How Muay Thai helped me crush Impostor Syndrome

Impostor Syndrome is an interesting thing.  It hides deep and pops its ugly head out with its gremlin voice whenever you think you are making progress… usually at the most inopportune times.  To that point, I was in denial for many years.  Faking it till I was making it, putting on a façade of confidence until something in me resembled confidence.  It wasn’t until I was thrust into executive management that I realized just how out of place I felt.  I would constantly be looking backwards, trying to validate why I was here, why I was chosen for this position, for this initiative.  I would look around me and see peers with three times the experience and time in the industry.  How was I going to compare… how could I be the one to get things done?  I would work to convince myself daily that I was meant to be there instead of knowing without guilt.  Guilt is a funny thing that weaves through the lives of us Midwesterners.  That deep-seeded feeling that for some reason you don’t deserve something… even though you absolutely do!  Besides the feelings, I got the work done and I made it happen.

Taking a step back… I have been a competitive athlete my entire life (well since the 5th grade).  Organized, coached, team environments have always made sense to me.  Working and pushing beyond limits, understanding how to work in the “zone” to achieve your long-term results and performance.  Working hard before the sun rises and well past sunset to be the best and to help your team be the best… that has been my world.  This all changed when I played my last rugby match and a knee found my cheek bone.  I was rushed to the hospital with a concussion, fracture and some stitch-work across the right side of my face.  I realized that another concussion like that could be my last and I recused myself from organized sports.  I tried working with trainers, in workout classes and at various gyms, with great success physically, but not quite fulfilling my internal desire for more… I realized that my physical workout routine needed to match the intensity of my work life.  This is when I found The Academy, a Mixed Martial Arts academy that focuses on building an atmosphere where all levels of athletes can be a part of the competitive combat training that most MMA athletes go through, without the pressure to participate in actual fights.  I had found my match.

I was hooked from the day I put on my first pair of boxing gloves.  The way they felt, the way the mats smelled, the sounds of pad-rounds became music to my soul.  Something ignited within me, something I couldn’t shut off.  I was at the bottom of the rung compared to my classmates’ ranks, surrounded by veteran fighters and world-class coaches.  This should’ve triggered my Impostor Syndrome… and yet it didn’t.  My coach told me that first day,

“Your goal in MMA is not to get to any desired end-point.  There is no end to what you can do.  Your goal is to make progress every day… no matter how great or small.  To keep moving forward, to be consistent, to show up as you are, to bring your whole self and do your greatest work.”

I let that sit for a moment.  Here I was amongst some of the greatest and all he was asking me to do was to show up and to do my best?  And so I did, four times a week for two years, I’ve been showing up, making progress, being consistent, being authentic and bringing my greatest self each and every time.  I am now one of the highest-ranking women at the gym.

As my coach was tying on my double-blue arm band, as he praised my hard work and we bowed-out something clicked into place.  What if I show up as I am, every day, to do my greatest work, in my work-life.  Removing the pressure of trying to “be like” or “be as good as” others, without the constant comparison.  What if I was the best solution for my work because I carry the unique ability to show up as I am and to allow my greatest work to happen.  I have worked hard, I have worked smart, I am more than capable… none of those things are in contention.  The only one who needed to believe them was me.  With each day, I make progress, sometimes by leaps and bounds, sometimes by a simple step.  Each day I show up as my authentic self, leading by example, bringing passion and positivity to my work.  I am proud to say that I am no longer an impostor and every time I hear that voice inside me questioning my ability, I don’t hide it or shut it away… I face it head-on, I deal with it and think of the words of my coach,

“Your goal is to make progress every day… no matter how great or small.  To keep moving forward, to be consistent, to show up as you are, to bring your whole self and do your greatest work.”

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