write yourself off, and say, “Nope, I can’t do that. That’s a weakness. I don’t do that. I’ve never done that. And I never will do that,” because you don’t know if you may have more of a skill there then you thought or just that you’re able to improve from where you were at one point.

Click To Tweet

Ben: Well that’s awesome. I think there’s some very good things here. And Gabby, I’d like to thank you for being on the podcast and I’m looking forward to our next time together and we will, I promise our listeners, we will talk about Survivor.

Extras

Survivor Profile

Gabby Pascuzzi on Survivor


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microphone

Ben Woelk Speaking Schedule–Fall 2019

Category:Schedule,Security Awareness,STC

Fall 2019 Speaking Schedule

Here’s my virtual and in-person schedule for Fall 2019. I hope to see many of you. Check back for updates.

Don’t forget to listen to the Hope for the Introvert podcast!

 

Schedule

Date Event Topic Format More information
2 October Rochester Security Summit We’re All Winners: Gamification and Security Awareness Presentation  Rochester, NY
4 October 2019 NYSERNet Conference The Introvert in the Workplace: Strategies for Success Presentation Syracuse, NY
26-27 October CPTC Exam Prep Class at RIT Certified Professional Technical Communicator Exam Prep Class Training Class Rochester Institute of Technology
7 November PMI Rochester Introverts and Leadership Presentation Location TBA
4 December STC Chicago Webinar Topic to be announced Presentation Webinar

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Tara Hughes head shot

Episode 023: Tara Hughes–Impostor Syndrome

Category:EDUCAUSE,introversion,Introverted Leadership,Leadership,Podcast

Episode 023 Show Notes: Tara Hughes

Introduction

Tara Hughes head shot

Tara Hughes and Ben Woelk talk about impostor syndrome. and her presentation at the 2019 EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference.

Key concepts

  • A presentation can be a self improvement project
  • Being vulnerable as a presenter can help the audience connect with you
  • Even experts can struggle with impostor syndrome
  • When there’s not a model and you’re doing research and going with your gut, you may be prone to Impostor Syndrome
  • Mentors can help assure you that you’re not an impostor.

Quotable

That willingness to be authentic and vulnerable is such a key part of having people walk along the journey with you and being willing to talk, being willing to hear about your journey. @benwoelk

Impostor Syndrome-for those of us who are so committed and care so deeply about the work that we do, that has I think an extra level of importance to be seen as legitimate. @TinyTara

If you suffer from impostor syndrome, you’re likely not going to be talking about it because you’re afraid that people will find out that you’re an impostor. @TinyTara

We think an expert has no gap in knowledge or experience. And there’s no way that you could know possibly know all of the things there are to know in information security because it’s rapidly changing. @TinyTara

Even if we don’t think we’re an expert, we may be the best person to in a sense stand in that gap and fill that role for a while. @benwoelk

Reframing your thoughts and your perspective is crucial to recognizing Impostor Syndrome. @TnyTara

Having diverse teams and diverse skills should help us feel like we belong and not feel like an impostor. @TinyTara

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben:  Joining us today is Tara Hughes. Tara is interim manager of administrative services at California State University Channel Islands. I met Tara at the 2019 EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference in Chicago where Tara spoke on, “You’re All a Bunch of Phonies: Impostor Syndrome and Information Security. “The presentation was standing room only, and the attendees described it as very impactful. Given the struggles with self confidence many of us have as introverts, I thought it would be helpful to chat about impostor syndrome on the Hope for the Introvert podcast. You can contact Tara via email tara.hughes@CSCU.edu or through Linkedin, Tara Hughes and Twitter @TinyTara. I encourage our listeners to visit HopefortheIntrovert.com where you’ll find complete show notes including a transcript of today’s conversation.

Ben: Hi Tara. Welcome back. It’s great to have you back on the podcast.

Tara:  I’m looking forward to chatting about the EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference. I was very excited about the presentation, because I was really interested to see what the population would be in the room and what the reaction would be, so let’s talk about that a little bit. And it was very funny, because I could tell you did not come across as nervous as presenting, but you did mention that how you had hoped it would not be a large turnout, and the room was packed and standing room only. So let’s talk a little bit about what led you to the conference, why you chose that topic. I have my audience view of what I saw going on with it, but it’s always interesting because your view as a presenter is very different in many ways. So let’s talk a little bit about this whole Impostor Syndrome issue.

Tara:  Yeah. So the same mentor who encouraged me to apply to LCI, encouraged me to apply to present at Security Professionals and the deadline had come and gone. And for other extenuating circumstances, I just didn’t get around to submitting anything. And he circled back with me and said, “Why didn’t you submit something?” And so I said, “It’s too late. It’s okay. Maybe next year we’ll submit.” He contacted Valerie [Vogel] and Valerie said, “No, she can submit still. I’ll give her a week.” And so I said, “What am I going to present on? I don’t work in information security. I’m more tangentially related because I run our IT Help Desk, but I’m not an information security expert by any means.” And he said, “You should talk about that. Talk about how you’re not sure that you fit in here and why should you present.” Because I said, “Who would want to come listen to me talk at a security conference? I don’t work in security.” So he had said, “You know, you should really look into impostor syndrome and you should talk about that. I think that that would be great and we would love to have some more diverse topics that aren’t just technically focused.”

Tara: And so the more that I looked into it, and I know my husband kind of got involved and he was like, “This is perfect. This is absolutely something that you can speak to.” And sure enough, I think the more that I looked into it, the more it felt like a personal improvement project just as much as a presentation. And again, when my presentation was accepted, because I had talked myself into thinking that I will submit it, because it won’t get accepted. And so it’s not a big risk. And then I got accepted and I thought, “Oh shoot! Now I’ve got to–now I’ve actually got to do it.” But it really did become a personal improvement project, just as much for my own well-being as it was for other people.

Tara: The big thing that I kept in mind throughout was that really going back to that relationship building and that desire to connect with people and to help them–that counselor component of who I am– really helped me focus what I wanted to talk about and how I wanted to talk about it because I wanted to be–it didn’t feel right to try to come across as some sort of expert on the issue. I really wanted to be authentic and relatable and look for a way that if I can share my experience, and if that’s helpful to one person in the room, then it’s worth it.

Ben:  it’s interesting on so many levels because for many years I did presentations, and I was more irritated if it didn’t get accepted rather than any concern if it did get accepted. But that’s kind of a–just probably an INTJ thing actually for me, because of course I think I’m the expert! But what I found was that it was very easy to talk about subjects, different subjects. But what I learned once I started talking about introverted leadership, was that I had to be vulnerable and talk about myself. And that was terrifying in many ways. But I found it made such a bridge between me and the audience, that it was just incredible the connection and the conversations that I had afterwards. I felt like I wasted many years of not knowing that. But that willingness to be authentic and vulnerable is such a key part of having people walk along the journey with you and being willing to talk, being willing to hear about your journey.

