Melissa Chureau 00:00
The more we look at the contours of our thoughts and our feelings instead of turning away from them, the more we actually get through them.
Kristin Taylor 00:22
Hello, and welcome to How I made It Through. My name is Kristin Taylor, and I’m an executive coach. As a coach, I have the privilege of supporting clients in navigating many aspects of life that make it hard to focus on business. My work requires holding sacred space for stories of struggle, and facilitating a loving process of finding one’s way back to wholeness, because, much like the immortal words of Robert Frost, the best way out, is always through. As the host of how I made it through, I get the opportunity to honor amazing stories that when working as a coach, only I get to hear. I love that with this platform. More stories, and more unique voices are shared far beyond just my ears. Today’s episode is a great reminder of why I started this podcast in the first place. I wanted to raise awareness, elevate consciousness, and in the telling of personal stories help each of us unite in purpose and healing. Melissa story does just this. Melissa, like Amanda, who was featured in episode three, was also someone I met way back in middle school. Although she and I were never close, she was someone I remember well, I remember her because much like Amanda, she appeared so confident and outgoing to qualities that always impressed me because of the stark contrast they provided to my own sense of self. Melissa and I became reacquainted over Facebook. Where again, I found a remarkable, but this time for very different reasons. Her Post revealed to me a person with sensitivity and vulnerability. One who appeared to be deeply committed to growth and healing and the practice of mindfulness. I intuitively knew that she had a story to tell. In today’s episode, Melissa shares her experience of feeling like a perennial outsider. Starting in childhood, and extending into her adult years, Melissa is able to very eloquently animate what many can relate to all too well. The very real desire to simply fit in. And even when from all outward appearances, she’s able to look the part sell academically, as well as course correct when life throws her curveballs. She shares how unrelenting quote unquote unwarranted self doubt can truly feel. self doubt can all too easily become the organizing principle of our self worth, if we falter in our commitment to personal growth, and as she puts it, the black belt of mindfulness practice, that being self compassion. With the appreciation of only someone who truly gets it, Melissa recounts her own personal and professional inquiry and investigation into what she formally referred to as impostor syndrome. But now more accurately, and yes, consciously calls impostor ism. Have a listen, as she recounts her growing awareness of this issue, and how the practice of mindfulness can support our liberation from its seemingly unremitting grip on all of us. Hi, Melissa, welcome. It’s so great to have you on.
Melissa Chureau 03:56
Thanks, KristIn. It’s great to be here.
Kristin Taylor 03:59
Yeah. Well, as we get started, it’s nice to start from the beginning. If you would share a little bit about your upbringing, and how it informed some of what you’ll be sharing with us today.
Melissa Chureau 04:12
Gosh, I’m such a big topic, right?
Kristin Taylor 04:18
Or just tell me about yourself. I hate that question. Where to begin? Yeah. Well, let me make it easier for you. If I may, we’re going to be talking about this theme of wherever you go. There you are. When you think about that theme as an overriding theme, what might be a good place to start?
Melissa Chureau 04:40
Well, when I think about that, I think about you know, I spent a lot of my life trying to be someone else or hide who I really was. And what I learned through it all was that wherever you go there you Are you can hide all you want, you can put on whatever mask you want to put on, you can hide behind any tree or rock or behind a different identity, a different job, a different whatever. And you’re still you, that’s a good thing. But for a long time, I did not think that I spent a lot of my younger years, and really up until not recently, but into it well into adulthood, kind of trying to hide from who I really was, because I was afraid that it wasn’t good enough that I didn’t have the playbook that everybody else had. And that I was very different. And apart from and if you all knew that, you wouldn’t like me, you’d figure out that I was somebody didn’t want to be around or as weird or different or flawed or bad or wrong, or somehow not good enough. You know, and of course, through a lot of work, and over the years, I no longer feel that way. But it took me a long time to recognize that the person who has always been there is good enough, is full and complete and fully integrated, and is lovable and worthy. And valuable. And all of that. You know, and I don’t I don’t know where that really began. I mean, I think there are a lot of factors, you know, I could kind of analyze that. And I know that when I was young. So I’m 51. And so that puts my younger years in the 70s was the interesting time I grew up in this country, anywhere. For me, I grew up on the on the East Coast, in just outside Well, in Philadelphia, technically. And I grew up in a in an area where and during a time when it was very unusual for people to be divorced, people just didn’t do that. And my mother left my father think I was about one was about one. And so I already had that sort of knowledge, very at a very young age, maybe even before I was conscious of that, that I was different from that. And in fact, I lived with my grandparents in just a tiny little town called Honey Pot of all names, which is near Wilkes Barre, which is where the office was supposed to have taken place. So this tiny little place in a coal miner town, and I was living there, I think probably because my mother had to go work and she was a single mom. So I already knew that things were a little bit different than for other people for and I think that’s probably where that began. So even though I wasn’t fully conscious of that I had that sense that, you know, I didn’t have either parent with me, I was living with my grandparents. And I had that sense from a very young age. And then when I moved back in with my mother when I was school age, near Philadelphia, you know, here we were, my sister and I She’s older than me. We’re living in a town that is very, most people were very, very wealthy. And we were not, you know, my mother was a, a nurse worked full time worked crazy hours. You know, so often she wasn’t there. And, you know, we were just different. So I guess that that sense that the move different? Probably started at that very young age. Yeah.
