When I was a little girl, I imagined that I would be an astronaut. There was something so fascinating about the stars and being in that unknown space that only a few have experienced. Then my mom saw Armageddon. The destruction led her to redirect my dreams out of love for me, but really fear of the unknown.
I created many other career paths as I moved away from my astronaut dreams. I would be a teacher, a model like Tyra Banks, a doctor, or a restaurant owner. But never was I a Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH). Even I did not believe I could be one.
If you do not know, the CIH is a pretty tough credential to earn. It takes time, the right education, and the right work experience. When all of that lined up for me, and I was eligible for the exam, I was excited! Then the imposter syndrome set in.
“Who are you?” “Are you really ready to be a CIH?” “What makes you competent to hold that level of prestige?”
As those questions swirled in my brain, I stepped into the other side of fear and started studying.
One evening, I ran into a fact that validated every bit of the imposter syndrome I was experiencing. I was reading about industry specific hazards and learned that overexposure to vinyl chloride (famous for making PVC and many of the products in our homes) can cause a disease called Acro-osteolysis. The disease causes the fingertip bones to disintegrate and has been observed in vinyl chloride workers for decades.
I closed my books for the day and asked myself “Why should you be a CIH if you don’t know that?”
The next day, I had a transforming thought….I have never worked in a place that I would need to know about the hazards of vinyl chloride. However, if I did, I would do my research and make sure I was protecting workers. With or without the CIH credential behind my name.
That has been my landing place ever since. I was not an imposter. In fact, I was exactly what I imagined every responsible Industrial Hygienist to be—a continually evolving professional, open to new information and ways to protect the public.
Since I’ve realized that I’m not an imposter, I am confident in not being the smartest person in the room. I get to be curious. I get to learn from others. I get to share what I know with integrity. I get to know that imposter syndrome is not mine to keep, but an experience in the moment. I get to live on the other side of fear more often.
Though I haven’t made it to the moon, I did get to fly in a T-38 having a dogfight with a F-22, chase down a U-2, and observe the mountains from a black hawk.
After writing the original post, I saw this quote while scrolling social media. Perhaps living on the other side of fear opened me up to better leadership as well.