That willingness to be authentic and vulnerable is such a key part of having people walk along the journey with you and being willing to hear about your journey. @benwoelk Click To Tweet

Ben: Now, one thing that was very clever that you did at this presentation, was that Tara opened the presentation with a series of quiz questions, and used one of the apps that works on the phone so that you can indicate your answers to things. She had all of these really technical questions around security-related subjects and would post a question and a bunch of people would answer. And many of the answers were clustered in certain areas. And so we have four of those questions. But why don’t you talk a little bit about those questions and what you told us after everyone had jumped in and says, “I think this is the answer?”

Tara: Yeah. So I was trying to think of how to effectively get the point across about Impostor Syndrome because not everyone struggles with feeling like an impostor necessarily. But I really wanted to draw people into understanding how it might feel, because I then felt like the rest of the presentation would be more meaningful and we could have a better conversation. So the questions were very technically focused on cybersecurity, and I didn’t want to have too many because I didn’t want to frustrate people, but I wanted enough to try to get the point across. And we used Poll Everywhere, but Poll Everywhere is dynamic and live. And so that was a little tricky to work with. But I wanted to create a sense within which people had a false sense of what the rest of the room was thinking. And so it was a really challenging technical question. And then I just picked one of the answers and gave fake results for each question and didn’t tell anyone that they were fake. So I made it look like the results were the live results. And I actually heard one guy on one of the questions say, “Oh, I know the answer, it’s ‘B.’” And I actually was mortified internally, because the answer that I had selected was “C,” and he’s going to totally know that something’s up.

Ben: So I have to ask you because this is the first I’ve realized this part of it, because I really thought that was live polling And I wasn’t sure why some of the answers were clustering the way they were. And it’s like, “What? That doesn’t sound right, but everybody else must think it’s right.” So, so I didn’t realize that until right now! So go ahead.

Tara: Yeah. So I just picked an answer and made it look like 75% chose “C.” And then at the end of the question, and I really wanted people to think in fact, it was even better if I chose the wrong answer, but made everyone else think that that was clearly what the whole group chose. It created this sense of internal questioning as to, “Well, maybe I don’t actually know the answer to that question or maybe I’m not as smart as I think I am in this particular area,” or even questioning the group and whether or not you belong or felt like you belonged. And so after all of those questions, then I said that, “You know, the poll results were not true,” and that I had faked them and I went to great lengths to make it look as though the poll results looked live. But I wanted to create that feeling of questioning whether or not you belonged in that room and whether or not the way to really do what you thought you knew presentation.

Ben: And I’m really wondering now how many people still don’t really realize that the poll was fake and not necessarily the answers. And no, I thought it was brilliant, and I think it was a very good way of kind of rocking everybody just a little bit, and taking them off center a little bit to say that, “Well maybe I’m not sure of what I think I’m sure of.” So yeah that part was great. So talk a little bit more about what you told us about impostor syndrome and what I’m–one thing I thought was really interesting with some of the questions that came up at the end and some of the reactions–but tell us a little bit more about this whole impostor syndrome thing. Because you have a lot of–and I know this is a group that’s normally happens to, too. You have a lot of, for the most part, highly educated people who are–many of them are really experts in these subject matters. Or some of them think they’re experts, whichever way we want to go with that, [Tara laughing] but who are really experts in these subject matters. And even so, they still struggle with this whole idea of do I really belong here? Do I really know what I’m doing? Is someone going a see through me and know I’m a fake at some point.

Tara: Yeah. Yeah. So impostor syndrome is that feeling of not belonging and thinking that you are fooling everyone into believing that you belong, and then eventually they will discover that you’ve been faking your way through and you’ll be unmasked as a fraud. And the fear of being discovered is I think just as bad as feeling like you don’t belong, because I think it’s both very much–and then what the consequences might be once everyone discovers that it, you know, it could be the loss of reputation or loss of respect or losing your actual job. And I think for those of us who are so committed and care so deeply about the work that we do, that has I think an extra level of importance to be seen as legitimate. And again, I keep–I would keep bring preferring back to authenticity. And I think again, as an INFJ and that’s a really big, big part of, of who you are is you care about authenticity.

Impostor Syndrome-for those of us who are so committed and care so deeply about the work that we do, that has I think an extra level of importance to be seen as legitimate. @TinyTara Click To Tweet

Tara: And so if you are approaching something new, and this is even ties back to my area where I’m developing this program, then there’s not really a model to base it off of. And so you’re doing research, but then you’re also just going off of gut and intuition and a variety of things and it can feel like you’re just making it up as you go and someone’s going to figure out that you’re a fraud. I think that’s true in any kind of industry, but especially in fields where there’s a lot of change. And a lot of new things coming at you, because like with information security, it’s really hard to keep up. The threats change constantly and it’s hard to ever feel like an expert. How could you possibly be an expert? Because I think in our minds, when we think of an expert, an expert has no gap in knowledge or experience. And there’s no way that you could know possibly know all of the things there are to know in a field like information security because it’s just rapidly changing.

We think an expert has no gap in knowledge or experience. And there's no way that you could know possibly know all of the things there are to know in information security because it’s rapidly changing. @TinyTara Click To Tweet

Ben: Yeah, and I think also it’s the situation where to the general public or people outside the field, “Oh, you’re absolutely the expert. You’re doing information security work,” and for those of us in the field or close enough to the field to understand it, we have a good sense of how much we just don’t know. And I think that happens– again, it happens in many fields as people become more expert in fields.

To the general public, “Oh, you're absolutely the expert. You're doing information security work” For those of us in the field, we have a good sense of how much we just don't know. @benwoelk Click To Tweet

Tara: Yeah.

Ben: At least for my experience in talking to people, we have so much more a sense of how big that gap, it just becomes bigger and bigger… what that means in terms of the people we relate to and what their expectations are. But that doesn’t–just because we know there’s a gap–it doesn’t mean that we don’t have a certain level of expertise or probably more importantly, we may still be the best person to be doing that. We may be the best person to in a sense stand in that gap and fill that role for a while. And I know for me it’s always felt, and I don’t–I mean the idea of calling myself an expert or calling myself a thought leader–and it’s like there’s all this stuff about thought leaders and people self identifying as thought leaders, and it’s like, well you don’t really want to do that. Maybe other people will identify you as that, but it’s a very weird thing, and I think that falls into the introversion piece, too, as you just don’t self identify that way. How could I possibly self identify that way? But I think this understanding the gap, and then realizing that there’s, “Do I belong?” They’re going to understand–they’re going to realize I don’t know everything, that I’m not going to have the right answer. That the threats are always changing. That people aren’t always going to make the right decisions. In some ways it’s so easy. If people can do the right things, they’ll be relatively secure and will reduce risk, but there’s always something that’s going to come in that we’re not prepared for.