Kristin Taylor 09:03
Well, there’s just so many reminders in the in the culture. Yeah, you know.
Melissa Chureau 09:09
Yeah. And I think, you know, I mean, probably a lot of people have that, you know, particularly from that era, you know, if you’re not even just school, ah, I think about my daughter who’s about to turn 14, you know, and I remember what that was like, right? And you know, everything just feels different. And all you want to do is be the same. Yeah, right. So so even later on, and even in elementary school, I was exhibiting signs of what is now known as ADHD, but at the time, if you can believe it was called minimal brain dysfunction. So had this really awful name right. I don’t even like ADHD because I don’t, I don’t now view ADHD as a disorder, I view it as just a different way of thinking yours is wired a little bit differently. And often that can really be an asset. But at the time, that’s what they called it. And so, you know, I knew that there was something different about me. And in fact, at the time, they don’t, they don’t do this anymore, thankfully. But they wanted, they would segregate kids who had learning disabilities from other from the regular class. And so I remember that being on the table. For me, unfortunately, my mother was a really good advocate. So he knew from a really young age that I was wired differently that I was, in fact different. We were socio socio economically really different. It was kind of funny story. This is before elementary school, but my sister and I, and my mother actually lived in a converted chicken coop in the middle of rural Pennsylvania for like a year and a half. And we were, you know, so strange for cash, despite the fact that my mother worked her tail off, that we used to have to get up at like five in the morning and go look for trash bins to like, go put our trash because I don’t think we could afford, you know. And so that’s what we were coming from. And so my mother in her, I mean, she really was trying so hard, where we lived in Pennsylvania. She wanted us in the best school district, and she chose wisely. We lived in this house that from what I understand now, we lived in this tiny this town called Narberth. And like I said, just outside of Philadelphia, I think it’s now like, super gentrified, and like a fancy place to live, but it was not. And we lived in this house that had, like you could literally see through the floorboards into the basement. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it was, it was fun. It was really I have friends who lived in these, like, nine bedroom offs, because there’s that kind of fold in that community. And so I really had that sense that yeah, I was different. And I ought to do whatever I could to hide who I was. Because if you figured it out, you would know I was different. And that you wouldn’t want me to be there.
Kristin Taylor 12:32
Oh, what a horrible feeling to walk around with.
Melissa Chureau 12:35
I mean, I literally, yeah, yeah, for sure. You know, and it’s, I think even later, you know, as a as a young teen or preteen in Philadelphia, I’ve definitely had that sense, you know, that I definitely didn’t fit in. And I have this cool older sister. You know, that she was sort of the person that I thought, Oh, if I could be like her, like, she seemed to have it all together. You know, she was six, six years older than me. She was super popular. She had all these friends. And every once in a while, she’d have to bring me along. She was having to babysit me. And you know, and I would see this world that looked really attractive. You know, it was like all these people, they have parties, they all knew each other. Even the older kids kind of kind of nice to me in the sort of funny little way that you know, a 16 year old might need to attend in your own right. Right. So, yeah, I just admired her. I wanted to be like her. And she wanted nothing to do with me, right, like most siblings. That is.
Kristin Taylor 13:56
It’s so interesting to hear your story. And I’ll share with with the listeners that you and I met when I think we were about 13. And I remember when you came in, and you seemed just so smart. And so self assured. I mean, I actually remember the day I met you because it had such an impression on me. But I know that feeling of feeling different. And I will just share my my parents were divorced. And my mom worked three jobs. And I remember she made $12,000 a year. And it was hard. And with the town that you and I met in it was also very fluent. And all you want us to fit in and so I’m really hearing this experience of can you say it so eloquently of feeling like you weren’t enough and comparing yourself to what was around you.
