When you feel like you will be found out for the fraud that you are. Someone surely will figure out you are not as smart, talented, nice, successful or ...
Why am I here? It's the VIP reception for the finalists of the 2014 Manitoba Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.
Appetizers are being offered by polite young servers dressed like penguins. Raw tuna on fancy crackers -- ah, no thanks. Do you have any chicken fingers and dip? Champagne is flowing; I can't even spell the word.
Why am I here?
Everyone looks gorgeous, new dresses sparkling, stilettos teetering and nails painted like art.
Am I the only one here without my nails done? Apparently so.
Why am I here?
Of course, I never prepared a thank-you speech; that would be presumptuous. So because I did not want to be that awful thing, I get to be unprepared.
The photo station is all set up and everyone is getting photos with their husband and kids. I have come with my girlfriend and a table full of my female champions, with my 87-year-old mom leading the fan club. Some of the ladies ask where my husband and kids are.
Ummm. I hesitate, only slightly embarrassed. "My kids don't even know where I am," I say, and it's God's honest truth.
"Well, you win the modesty award," one finalist says. Not really, I think to myself; they would be so bored with this event, it's easier for me not to bring them. Same with the hubby -- he would hate every socializing/networking/fancy minute of it. It makes my life easier to leave them at home. I'm happy, they're happy. I'm a big girl; I can go out all by myself and be just fine, thank you very much.
Enter the bagpiper, roll call, the alphabetical lineup. We are to be paraded through the bedazzled convention centre ballroom to be presented to our "adoring fans." And they must be fans (or crazy), since they paid a hefty price to get into this upscale event.
I step out of the lineup to take a peek at the good-looking, capable, successful group of women. Immediately, two things come to mind: What am I doing here? There must be some huge mistake. And why did I not wear black attire like everyone else? In my lilac-coloured dress, I feel even more self-conscious.
Out we march like lemmings, following our kilted piper down the escalator, around the corner, through the hallway. I step out of line again. "Does anyone else feel ridiculous?" I ask. The women around me smile and chuckle nervously. Yes -- they all do. For some reason, this makes me feel better, and I fall back into line.
The audience is standing and clapping, the piper is piping; this is our moment. But I sense that most of us can't enjoy it. We don't know where to look, so we look down -- or is that just me? We don't know if we should smile -- will we look too full of ourselves? Argh -- is it supposed to be this stressful?
We arrive at the stage and are welcomed on one by one and given our finalist trophy. We smile, shake hands with important people, take the requisite photos and scoot to our table as quickly as we can.
I love how they spread the awards out among the courses of the meal. I love how they had short videos of each finalist talking about what their business meant to them. I love all the videos except mine, of course. Argh, my hair, my voice, my outfit; why did I choose that outfit? I wonder what percentage of the women are thinking the same thing about their videos? Maybe they are looking at theirs thinking, "Hey, I did I great job," but I doubt it.
As the first category winner is announced, I am in shock. Booming Academy Award-winner music blares out of the loudspeakers, a close-up camera and a blinding bright light follow the winner as she walks to the stage to receive her award. Good Lord, they should warn you about that! That's enough to make you not want to win. The introverts in the crowd must be cowering in their seats.
Midway through the program, my category comes up. And the award for Contribution to Community goes to... they open the envelope... cue dramatic pause... Stephanie Staples from Your Life, Unlimited.
Immediately, everyone at my table is on their feet except my mom, who's 87; it would take her a few minutes to get up. Nonetheless, the rest are up. They are clapping and whooping and causing a general ruckus. I stay seated, close my eyes, and my first thought is "Really? Really? Me? Why me? I didn't start a foundation, I didn't adopt kids from a Third World country, I didn't... "
But by now, I figure I'd better get up.
Cue blinding bright light.
I make my walk to the stage, but without my fellow lemmings around me, I feel even more self-conscious. From behind the podium, which is too tall for me (and for our petite MC, Maralee Caruso), I look out into the sea of hundreds of people. It really doesn't matter how many there are; I can't see anyone. It just looks dark.
Of course, I never prepared a thank-you speech; that would be presumptuous. So because I did not want to be that awful thing, I get to be unprepared. Great.
"As business owners, as women, we always want to achieve more, to go to the next level. We dream big, we have visions, we see that there is so much more to be done, so much more to contribute. We feel we have not done enough, that we are not worthy of praise or recognition, that someone else has done more, different, better. We want to grow to the next level.
"But sometimes the universe won't allow us to go to the next level until we stop and acknowledge and appreciate the level we have already reached.
"Women unite! Today, let us celebrate where we have risen to, what we have achieved, what we have already mastered. Today, let's celebrate that, and tomorrow, let's rise to the next level together."
That's what I wish I said. In truth, I have no idea what actually came out of my mouth, and it's probably better that way.
I go home with my pretty award that I really am touched to have received. Contributing to my community is hugely important to me. I am excited to show my prize to my family. I pull into the drive and the house is dark. It's only 10:15 p.m., but everyone is in bed.
I sit on the couch in the dim light and reflect -- on the beauty of the evening, on the talent that was in the room, of all the champions that showed up to support the nominees, of the love from the people at home whose support counts no less because they weren't there.
I truly believe everyone in that room was a winner. Why don't I feel like one? Impostor Syndrome rears it's ugly head again. I talk myself around and around in circles.
My mom was not on the judging panel. Complete strangers thought I was worthy of this. Maybe, just maybe, I should just own it. Appreciate it. Love it. Love myself.
And so, with little fanfare, in the dark and quiet of my house, I quietly accept the award, I really accept. I own it. And it feels extremely good.
Stephanie Staples is an internationally acclaimed motivational speaker, the author of When Enlightening Strikes -- Creating a Mindset for Uncommon Success, and the host/producer of momondays Winnipeg. Find out more at http://www.YourLifeUnlimited.ca.