Even if we don't think we're an expert, we may be the best person to an a sense stand in that gap and fill that role for a while. @benwoelk Click To Tweet

Ben: So I think it was a great topic for the conference and obviously it was packed. The room was absolutely packed and just seeing all of these people who are probably seen as experts at their universities. They don’t feel like it. They feel like, “I’m just faking it.” And I think information security in some ways, or cybersecurity, makes a little bit harder because it’s a relatively new field and many of us, there was no preparation for this kind of job at all. It’s all–we’ve learned it, we’ve brought other skill sets into it. Maybe we work towards getting a certification at some point in time, which I did, but I know in my mind that I did that certification for me as much as anything. So that I would feel more secure in what I was doing and I don’t really think it changed anyone else’s opinion of what they thought I could do or couldn’t do either way. Helps on the job market for sure. Because a lot of things are, “Nope, you need that certification”. And so there’s value in that sense in having it. But for me it’s always been very much feeling like I need something that shows me that I can do what everyone else knows that I can do.

Tara: Yeah. I think what’s interesting, and you know, maybe this is partly of being that introvert is you want to somehow just fit in and, and I so much care about–I like rules. I like structure and you give me rules, I will follow them. Um, I, I’m not going to be the creative type that can just create my rules as I go. Um, and so whether it was having an untraditional path towards my bachelor’s degree or having kids at an earlier age than I thought or getting into it, even though that wasn’t what I had initially planned. Um, and having not an IT background and not being technical, but being a relational person and trying to figure out what space can I occupy authentically with the skillset that I bring, I think every step of those ways you feel like an impostor because this isn’t what it normally looks like to be in these spaces and do these things, right? I’m looking for some sort of gauge to compare myself against and I think with information security, that gauge doesn’t really exist. I mean, I think it’s being created, but so much of the impostor syndrome is that comparison piece. And if, if I can fit in or if I do these things where I look like this, then maybe I can convince myself and convince other people that I’m the real deal and I’m not just faking it.

Ben: Yes, and there was in a sense palpable discomfort with some of the people who had come in and done security awareness-type presentations, because that’s typically–there are technical people who come into that field, but that’s not normally their interest and it’s not normally something they’re necessarily good at. But you bring people in who are relational or maybe they’ve got a graphics background or they understand communications in general and they understand audience type or personas and things like that. They can still very much struggle over, “Well how can I fit in around all these super bright technical people who are speaking a language that frankly I do not understand.” And it’s so jargon laced, and the jargon that’s used means different things sometimes depending on the context you’re in, or in another field it means something totally different, that it can get very, very unsettling.

Ben: So I guess one of the questions I have for you is that you talked about it, what do we do about it? How do we handle this impostor syndrome? What do we look for that makes us feel–maybe we know that we’re not the expert? What gives us that comfort level or centering in a sense on how we can still perform well and maybe not feel like we know everything, but also not feeling like we’re a total fraud.

Tara: Yeah. Right? So there are a couple of things. I think first just the fact that we’re talking about it is key because impostor syndrome and all the research that I did, which is not nearly as exhaustive as many other experts, but a lot of the research suggests that if you suffer from impostor syndrome, you’re likely not going to be talking about it because you’re afraid that people will find out that you’re an impostor. Right. And so it’s this kind of self-fulfilling, horrible cycle. So until you’re really willing to put yourself out there and be vulnerable to talk about it, you’re more likely to continue suffering in silence. So I think having that conversation is critical. I think it helps if someone can be the first to admit it, right? Because even at the presentation that really, it was a domino effect. Once one person says, “Hey, I struggle with this,” then other people feel more comfortable to chime in and say, “Hey, I struggle with this too.”

If you suffer from impostor syndrome, you're likely not going to be talking about it because you're afraid that people will find out that you're an impostor. @TinyTara Click To Tweet

Tara: The other thing, there’s so many, I think different things that that can be employed to combat it. But I think reframing your thoughts and your perspective is crucial. And it’s not like there’s this list of  special, crazy things that you have to do. It’s really holding yourself accountable to some degree, and having real internal dialogue about, “Well, why shouldn’t I be presenting at this conference? Who’s to say that I don’t have something valuable to say?” I think even the way that we approach situations. So when we’re thinking about reframing our thoughts, I think part of that is holding yourself to the standard of pushing back and questioning when those doubts come through, of just asking yourself, “Why, why not?” But then also being able to look at things from more than just your particular vantage point.

Reframing your thoughts and your perspective is crucial to recognizing Impostor Syndrome. @TinyTara Click To Tweet

Tara: I think, for instance, in working in IT, “Why aren’t I a good fit? Why can’t I bring the soft skills?” And maybe that’s exactly what we need. Why  is it not acceptable in my mind to bring in something a little bit unique, especially as we’re starting to talk about having diverse teams with diverse skills. If anything that should make us, I think, feel a little bit more comfortable and more empowered to not necessarily have to look like the person to your left and the person to your right. But it’s really acknowledging it’s okay that you don’t look like guy to your left and the gal to your right, but you have to have those honest conversations I think.

Having diverse teams and diverse skills should help us feel like we belong and not feel like an impostor. @TinyTara Click To Tweet

Ben: So you mentioned one thing in that you have the internal conversation you have to manage. I think you started to go there. But part of this, and you mentioned it when you talked about prepping for this presentation to start with, was the encouragement from your husband that this was something you’d be absolutely great at doing, and with the job also. I think the role of a mentor, whether it’s internal to an organization, but also probably better, external to the organization because you have the feeling they’ll be more objective and your job isn’t at stake when you’re talking to them. I think there’s a real role around the mentoring piece on this also because you get that sanity check in a way.

Ben: And I know for me, I do a bit of mentoring–and usually introverts who are interested in leadership, but most of them are struggling with how maybe to handle specific workplace-type things, but also in that whole, “How do I feel comfortable in my own skin” in a sense. “How do I feel like I’m not an impostor?” That I can talk to them and reflect and we can study different things and talk through different scenarios, and it’s really valuable because I’m not in their workplace, they’re not losing their job by talking to me or putting something at risk. So I think the mentoring piece is really critical.

Ben: What’s interesting for me is I don’t have many people that I–there are a few–that I would consider to be mentors that I talk to or that I looked at, “Oh, that that’s a mentor up from me.” I have several people who are more peer mentors, and being able to talk through the stuff that we deal with in the workplace and things like that. Or even too–in some ways I feel like it’s a sanity check–is really important, to be able to get that other perspective. And sometimes it’s like, “You’re right, this isn’t the way it should be,” but at least having someone else be able to talk to you about that I think is really important as well.

Tara: Yeah. Yeah. And I think so. You keyed in on something that I touched on in the presentation and I think the mentorship both ways, right? Being mentored by someone who can keep you in check and help you make sure that you’re keeping your thoughts and your perspective  in check, but then also that you’re paying it forward and mentoring someone else. I think both are really important because they help you see things outside of yourself, and they help you see how others might see you. Because we’re so hard on ourselves, right? The mentorship and coaching that you can provide other people– the students that I work with–I’m a first generation college student. And so to be able–our school has a really high percentage of first gen college students. And so I care about that and I can speak to it.