Melissa Chureau 14:47
Yeah. And you know, it’s interesting that you mentioned that that time when we met because just leading up to that. You know, I was starting to feel a little bit like I started to fit in I have this group have friends in Philadelphia, we had this. I don’t know, if kids did this on the west coast, but they were called notebooks they were notebook friends to to get this notebook. And it was just like a spiral notebook. And you had it with your best friend or maybe one or two of your best friends, you would write everything in there all of your favorite songs, you’d write letters to each other, and you pass it back and forth. And so I had these notebook friends, Eliza and Hera and Roberta, and they were all pretty wealthy, I think, I think I was the only kid who somehow you know, made it may there might have been one other kid in there who was kind of like me. But I was finally feeling like, you know, a little bit more like I fit in I mean, I still have that sense that I socio economically was really different from other kids and, but my friend Eliza would would lend me like her clothes so I could fit in a little bit better. And she pierced my ears with you know, safety pins and all that horrible things. You know, and I remember thinking I like I remember feeling and one on one says that I had arrived a little bit because my friend Eliza lived in this, I don’t know. I mean, she only like eight or nine bedrooms in this ginormous house in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. It’s very, you know, wealthy, her parents were super cool. And she had her own bedroom that was like, the size of my house. And, but she wasn’t pretentious at all. And anything she had was mine. And, you know, and I remember she was she introduced me to David Bowie, who I always say most saved my life as a teenager. And, you know, and then I remember getting my ears pierced with, you know, twice with those safety pins. And I felt like, okay, maybe, maybe, I’m alright. And then my mother told me, we’re going to move 3000 miles away to some town in California. And I was like, I mean, I don’t know if I can curse on this. But I remember saying like, WTF might have those words, you know, as a as a, as an almost eighth grader. That’s, that’s what I that’s what I would have thought like, No, you can’t, you can’t. You can’t do that. I’m just now starting to feel like maybe I could pass. Right? You know, I don’t know if I fit in, like a class for. Yes. And, you know, and then she led me I think she felt really, I don’t know what she felt guilty. Maybe? I don’t know. But she let me stay with my friend Eliza for a couple of months at the beginning of the school year. What that did, and Kristen, you’ll remember this. I may or maybe you doubt, but I certainly do, which was being dropped in the middle of Mill Valley Middle School, in the middle of eighth grade, maybe some time, close to Christmas. And just like starting one day, you know, and talk about feeling like an outsider. It’s funny that you thought I was confident because I mean, it must have been all bravado. Because I felt in phantasmal you know, I it was like, you all were speaking a different language. And in fact, I remember some cannot remember who it was. But I think I still have quite a Philadelphia accent. And I remember some kid asking me what country I was from, and sort of thinking like, yeah, what country Am I from? This is so different, like Philadelphia very different than Mill Valley, California Land of hot tubs and famous people. And you know, I don’t know if you remember the golf course you do. Our middle school had like, was divided into different schools. So I think we had like some school and you know, these different schools with like.
Kristin Taylor 19:25
Wind and wood.
Melissa Chureau 19:28
And, you know, I, I was I went to more of what was like a city school, even though it was also very much suburban but and I just, and it was, world was rocked in a way and everyone seems infinitely cooler and more interesting than me. And because things were different than now I think curriculum is the same in all schools. Ask the country more or less, right. But at the time, that was not the case. So I just remember feeling totally lost. And like, I had no idea what people were learning. And I didn’t know how to ask for help, and I didn’t, that’s so much pressure for a kid is so I desperately was looking for know it is and you know, and I think now as adults, like we really need to pay attention to that, or, you know, our any kids that we might have in our families, you know, like, it’s really hard to be a preteen and a teenager and having all that pressure. And, you know, we can’t just rely on the kids to voice what they need. Like, we need to ask them. That’s right. That’s right, we need to understand what they need.
Kristin Taylor 20:49
And I hope we’re getting better at that. And you and I have kids, you have a daughter and I have a son, the same age and yeah, yeah. So moving forward. And, you know, as I listen to you, of course, I can’t step into your shoes, but I can feel the the anguish of, of what that must have been like to step in mid year and not know anyone, especially given what you’ve just shared. move us forward in your life, whatever feels right, whether it feels like high school, college, and how this theme plays out. And then I want to get to imposter ism, and what that means to you. But if there’s anything left to share in that regard.
Melissa Chureau 21:33
I mean, I think, you know, I talking about what we can do to support our kids. Well, you know, I don’t, I don’t blame my mother or anyone else for you know, what I was thinking or feeling or lacking. It just, it just was what it was. But I can tell you that I didn’t really have any solutions. So I tried to find what I will call ill suited solutions. So my first solution was introduced to me by one of my friends who was so much cooler than me. Her name was Tamra, and she was just like, I think she had already been to Paris or something. And she was one of those kids who just, you know, just exuded pool and like, she had like this French stepdad. And, you know, I mean, everybody in Mill Valley was cool. Like everybody had like a famous parent or relative, or I didn’t. Crazy, crazy. Well, you and me were the only people felt that way. Yeah, and maybe the only people who didn’t have hot phones, I don’t know, I lived in an apartment and tam Valley, you know, on the ground floor. And all these people lived like, amazing lives. But, um, so I found these solutions, you know, and Tamra had shown me and I, you know, Tamra showed me how to smoke cigarettes, Tara showed me that how to be Billy Mac, oh, you can eat everything you wanted to and just, you know, get rid of it. And, and wasn’t that great was like a revelation to me. And, you know, I had a couple other friends who were doing that too. And then, you know, of course, I found alcohol too. I mean, growing up where we did, it was readily available. I think in you and I’ve talked about this before, too, as young as young girls. I mean, I don’t know what the boys did to find it. But it certainly wasn’t difficult as a girl to find. I don’t remember ever, ever wanting it and not having it. Right. You know, access to it. And so, you know, I turned to those solutions as a way to feel like I fit in and to, well, those feelings of what I later found with to be anxiety. Maybe depression and definitely impostor ism. So, you know, my whole thing was, I just wanted to to be like everybody else. I was comparing, as we say, you know, my insides with everybody’s outsides and everyone else had it together. And I did not. And the perfect, you know, irony to that is the more I relied on those behaviors, drinking, partying, being crazy, really, as a teenager, you know, the more I actually made myself different and apart from other people.
Kristin Taylor 24:52
I love what you say that you were comparing your insides to everyone’s outsides, I think it’s just such a poignant statement that so many of us can relate to Go. And then I’m really curious when you say when you started partying and using alcohol and just kind of been wild, you started to change. Tell me more about that. That’s really interesting.
Melissa Chureau 25:15
I mean, I went. So back when I was a kid living in Philadelphia, I was very much an introvert. You know, I have fond memories, or not sad memories have fond memories of being out on the sidewalk playing with the potato bugs and singing songs to them. You know, I mean, I have fond memories of climbing a tree on my own. I have fond memories of running fast and wild Obama. And feeling very, those are times when even though I often fall apart from even then I felt very much in my body and very much myself. And so interestingly, when I started using alcohol and other behaviors, partying, I became much more extroverted. And I had that bravado that I thought was maybe attractive, other people. I thought that’s what made me strong, or, you know, cool for something that I wasn’t that that somehow would make me more acceptable to other people. But in doing so, I mean, I think I certainly not intentionally differentiated myself, you know, I made myself different from other people, because they didn’t take it that far. I mean, some of us were taking it that far. Certainly, there were people who, who went overboard, and, you know, we would go play quarters and drinking game in the middle of the day at some kid’s house in Sausalito, or, you know, go over the deli across from tam high and somebody would have brought vodka and we drink out all day and be nuts. But there weren’t many of us doing that. But those of us who are doing that sort of started to get like a reputation, right of like, Oh, those are the those are the crazy kids. That’s not what I want it, you know, I wanted to I wanted to fit in, I used to be crispy, really good at school. You know, I excelled in math. And then when I moved to the West Coast, and it was different math, so I suddenly thought I didn’t know anything about math. And so I went from this person who I, I really was, which is a more introverted, self sufficient, very, you know, physical in a healthy way. Smart, quieter person, to this kind of, like a one ad, right, because that’s what I thought people won. And the irony was, I don’t know that anyone wanted that. i This is just my, my, you know, weird interpretation of how to how to offend it. And, you know, and that was, I think really damaging, I think, to myself, and maybe even, you know, others, for sure, others definitely to my family. You know, I guess I was lucky that my mother once again decided to help us move around 10th grade from Northern California down to Los Angeles. So I once again, just like didn’t fit in, at all, right, when and I should mention, I had gotten sober at that time, was the cool thing to do. And the Amy’s thank God, because it’s a healthy thing. And I was just starting to feel like, you know, I fit in with, with other kids and, you know, move to the, to LA. And this was really different. And, you know, and I think, you know, as I grew up, and out of all of that, you know, I continue to rely a lot on alcohol as a way to manage my feelings, and to manage that. That sense of imposter anism, which I know we’ll talk about, but you know, it for me really is what I call unwarranted self doubt. And I think the unwarranted is really important because so many of us think that we aren’t, whatever, good enough, smart enough, whatever and, and that somebody is going to be found or somebody is going to find that out that we’re fraud in some way that we’re not really qualified or worthy or whatever. Um, And that is unwarranted because in actuality, we are enough. We are smart enough, we have all of these accomplishments. And we have all of these amazing qualities. And so it’s unwarranted self doubt. And, you know, I, I definitely managed alcohol and other behaviors I ended up. We talked about this before Kristen, but I ended up well, I’m gonna say it’s a cult, but I joined hopefully doesn’t offend anyone. In LA, I wanted so much to to be a part of that I ended up meeting this gal who was like, Oh, I know what you can be a part anyway, it was Scientology. And I ended up being involved in.