Tara: And it might not look like I can, but I can. When I’m talking with students about how to manage their time or how confusing it might be to fill out a financial aid form, I get it on a very real and personal level. And I think that’s important because they see that things are still possible for them. That even though things might not make sense with what they’re struggling through now, that there is someone else who struggled through those things just as much as did, and they’ve come out the other end and they’re in a career that they love and they’re doing meaningful work. And so to be that representative is really, really important. And I think it does kind of help you get the focus off of whether or not you’re legit, right? Because you’re  giving back to someone else and hopefully helping them avoid, maybe not entirely, but to some degree helping them avoid those doubts that creep in should you not have taken the opportunity to be real and to coach them with that.

Ben: For many people, from the outside it often looks like it’s the mentee who is the beneficiary of everything. I’ve found that it’s amazing being the mentor also, because you learned so much from the people that you are–actually becomes friends obviously, because you’re spending that time and you’re building that relationship and how important that is. One of the really exciting things for me.–most of the mentoring I do is virtual. It’s very seldom somebody who’s actually local. I was at the Society for Technical Communication Summit Conference the week before the EDUCAUSE conference. I had four people that I was mentoring and they all did their first conference presentations, and it was just so exciting to see them. So there’s definitely a huge piece in terms of what this means for both participants in the conversation.

Ben: As we’re wrapping up our conversation, what are the key takeaways do you think in terms of dealing with impostor syndrome or as an introvert in the workplace or whether you’re an introvert or not?

Tara: Yeah, I was looking up something recently to see, are introverts more likely to struggle with impostor syndrome? And I think–I just don’t think there’s enough research to really give a Yea or Nay on that. But it does seem like, especially if you’re an intuitive person on the scale, you are much more likely to, because you have that self reflection going on already. I think that if you know that about yourself, that helps you already, right? Because then you can better understand how to either mitigate, or take care of yourself, or like I said, mitigate issues that might crop up.

Tara: I have bounced around in a lot of different physical locations where I’ve been in kind of an open area where lots of people would come by and come chat. And then I’ve been in an office that was really dark and people didn’t come by, and it least had a door and barely a window. I’m in a current office that’s bright and sunny and really right next to the main entrance, but I don’t have a door. And in each of those physical locations, I’ve had to pay attention to how can I be productive in this space because it’s requiring something different of me then if I just had everything set up perfectly the way that I wanted. Right? So I think again, as an introvert trying to adapt and figure out how can I do well, even though I can’t always dictate the space that I find myself in. And I think that relates to feeling like an impostor because you know, the more that you do something– I’m sure you’ve heard it. There’s that “Fake it til You Make It,” right? And I think that can get us in a lot of trouble, because I’ve faked it till I’ve made it and I still feel like a faker.

Tara: So that didn’t help, right? That just kind of reinforces that feeling of being an impostor, because there’s this illusion that if you achieve that title, where you achieve that promotion, that that will make you feel legitimate. And it doesn’t. I saw someone recently posted on Twitter, and I loved it. They said, “Instead of fake it till you make it, own it while you hone it.” And I love that because you’re owning what you’re doing. You’re not saying that you’re perfect or that you’re the expert, but you’re still honing your craft and you’re still on that journey. I don’t know that we ever reach a place where you can wash your hands and say, “I’m done. I’ve arrived”. Right? So you’re constantly going to be crafting whatever it is that you’re doing and learning.

Tara: Again, I think in the presentation I talked about how it’s a lifelong journey. So everyday should be viewed as an opportunity to learn something new. And you know, we work at higher education institutions, a place of learning. We encourage and foster that vulnerability to say, “I don’t quite know something,” and hopefully I come out of this class knowing something I didn’t know. And yet  as professionals, we don’t have that same enthusiasm or curiosity. We feel like we’re expected to just know everything every day at 8:00 AM. And I think if we can approach work regardless of the space that we work in or the field that we’re in, to have that enthusiasm and curiosity to say, “What am I going to learn about today,” and be excited about that. I think that makes a really big difference in how you approach things, whether you know them or not, because you don’t take it as an indictment against your capability. I think that, at least for me, I have found that that has been a big difference-maker, even as of late, to continue to just be willing to be curious and vulnerable in that space. You don’t have to know everything, but that doesn’t mean I’m not the right person to speak to this issue or represent.

Ben: Awesome. Well, it has been an absolute pleasure having this conversation today. Looking forward to sharing it with our listeners. And I’d like to thank you again for being on the program.

Tara: Thank you so much. And I have to just say real quick, a shout out to my kids, Emma, Felicity and Sophia. They were so excited that I was invited to be on a podcast. So thank you for giving me a rare opportunity to look cool to them. There are two teenagers in that bunch, so I’ll take every opportunity I can to look cool.

Ben: Oh, absolutely. That’s a rare opportunity with teens in general.

 


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Tara Hughes head shot

Episode 22: Tara Hughes–Unexpected Career Paths

Category:EDUCAUSE,Higher Education,Information Security,Introverted Leadership,Leadership,Podcast

Episode 022 Show Notes: Tara Hughes

Introduction

Tara Hughes head shot

Tara Hughes and Ben Woelk talk about their unexpected career paths as introverts with non-technical backgrounds working in Information Technology.

Key concepts

  • Emergency hires that become permanent positions
  • INFJ and managing students
  • Physical exercise and processing the day
  • Imposter Syndrome and panic attacks

Quotable

My path to my career is a little unusual–or at least it’s not the path that I would have envisioned.

I’m not one for more superficial relationships. That’s not where I shine. With counseling, I really wanted to have meaning to whatever I chose to do.

Exercise has probably been the number one thing that has helped me be able to process the day,…physical exertion helps me decompress from the mental exercise of always having to engage with people.

As an introvert, especially as an INFJ, I’m constantly assessing and reassessing. When I come out of a situation, I’m evaluating how did I do, could I have done better? And then that totally informs the next time.

I had a hard time wrapping my mind around how did they let me in and why….that was really intimidating and where the Imposter Syndrome was definitely rearing its ugly head. And I really struggled to understand how in the world I got included in this group.

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben: Joining us today is Tara Hughes. Tara is Interim Manager of Administrative Services at California State University-Channel Islands. I met Tara at the 2019 EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference in Chicago where Tara spoke on, “You’re All a Bunch of Phonies: Impostor Syndrome and Information Security.” The presentation was standing room only, and the attendees described it as very impactful. Given the struggles with self confidence many of us have as introverts, I thought it would be helpful to chat about impostor syndrome on the Hope for the Introvert podcast. You can contact Tara via email tara.hughes@CSCU.edu or through Linkedin, Tara Hughes and Twitter @TinyTara. I encourage our listeners to visit HopefortheIntrovert.com where you’ll find complete show notes including a transcript of today’s conversation.

Ben: Hi Tara.