Kristin Taylor 30:50
I had the feeling you were going to say that. Really? Yeah, I just felt like you were gonna say that.
Melissa Chureau 30:56
It’s a very, it can be really attractive to some people because it’s very welcoming. I had never in my life, been as welcomed by adults and my peers as I was by this group of people.
Kristin Taylor 31:13
How old were you at that point?
Melissa Chureau 31:15
It’s 16. Okay, yeah, 13 to 16. And this gal that I have met, she’s, well, I can get you a job at this house she sold, it was not like, let’s go to a Scientology thing. She just said, you know, I’m working. And she seemed pretty cool. She say I’m working in downtown LA, on Wilshire Boulevard. And anyone knows, like, that’s a pretty cool thing to be doing at the age of 16 years old, you know, going into high school and then working on parchment or on Wilshire Boulevard in some high rise, you know, and so I went checked it out. And it was like, the nonprofit arm of Scientology, Scientology is very big in LA. And all they wanted me to do was to get kids to, to read a book, so that it would help them somehow not take drugs or get off drugs, have some scrape. And when I got paid, and I had a little cubicle, and I got to dress up and and again, I felt like the CEO, or whatever it was of the nonprofit would have me in his office and talk with me. And they trained me about basically, they gave me the handbook that I had been wanting to have my whole life. Right.
Kristin Taylor 32:37
Right here is the map. Here’s the playbook.
Melissa Chureau 32:41
Here’s the lay of the land, open it up to page three, here’s what you do when A, B, or C. Here’s what you do when you know, X Y and Z.
Kristin Taylor 32:52
Yeah, I can see how appealing that must have been.
Melissa Chureau 32:55
Yes. And, you know, and probably, you know, some of what they taught me was legit. I mean, there was probably it was probably some of it was based on probably some interesting studies, but you know, it was way it was contorted in the way that they manipulate people. And thankfully, this was the days before the internet. So I think what had happened, but and how I got out of it was not any sort of, like amazing, like, I had this revelation of like, I don’t belong here, like, anything wonderful. Like you hear some of these stories. And luckily, I wasn’t that far. And I think I did that for a year and a half or something. Was so they, they do this thing. They use basically a lie detector test to help people process emotions. And I, I didn’t like it. And I got nervous because it involves like electricity. And I also just didn’t like that they would know that much about me. And so I tried to call in sick one day, I’m not even sure I was really sick. It was just I didn’t feel like going whatever. And so they wanted to help me process because they don’t really believe in illness. I mean, it’s not that you’re not ill but they believe from what I remember that you’re ill because you don’t understand something you need to process. And so I remember having to go in and I just didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to go and it’s called getting audited. I didn’t want to get audited. And I just was like That’s it. I’m done. You know, and luckily I still had that sort of bravado that teenager like F U I don’t get to tell me what to do.
Kristin Taylor 34:50
Oh, God. Yes.
Melissa Chureau 34:52
I walked out the door and you know, all they had was my phone number. You know, no internet. They don’t I mean, they did send people out Our time. So anyway, that was how I got out of Scientology. God The point is is how much I wanted to fit in was that I was willing to be part of, you know, what is ultimately a battle, in my view a dangerous cold.
Kristin Taylor 35:15
Agreed. So fascinating. I remember in college I was solicited to by Scientology, and they had you fill out this form that had seemingly really random questions that in some way, let them know that you are in desperate need of their solution. And I too, had some sense in that moment, because I was at a very different place. But I was like, No, I don’t I don’t think so. But when I listen to you around auditing, I’ve seen a couple of documentaries on auditing, and what a mind eff that can be so good for you. Ah, you know,
Melissa Chureau 35:55
Mhmm. I think it’s a little ironic that the very thing that I have developed that that didn’t work so well for me in earlier years in high school, this bravado, this, like F U-ness, this whatever what that was, was actually what saved me from a dangerous cult. So I mean, and that’s why I just think like, you never know, I, I don’t regret the past. Right? Because even that served its purpose. I love that the bravado served its purpose, that even the Scientology experience served its purpose, right, because what didn’t manage to do was show me that I really wanted to be a part of something that it also it really was ended up being good for my self esteem. Those people did value. And they trusted me to do things. And I did things that I didn’t think I could do. You know, I was talking with heads of school all over the country as a, you know, a 16 year old, and they trusted me with that people listen to me. And they were persuaded by me. So it was even that experience, as you know, crazy as it was, it served a good purpose. Right, there was still something that that came out of it.
Kristin Taylor 37:19
That’s very valuable. I can see why that was something that was so worthwhile to your self esteem. That’s a big deal. It’s extreme to be talking to grownups and school districts and having a voice in that way. What I’d love to do is dive a little bit more into impostor ism. And I’ve always been calling it impostor syndrome. But I have the feeling, there is a difference in that word choice. And I’d love for you to shed some light on that.
Melissa Chureau 37:48
Yeah, you know, it’s really interesting. How to talk about imposterism. You know, I want to get there by sharing a story, which is that, despite my my growth and self esteem, back when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, when I grew up, I had such incredible impostor ism that I didn’t think I was smart enough to, to go to, to get a master’s. So I had gotten an under this is, and this is why I call it unwarranted self doubt. I have gone to College of Marin, which is a fine school. And then I transferred and got my degree in English literature from University of California at Berkeley. Great school, right? It means something. Yes, I literally went to classes with professors who are rock stars in their field. published, I tell people who I took classes from who you know, have any interest in English literature, and they are floored, right. And yet, I thought that I was not smart enough to pass the GRE, which is the test that you have to take to get into graduate school I wanted to be but it wasn’t really sure I went to film school because I really wanted to make documentaries. But I was also very much interested in continuing with English literature and teaching. And so I instead of working through that, I succumb to my imposter ism and, and found the, the one test that you can take that you didn’t actually have to know anything for, which is the LSAT, the test that you have to take to get into law school, so I figured I wasn’t smart enough for a Master’s but I was lucky enough to get to go to law school. That’s where my imposter is. It’s just funny.
Kristin Taylor 39:39
It’s so wild. Well, as well to me on two different levels. One, it’s wild that the imposter isn’t really created that belief system for you. And it’s also wild because the asset you don’t have to know anything like what does that mean? That that goes totally against my assumption. What do you mean by that?
Melissa Chureau 39:56
You have to know it’s really I mean, I joke I No, it’s not really this, I joke that if you know how to read, you can take the LSAT, it’s not really that you do have to know how to think. And so it’s really more of a skills test, rather than a knowledge test. So your world is the test. So you don’t have to remember, you know, what happened in 1843. You know, in Iowa, or in Great Britain, you don’t have to know the square root of whatever equals whatever. And so that’s what I you know, and, you know, I had so much phosphorus around my ADHD and lack of understanding and short term memory and just not processing in the same way and never getting help for that. I just thought there’s no way I could possibly pass the GRE, but I, I could do a skills test, you know, I was good at passing it things, you know, like, pretending to be some. So I ended up becoming a lawyer based on based on that decision. And I’m a good lawyer. It was just a funny thing in the end. And, you know, and I don’t know why that’s getting me the question of, you know, what you asked about the difference between imposter syndrome and impostor ism. But I will get there by saying, you know, it wasn’t until deep into my career, I’ve been aware for all the 20 It’ll be 20 years this year. And I have gotten to this point where I was, I was, I just was feeling not terribly satisfied with where I was in my career. And so I, I started doing some work. You know, by this time, I had been sober for over a decade. And I have been to plenty of therapy. And I have been practicing mindfulness for a decade, and I had done all this work. But I still have this sense that despite all of that, that I was horrible at what I did. And I was just a really good bullshitter. And that, you know, somewhere somebody was going to figure that out. And I was terrified. And so I started to dive a little bit deeper into impostor ism, and I don’t even remember, it was like one of those, you know, when the universe just sort of answers your call. And I was, I don’t know, on the listserv, some, I think there’s the Oregon women’s listserv, and some in you know, which inundates people with emails all the time with all sorts of wonderful stuff. But, you know, you tend to filter through, but I paid attention to this one. And it was a woman by the name of Neha Sampat, who is from the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s a fellow lawyer, and she was doing a workshop on impostor ism. And she called out what that she called it, I think, impostor syndrome. She call that out what it was, I thought, I have that. And it was the first time that I was like, you, I’m gonna spend the money. It was a little bit of money to take this workshop, and learn about in phosphorus. And it was that that started my my venture into the work of imposter ism and recognizing that, and I now know that 70% of all people in this country, and I’m sure that’s wildly underreported, as 70% of all people will experience imposters and at some point in their in their lives. And often, the more successful you are, the more likely you are