Tara: Hello. Thanks for having me.

Ben: I’m excited that you’re going to be on the podcast. It was great connecting with you in Chicago and I’m really looking forward to our conversation. Before we get into our discussion about Impostor Syndrome, let’s talk a little bit about your career and your background. Can you tell us about what you do? What is your workplace like? Channel Islands sounds like an intriguing place to work because it sounds like it’s on an island. I have no idea if it is or not, but tell us about what you do and how you got there.

Tara: Sure. So,I guess the most important question straightaway is “No, we are not on an island, so I don’t need to take a boat to work. “But we are more representative of the surrounding area. It used to be a California state mental hospital and it was closed–I want to say in the 80s by Reagan, although I’m not 100% sure on that. And then California State University was able to acquire the land. They opened up California State University and they named it Channel Islands because the Channel Islands are just off the coast from where the school is located. And they wanted it to be representative of the surrounding counties since it is more of a commuter school. So my path to my career is a little unusual–or at least it’s not the path that I would have envisioned.

My path to my career is a little unusual--or at least it's not the path that I would have envisioned. @TinyTara Click To Tweet

Tara: I am currently the Interim Manager of Administrative Services. I’ve been at Cal State Channel Islands for–it’ll be five years in August. And what I currently do is kind of built off of what I was initially hired to do. So when I was hired back in 2014, our president’s office–their main telephone number to contact them had accidentally been put on all of our marketing materials and our website as the main campus telephone number. And so, after a couple of years of the president’s office fielding calls and kind of just not loving that experience, the president at the time had requested our CIO at the time, Michael Berman, to come up with some sort of way to address that issue, because it was causing things to come straight to the president’s office and not giving other departments the opportunity to address issues before it got escalated all the way to the top.

Tara: So he had kind of this brainchild of having a one-stop shop called the Solutions Center. And so they hired seven student assistants to be campus operators for what was the main line. And then they created a new extension for the president’s office, and then they needed someone to manage these students because no one wanted to do it. And so at the time, my husband has worked here since, Gosh, I don’t even, it’s been probably 13 or 14 years. At the time we had just moved back to Camarillo. He had been commuting for the previous four or five years. I was looking for a job and he said, “My wife would be great.” So they hired me as an emergency temp hire and that turned into a permanent role. Six months after that, they gave me the Commencement hotline because no one wanted to answer that extension.

Tara: Then six months after that, they gave me the IT Help Desk because they were having some trouble with managing the students and felt like they were having trouble multitasking. We took the help desk extension and routed it into the call center. The students that work at the help desk only had to help in person and kind of separating those duties and simplifying them a little bit. Last summer, Business and Finance had acquired it as a sub-unit. So when we were brought over, they had asked that I lead their shared services in a more official capacity and turn the Solutions Center into an official shared services and take over the HR main line. So our students now answered the Human Resources main line as well. And the goal is really to be able to triage all basic Tier One kinds of questions that typically are answered on the website or found somewhere, but that people might have trouble locating, or just feel better to have another human being confirm that information to them. I manage that and I manage the help desk still. So I have about at any given time about 18 student assistants that I employee and we train and they have to know a lot about a lot.

Ben: This is coming in as an emergency hire you said, which is interesting because that’s basically how I got into RIT. I also was brought in because there was a worm at that point in time that was wreaking havoc. I had worked with the Information Security Officer at a previous consulting engagement. He found out I was available and wanted me to come in and help manage the emergency communications around what was happening with the worm. Now that lasted maybe two hours and then it was, “Well, you’re not going to be doing that.” But I was able to move into creating a whole lot of really interesting process stuff and build a security awareness program and all sorts of things like that. But none of that was envisioned when I actually took the position, and it was supposed to be temporary and it has been–a month ago–it’s been 15 years since I’ve been at RIT. So it’s funny how these paths go.

Ben: The other thing I wanted to ask you, because my background has nothing whatsoever to do with what I’m doing for a job now at all. What was your background coming into that position? Your husband said, “Oh, my wife would be great at this” and they agreed with it. What was your background coming in?

Tara: I guess I should start off, my husband and I met my freshman year of college, got married a year after. We got married when I was really young. I was 18. We’ll be celebrating 17 years in September. And so it’s super cool, but not necessarily traditional. We had a family much sooner than we were anticipating. I took a lot of time off from school, and didn’t go back to get my Bachelor’s degree until my youngest went into kindergarten. And my goal was really to get my Bachelor’s before I turned 30. I got my Bachelor’s degree in counseling at a small private liberal arts school. That’s where we had met and his dad and mom both worked there and I graduated my counseling degree at 29. So I made my goal, which was very great.

Tara: But really, I was so drawn to people and relationship building and feeling like there were so many things that I cared about–connecting with people on a really authentic level. I’m not one for more superficial relationships. That’s not where I shine. With counseling, I really wanted to have meaning to whatever I chose to do. And we talked a lot about as our three girls were growing up, that at some point because we got married young and had kids young, that there was going to be this whole life after family to some degree. And what would I do to utilize that time? So working was always going to be in the scope in some way, shape, or form. We just didn’t know what it would look like.

I'm not one for more superficial relationships. That's not where I shine. With counseling, I really wanted to have meaning to whatever I chose to do. @TinyTara Click To Tweet

Tara: After I graduated, I worked at an insurance company. My boss was fantastic, but I didn’t love the work because it didn’t feel meaningful ,and it wasn’t that relationship building that I craved. And then right after that we moved back to Camarillo, and it was like, “Well, I don’t know what I’m going to do for work.” And so my husband–just my biggest cheerleader–thought you’re going to manage student assistants, you could totally do this. And what’s been incredible is that so much of the mentorship and coaching very much aligned with my counseling background. So that has been just a wonderful surprise,but not something that I could have pinpointed until I fell into it, if that makes sense.

Ben: I think it makes perfect sense. We were talking before the podcast started about temperament types and we’ll talk about that a little bit more. And what you identified on the temperament type was INFJ, which is counselor, the way that that’s normally interpreted. So that all fits together very well. And I would think in terms of working with students with the stress–I mean what I’m seeing at RIT, the amount of stress that they’re under now–to be able to have someone who is managing them but who is also attuned to the fact that they are people and not just students who are filling a position to get things done. I think it’s probably very, very good for them. I think like you said, you were interested in relationship building and well you have at least 18 students to to have some type of relationships with as well.

Ben: But it’s interesting, I–my background–I went to a large state school in Florida. Ended up being an Anthropology graduate because I honestly couldn’t figure out what I was doing and I had done terribly my first year, and all my initial plans of what I was going to do just didn’t work out. Went to work for my dad for a couple of years. He installed floor covering. I did not want to do that for the rest of my life. Got accepted to a university north of Chicago, and so we moved from Florida to Chicago with a 15-month old not knowing where we were going to be living when we left, knowing that they might have an apartment that was opening up, putting everything into a 14-foot UHaul and caravaning three days up to Chicago. No clear sense of where we were going to stay, but a very clear sense that that’s what we were supposed to be doing.