to experience that again. It’s that unwarranted self doubt. And what I began to learn about impostor ism, and I called it impostor syndrome for a long time and, and I have worked with other wonderful lawyers. Suzanne Araunah, with somebody I work with. She’s a career coach lawyer, here in Portland, and another colleague partner, Bonnie, and we have given workshops to to fellow lawyers, and organizations on impostor ism. And so for a long time, we were calling it impostor syndrome. And we were focusing on all the things that you as an individual we as individuals can do to help ourselves not experience impostor ism, and that is great. That work is valid. And then our world kind of got shook by. There was an article by two scholar, wonderful, amazing women machico Tala Shan, if I’m saying her name, right, and Jodi Ann burry, and they wrote an article in the Harvard Harvard Business Review, called stop telling women, they have impostor syndrome. And I was like, What is this? And I read their article, and I was like, Holy shit, we have been asked this all the wrong way. Because what this article suggested, not suggested said was that this is not yes, people experience impostor ism, but all sorts of people experience imposters, and this is a systemic problem. This is not a problem caused by the individual. And the solution, it doesn’t just rest with me, the individual, right, kind of like climate change, can’t be changed by people just reducing and reusing and recycling. It also from from, you know, big corporations and governments and society at large, right? There has to be a massive shift as the cause is system. And that’s what the this article and then some of the other work that I’ve I’ve read, and looked at talks about, and I now can see, it’s like, I can’t believe we didn’t see this, that this is a systemic problem caused by the culture that we live in. And depending on what field we work in, they can very much be the field, it certainly is in law. And what they suggested, and I and I definitely feel this way myself, is that by saying imposter syndrome, in the board syndrome, kind of like disorder in you know, ADHD, it had fallen dies and rests all of the responsibility and accountability on the individual rather than recognizing that there might be other causes as well. Right. And so I’m very now very intentional about talking about imposter ism, rather than impostor syndrome. And in fact, what we found in this article, another work that I’ve looked at, too, is that, you know, the original studies done on impostor ism, were only done on women. So of course, it seemed like it was a women’s only, but it experience, but it kind of, I mean, I don’t think it’s I don’t think that the original researchers intended this at all, but it sort of kind of fit into this hysterical woman thing, right? That, you know, as another warrior person, you know exactly what I’m talking about, like, when and have a feeling or something strong or are assertive in some way, is hysterical woman. Think so? I don’t think the original researchers intended that at all, but it sort of fed into that trope, right? Yes. And so I think it’s really important to and very empowered as somebody who have experiences and it’s very empowering for me, also recognize it is not a fifth ology. It is not something wrong or bad about me. It is it is an experience, but it has a lot of causes. And not all of the responsibility lies with me to make those changes.
Kristin Taylor 49:07
Yes. Melissa, that is so powerful.
Melissa Chureau 49:11
Oh, thank you. Yeah, I was gonna tell you a funny story. I had so much impostor ism about coming on this show. Because I was like, What in the Wide World of Sports do I have to say, you know, and I was stressing about all of your other speakers who are so amazing. And they really they really are. Each individual person is so wonderful, and I know you and you’re so amazing. And I thought oh my gosh, when I’m so vanilla, like I have nothing to say and I you know, and I just started to go there.
Kristin Taylor 49:44
You went there so seductive.
Melissa Chureau 49:47
It is right? It’s it. And you know, what does that do is that perfectionism combined with that like I don’t, I’m just gonna give up like I did. I actually have the thought was fleeting, but I have Have a thought. I’m just gonna tell Kristen. You know, thank you. But you know, I don’t know I’m, my dog ate my homework.
Kristin Taylor 50:09
Well, Melissa, I love that you’re saying this, I love that you’re saying this because I often feel the same way. And I what I hope is that when people hear that, because if anyone is listening to this, it is so evident you the depth of your insight and your experience and calm, yet intelligent way you speak like, it’s like, oh my goodness, to me, it’s so from the moment I met you in eighth grade, I’m like, she’s so smart. And you are, which means we really need to look at not only in this is what you’re really teaching right now, not only our experience of it, but to contextualize it and to greater society and look at it through a different prism. And to recognize it’s not the onus and the responsibility is not just our own, but what is happening where it can be so seductive, so to speak. So I just love that you’re normalizing that these thoughts occur, and they are just thoughts. So that feels like a really good segue into mindfulness. How does mindfulness help you work with impostor ism, when it shows up as it does? For so many of us?