Ben: And everything kind of worked out and fell into place and different things. But I ended up initially doing what I thought was going to actually be a position in Christian Education. And that ended up changing over to doing a Masters in Church History, which I’m not sure what exactly I thought I was going to be able to do with it when I came out. So I applied very–it’s interesting because you come across people and one of the professors was just so passionate and so engaging that I was really excited about it. I ended up entering a doctoral program at the University of Rochester, which is what brought us to Rochester, thinking we’d be here for four years and that was in 1987 and we’re still here. Did not finish the doctorate but through a series of circumstances and different opportunities, now I’m doing cyber security.

Ben: So definitely not a straight career path at all. And it will be interesting because when we start talking about this Imposter Syndrome piece–been there, absolutely been there–coming in with a liberal arts background, and I’m trying to work in a technical field with technical people and they’re all going to see through me sort of thing. So it’s just really interesting because–I don’t know, maybe for some people it works where it’s a very clear career path. For me, it’s really been what has opened up and do you take the steps forward in it or not. So it’s really interesting to me hearing about your path to get there. We also did the getting married before my wife finished college piece of things, but she was able to finish before our son was born. But still, it was after we were married and it was a bit of a struggle–the finances and where are we going to live, and all of those pieces, and still persevered and got through it.

Ben: But it’s intriguing. So, like we mentioned, you had talked about the INFJ piece and how sometimes it’s closer–well, one of the three times you took it, it came out to ENFJ–and I know how this works for me because I play with the questions just a little bit and see, “Ah, so that changed that. And coming with a counseling background, I’m sure it was even more, “How do I look at this and how can–maybe not how can I manipulate it, but what are the little bits of changes I can do with this?” [Tara laughing] So basically typing as an introvert, but very interested in relationship building, which is not–I don’t think–it’s not a disconnect at all.

Ben: But what has it been like for you in terms of being an introvert? Do you notice a different in terms of how you deal with people? It’s very tough because it’s a spectrum, and I think I’ve become more and more extroverted, and it’s not always very clear for me. It really comes down to how do I recharge and what do I need to do that. But on a given day, if I’m at a conference, nobody is going to think I’m an introvert because I just don’t tend to present that way. So how has that been for you in terms of personality type? You did a counseling degree, so obviously you’ve thought about some of this stuff at some point, but how has that worked in terms of your strategy for how you approach work? What you do in the workplace and in life in general?

Tara: Yeah, it’s interesting. I think growing up everyone would have said I was an extrovert and I always considered myself an extrovert, being a stay-at-home mom for the number of years that I was. I thought that confirmed that I was an extrovert because I would get really lonely being at home all day, and just was so excited when my husband would come home, because now I could have that human interaction with an adult. Not that the kids aren’t humans, but it’s different! And so I really was surprised when I came to work full time to find that I was exhausted at the end of the day. And it wasn’t just physical exhaustion. There was a mental exhaustion of having to be on all the time. I think entering into IT was another compelling part of that because I wasn’t coming into it as an IT expert.

Tara: And so I had to work really hard to be able to speak the language as my colleagues sometimes. And then take that language and put it into a language that your average user could understand, and talking at their level and not at a more technical level. And so that relationship building started to take really different forms. Which was great, but I was so depleted at the end of the day and found myself thinking of myself more as an introverted extrovert, where I still really wanted to be around people, but then really need to find the opportunities to have quiet time and be alone and recharge, whether that was just zoning out watching TV or reading a book or going running.

Tara: I would say exercise has probably been the number one thing that has helped me be able to process the day, and not have to be on, in terms of building those relationships. But just that physical exertion helps me decompress from the mental exercise of always having to engage with people. Conferences I would say is similar. The other thing though is that when I came into working full time at Channel Islands, I was really struggling with panic attacks. I’d never struggled with that before. And there was something about being busy and having to think about other people that really almost eliminated it entirely. Because I didn’t have time to think about myself or what I was worried about, and that was great. But it eventually started to crop up in moments where I had to present at one point. That was very scary for me. And there’s a lot of internal dialogue that goes on if I have to go into a situation where I’m just not sure of myself.

Exercise has probably been the number one thing that has helped me be able to process the day,...physical exertion helps me decompress from the mental exercise of always having to engage with people. @TinyTara Click To Tweet

Tara: And I think as an introvert, especially as an INFJ, I’m just constantly assessing and reassessing. So if I go into a situation, when I come out of that, I’m evaluating how did I do, could I have done better? And then that totally informs the next time that I’m going into a situation. And I’ve kind of set up all of these different obstacles in my mind to some degree that I need to clear, even though those were former obstacles in the previous situation that might not necessarily present in this next one, and so you’re just in your head a lot. So that’s where I do like being in a field where I’m forced outside of my head. But then have to constantly bring myself back to a place where I can recharge and be by myself or get some exercise in so that I can get back to it. And so whether that’s work or a conference, I have to kind of coach myself into getting excited to put myself out there. I never regret doing it, but it does take something out of me that I have to eventually find a way to recharge.

As an introvert, especially as an INFJ, I'm constantly assessing and reassessing. When I come out of a situation, I'm evaluating how did I do, could I have done better? And then that totally informs the next time. @TinyTara Click To Tweet

Ben: It was interesting, because as I said, we did meet at this EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference and you’re coming in from a different perspective, different background. Many people, especially when they’re on the awareness side or coming in from non-technical backgrounds, there’s always this question for them of whether they belong there or not. And I had some really interesting conversations with a couple of people who said, “I don’t feel like I’m a cyber security professional.” “Well, you just presented at a Security Professionals Conference, so I think you can kind of claim that now,” and realize that yes, we haven’t arrived–we absolutely haven’t arrived–but that’s something you can point to that’s kind of a bit of credibility for yourself or credential in a sense.

Ben: One of the things that you had told me earlier also is that you are part of a leadership program within EDUCAUSE. And I meant to ask you about it before we got started, but could you talk a little bit about that, and you’ve just spent the last week at this Leadership Institute, and I’m really interested in what attracted you to the program, whether you felt ready for the program or not, and what it’s been like for you and what you’ve taken away from it. .

Tara: Okay. Yeah. So I went to the Leading Change Institute, which is affiliated with EDUCAUSE and CLIR. It was an application process and I had to submit a resume and get a letter of recommendation, and absolutely was, I want to say encouraged, but even more than that, kind of hounded by a mentor of mine, to give it a shot. And I thought, no, I don’t, I don’t think I’m at a place where they’ll accept me. So I really talked myself into thinking, well, I’ll apply, but I know I won’t get it, so it’s not much of a risk. And then I got in and thought, “Oh no, what have I gotten myself into?” I think our cohort was about 30 people from different institutions across the nation. We actually had someone from Dublin, Ireland and someone from Australia, and I think they both worked in the libraries at their institutions, but it’s a mix of IT professionals and librarians.

Tara: I had a hard time wrapping my mind around how did they let me in and why. A lot of these folks are CEOs and AVPs. And they’re just at a slightly higher level, in title and just place in their career than I am. They have much more experience. And so that was really intimidating and again, you know, as we can talk it about later. But that was where the Imposter Syndrome was definitely rearing its ugly head. And I really struggled to understand how in the world I got included in this group. And so I went into it thinking–well actually when I went to the Security Professionals Conference, I thought, well, I’ll just try my best with my presentation and I’ll try my best at LCI. The worst thing that can happen is that I’ll learn from it if I make a mistake.

I had a hard time wrapping my mind around how did they let me in and why....that was really intimidating and where the Imposter Syndrome was definitely rearing its ugly head. And I really struggled to understand how in the world I… Click To Tweet

Tara: For I would say both instances, I was shocked to discover that I did well and that I had a place there. That wasn’t what I expected going into it. And it was a really lovely surprise coming out of both of those experiences. And really, the Leading Change Institute expects that you understand certain management fundamentals. Really what they’re getting at is more of the finesse of not just managing, but really being a leader and how do you implement change with things that are very difficult to grapple with, especially if you have even things on a national level. How to keep that broad perspective, but still be effective in very specific ways. It was fantastic. DC was wonderful. I hadn’t been to DC since I was in high school, so it was really wonderful to go back with new eyes of appreciation and see things with more experience in my life to be able to really enjoy the history and the remembrance of what so many of those memorials call for us to do.

Tara: I just loved that it was–it was really neat and it was great again to network with people, but again, I had to really coach myself into making the most of that opportunity and putting myself out there. And the worst that could happen is that it doesn’t go the way I want. And then it’s only for a week. And then you’re like, okay.

Ben: It sounds like a really cool thing to be involved in. And honestly, I would have probably some of the same concerns that you do because I’m not an AVP and I’m not an Information Security Officer or a CIO. There were times where I aspired to that, but now I’m don’t know that I want to. ‘m overall enjoying what I’m doing, but I’m also enjoying exploring mentoring and podcasting and things like that. So I’m finding that that’s providing a great deal of satisfaction. I think it’s really cool that you’re involved in that group and I think it’s a great opportunity.

Ben: Tara, thanks for a great conversation. I look forward to our next episode where we will talk more about the EDUCAUSE Security Professionals Conference and why you spoke about Imposter Syndrome, your experience in speaking, and one thing I noticed, the reception for the conversations and the conversations that opened was really great.


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Marcy Phelps headshot

Episode 021: Marcy Phelps–Introvert Strengths

Category:introversion,Introverted Leadership,Leadership,Podcast

Episode 021 Show Notes: Marcy Phelps

Introduction

Marcy Phelps headshot

Marcy Phelps and Ben Woelk talk about how knowing introvert strengths empowers introverted leaders.

Key concepts

  • Serving on a non-profit board
  • Mentoring is a great form of leadership
  • Mentoring benefits the mentor and the mentee
  • Start your leadership journey by starting small

Quotable

Mentoring is a great leadership role for introverts, because we are so good at one-on-one and listening and hearing what people need.

Mentoring goes both ways. Both the mentor and mentee benefit from the experience.

I thought introversion was something I had to overcome and there was something wrong with me, until I read that book Quiet by Susan Cain.

How different introverts feel, like a weight is lifted off of them, and they understand that they have strengths which are every bit equal or sometimes better than some other leadership characteristics.

I didn’t realize is how dramatic a change it can make for introverts when they realize that what they’ve believed has been a handicap can actually be turned into a strength.

Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode

Links

Transcript

Ben: Joining us today is Marcy Phelps. As the founder and president of Denver-based Marcy Phelps and Associates, Inc. (formerly Phelps Researching), Marcy helps clients manage risk and prevent fraud. She started her firm in 2000 after earning a Master’s degree in Library and Information Services from the University of Denver, and is a Colorado-licensed private investigator and a Certified Fraud Examiner. Marcy blogs about investigative research at www.marcyphelps.com/blog. You can contact Marcy through the blog or on LinkedIn as Marcy Phelps. I encourage our listeners to visit Hope for the Introvert.com where you’ll find complete show notes including a transcript of today’s conversation.

Ben: You mentioned AIIP, the Association of Independent Information Professionals. What you didn’t mention at the time when you mentioned it earlier in the conversation, was that you were actually a past president and currently a director for the organization?

Marcy: No, I was a director and then I became the president a few years after that.

Ben: What led you into doing that? Professional organizations have a little bit different cultures depending on the organization. Was this something–you had an opponent? Did you have to actively campaign, or is it quieter than that? I know when I ran for Vice President of the Society for Technical Communication, I probably made a lot more noise in terms of campaigning than most other people have. which I’ve had mixed feelings about since. But I’m curious what you found that experience like from one, deciding that you wanted to become a candidate for either the board or the presidency, and what it was like going through that whole campaign, in a sense?

Marcy: Well, I was pretty lucky. It’s very low key in AIIP. Before I ran for president, the role was uncontested. The board selected the president–the candidate–and then the membership votes, Yea or Nay. The year I was asked by the board to run, they changed the policies and procedures and they allowed nominations from the floor, including self nominations. so I was the first president to run in a contested election. So it’s funny you should mention that. And I immediately felt awkward about it. But then I realized it wasn’t a real campaign. I needed to put out a few messages myself and my plans for the presidency if I was elected. Even that felt a little odd, I have to say. But it was very low key. So I was lucky. And, I wound up being elected so I didn’t really have to do too much. It was awkward though. Excuse me. It was awkward because it was the first time it had ever happened in the association, so nobody knew quite what to do.

Ben: That’s funny. What happens with STC, on the local level with chapters, it’s very rare that there are contested elections. It’s difficult enough to get people who are willing to serve. But at the Society level, they’re always–well for some of the positions there are always multiple candidates, especially for the vice president-president, immediate past president sequence. But for some of the other positions, they will often or sometimes decide just to have the one candidate and than it’s a Yea or Nay. But it is interesting how these organizations are different. So one of the things I’ve found and I’ve found now that I’m on the board, and this is my second term on the board with STC, is that does give me a different role. It does give me a different role when I go to a conference, and I’m not able to not be engaged with people there. So I kind of have to make a point of making sure that I am stepping outside my comfort zone and engaging people there. I want them to feel welcome. Yeah, it is different when you go with a specific role.

Marcy: Well, and I have to say, AIIP is a very unique association. We’re smaller and we don’t have chapters, so our annual conference is a big deal. It’s like going to hang out with family. It really is. It’s a smaller group. We spend the first hour of the conference–everybody comes up and gives their thirty second introduction. It’s very easy for an introvert to mix and mingle at an AIIP Conference. It’s very intimate and like family.

Ben: Great! One of the questions that I have–and for our listeners–one of the things that we do with these podcasts is provide our guests with a structure of the things that we’re going to talk about., so it’s not very, very awkward! We started touching on this already, but besides being the past president and a past director for AIP, in what other ways do you feel like you’ve been an influencer or leader, outside of that organization or inside of it, either way?

Marcy: Well, in AIP, I am also a mentor. We have a mentoring program and I’m currently mentoring another private investigator. Not everybody in AIIP is a private investigator, but we were connected because of that. So that is one type of leadership role. And I think it’s a great one for introverts, because we are so good at one-on-one and listening and hearing what people need. So that’s been very rewarding. Especially with this mentee, he’s very, very sharp and I think I’m learning more than he might be, but that’s a really great way to get into leadership a leadership role.

Mentoring is a great leadership role for introverts, because we are so good at one-on-one and listening and hearing what people need. Click To Tweet

Marcy: Also, as a solopreneur, I bring in subcontractors to work with me. I have one subcontractor on a regular basis, and then others that I bring in when I need help on a specific topic–verifying a degree from a very small Swedish university where no one speaks English–that kind of thing. Managing, recruiting, managing and managing the quality, that’s another leadership role I think outside of association work. I used to play golf and there wereonly day leagues for women, and I was frustrated because there were several of us who worked. So I put together a league in the evening for people who worked in the daytime–those kinds of things.

Ben: Great! It’s interesting what you’re saying about your current mentee and learning from him. I have found the same thing through every mentoring experience that I’ve been part of. The assumption from the outside, I think, is always that they’re one way, but I’ve never found it to be that way. I found them to be–well, not only the rewarding fact of feeling like you’re helping somebody along in their career, but also the fact that I benefit from those conversations as well.

Mentoring goes both ways. Both the mentor and mentee benefit from the experience. Click To Tweet

Marcy: Absolutely, Ben. I learn something new from every mentee. Even the ones that don’t work out really well, they kind of confirm what I need to know about running a business, so I learned from the smart people who are doing really well and then I learned from even the not so great experiences,

Ben: Another question for you–and the podcast essentially is–part of our whole reason for doing this is to help people who are leaders and introverts. What recommendations do you have for introverts who want to become influencers or leaders?

Marcy: Well, I recommend probably starting small. Just get involved in an organization that you feel comfortable with, and start volunteering on a smaller committee with them, and getting involved and meeting people that way. Volunteering is a fabulous way to get to know people and work your way up maybe to chairing a committee or something like that, or serving on the board of a smaller association. I think mentoring, again, something face to face or small group like that. Probably just start small and work up and you’d be surprised!  Leadership I don’t think requires that you have to be an extrovert. I think leadership–introverts are good at leadership and we shouldn’t be scared by it.

Ben: That takes us to another focus on this. A lot of –I don’t know if it’s press or things that are out there–and I know I had a friend share an article with me today–there seems to be a perception that being introverted is a handicap or weakness and not a strength. What is your perspective on that?

Marcy: That one really annoys me. I thought it was too. I thought it was something I had to overcome and there was something wrong with me, until I read that book Quiet by Susan Cain, The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. I love that book and I highly recommend it because I kind of found it empowering because she emphasizes that theme that this is not a defect or a handicap that you need to overcome. You have to adapt. You have to make it work for you. But it’s not something I need to apologize for anymore. I found that book very empowering in that way.

I thought introversion was something I had to overcome and there was something wrong with me, until I read that book Quiet by Susan Cain, Click To Tweet

Ben: Yeah. And I would say that I did too. I read it I think the year it came out, and It was just–I describe it as transformative, because it–and I’m not sure how I felt about being introverted either way before that, but I have talked to so many people the first time they go through that book or the first time they’re exposed to any of the current writing around introverts and leadership or anything like that. How different they feel. Just that it’s like a weight is lifted off of them, and they understand that they have strengths which are every bit equal–or sometimes better–than some other leadership characteristics that are out there. And I think they find it empowering. I think it’s a great word for it. It’s been a great–it’s kind of been the introvert manifesto over the last decade.

How different introverts feel, like a weight is lifted off of them, and they understand that they have strengths which are every bit equal or sometimes better than some other leadership characteristics. Click To Tweet

Marcy: I think it’s a big relief. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this to you earlier, but I used to have a blog called Power Networking for Introverts, because my friends encouraged me to do that because they thought I was so great at networking even though I’m an–I was an introvert, and I wrote about that concept in one of my posts, and the response was incredible. People saying, “Thank you, this was a huge relief. I thought there was something wrong with me.” That was really–that was striking. That was striking,

Ben: Is that post still available?

Marcy: No, I took that all down. That was a very, very long time ago. But you’ve given me an idea of something to write about,

Ben: So when you get that posted, or whatever you’re going to end up doing, let me know and I will provide a link to it. Because like you’ve said, for me, the most amazing part of this whole journey and starting to work on leadership and introversion, has really been seeing what a huge difference it can make in people’s lives. And that in many ways was unexpected. Even though I knew it had made a big difference for me in terms of how I understood how I could be a leader and things like that. What I didn’t realize is how dramatic a change it can make for people when they realize that what they’ve believed has been a handicap can actually be turned into a strength.

I didn't realize is how dramatic a change it can make for introverts when they realize that what they've believed has been a handicap can actually be turned into a strength. Click To Tweet

Marcy: Yes. Yes. And isn’t it amazing the power of the content you put out there sometimes. Sometimes, you never realize the effect it’s going to have on someone.

Ben: So I have a question not on the questionnaire. Marcy, what is one thing about you that people would be surprised to learn? And you can take a minute and think about it.

Marcy: Oh boy. I have a black belt in taekwondo. I haven’t practiced taekwondo in a long time, but I did obtain my first degree black belt some time ago.

Ben: That’s awesome. I certainly had no idea of that!

Marcy: That was hard. I had a hard time with the sparring part, having the intent of striking somebody. I had trouble with that, and that’s not necessarily the intent. The intent is to defend yourself, but you have to sometimes strike others to do that. And I had a hard time with that. I was raised, you know, you’re not supposed to hit people, and um [laughing], but I loved it. I loved the discipline and it was something to do with my young sons. It’s not a lot of things mothers can do with their sons, that’s–you know–sportswise. So, so that’s one thing. I don’t know. I’m pretty open. [laughing]There’s not much that people don’t know about me because I write, and I’m pretty much a what you see is what you get kind of person.

Ben: Ok, great! So, any other parting thoughts?

Marcy:  Parting thoughts. Just again, focus on your strengths as an introvert because we have so many and very valuable strengths. Like Susan Cain says, it’s kind of a noisy world and our quiet can be very powerful. And also remember that there are workarounds. It’s just like in technology, when something doesn’t work, we find a workaround. Our introversion–we just find a workaround. I know in my business I have to get out there and be with people and interact. So, I just make it happen by figuring out my workarounds.

Ben: Sounds great! Thank you, Marcy for a great interview.


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