Melissa Chureau 51:15
It really does. And, and, you know, as I don’t know, I’m not suggesting I think I’m, I’m pounding that message, which is that it is societal, you know, we, especially if we’re women, or if we have some other way that we don’t actually fit in. So definitely bipoc LGBTQIA. Persons, people with disabilities, whether they’re visible or invisible, definitely can experience imposter ism, and then feel the extra onus of having to show up and be overly competent, because they are now representative, that particular, you know, whether as a woman or as a bipoc person, or LGBTQIA, or a disabled person, like, oh, I have to show up and be the representative. Man, particular identity and write have to be the ambassador. And now there’s so much pressure and I automatically walk into a room and I don’t belong, because probably, most people are not like, and so it is, it is it is quite, you know, it’s very important to recognize that it is, I’m going to argue, a universal experience a human experience. And so agree, no, there might be people out there who don’t feel that way that? I don’t know. I mean, I’m going to call BS on them a little bit, I think because I think people have experienced it. That’s not to diminish the people who experience it more significantly, because they are the other and have been. And I think as a society, we need to continue this work on making sure and going out of our way to create inclusivity and belongingness. And and get out of our our ways of you know that this is the way normal quote unquote, people behave, or this is how you quote unquote, fit in Yeah, we definitely need to look at ways that we can expand that inclusivity.
Kristin Taylor 53:20
Right. Yeah, but the template needs to broaden. Yeah, yeah, mindfulness is a way and I think, not just from the individuals perspective, but from that societal perspective, right? Because, you know, is great if I can practice mindfulness, and be aware of my thoughts, and my feelings and my experiences, which is what mindfulness has given me. But if mindfulness can be brought to the broader world, or Western world, to organizations, leaders, companies, and then they practice mindfulness, wherein they become more aware of their thoughts and their feelings and their experiences, then they can see certain patterns. And they can also see where people are connected in a way that they maybe didn’t notice that before. And, and that can contribute to that inclusivity and belongingness. And here’s what I mean. So, as a mindfulness practitioner, what I have learned, is to slow everything down. But I also don’t have anything so mindfulness practice, the practice of being aware in the present moment, without judgment, and also with some compassion in those practices. I then experience and see what needs to be seen. So don’t hide from or try to push away. My thoughts and feelings as I have as a younger A person, right? We lean into them. Yes, we get curious. I remember when somebody, first mindfulness teacher who said to get curious about something, I wanted to strangle them. But they were right, right? Because it was like, Oh, I have to, I can’t just turn I can’t I want to turn away from this, this experience really uncomfortable. Seeing my repetitive thoughts, my planning my strategies, my plans, my concerns, my worries about how I look and how I feel in audit, a dividend, my control and all the things that happen in my monkey brain. But when I let them be, they could experience a level of acceptance, not acceptance, this is okay with me. But this is what is. And I could then witness patterns, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes good ones, you know, sometimes uncomfortable ones, and learn and I this one oh, my god blacked out. Mindfulness is what I call it is self compassion, at least for me. Yes. That is one of the most challenging me or so or I guess I can only speak for myself that I no other skill is spoke to you. We are so awful to ourselves, we really are. And sometimes, sometimes in the practice of mindfulness, we get even worse, right? Because we’re there with our thoughts and our feelings. And we’ll even be raid ourselves for not being mindful enough, right? I can’t believe I’m here again, leave it gone, blah, blah, blah, blah, why can’t you can’t even meditate, right? Well, blah, blah, blah, you know. And so the interesting part is, the more we lean into that, the more we look at the contours of our thoughts and our feelings, instead of turning away from them, we actually get through them. And the more that we have perspective, I remember, way back when I, before I was maybe even aware of mindfulness, I remember watching some PBS special, it was a Deepak Chopra. And I remember thinking, holy crap, he was saying, you know, who is the thinker of the thoughts, and that was like, my love.
Melissa Chureau 57:21
But that’s what it is, right? You by practicing these practices on a daily basis, and it is a practice not in perfection, it is a practice. And it looks really different on a daily basis, I then become aware that there’s, there’s the boss, and then there’s the thinker, that’s me. And that is much bigger, and broad. And I mean, I’ve had some experiences where I feel connected to others in a way that I never felt before. Particularly if you practice mindfulness in the group, it’s, it’s an amazing practice to, to have that connection. And so what I was getting to is, if I’m experiencing that, if my crazy ADHD brain can sit and watch the river, or the, you know, the stream of thoughts go by, and feelings, and I can get that perspective about it, and see patterns, then I wonder what happens when the CEO of whatever company also does that. All also becomes mindful of his or her their thoughts and feelings and emotions, and also realizes that they are one of many human beings in their organization. And I, I wonder, and I know from experience, what that does, right? Because you cannot sit there and practice mindfulness, and not at some point, recognize that you are connected to every other human being, and that you have responsible, you have responsibility, you will be compelled to engage in practices, that that increase inclusivity and blindness, period. It’s an inevitable, you cannot do the one and then and not do anything another.
Kristin Taylor 59:32
Melissa, the way you just described that I’ve heard lots of people talk about mindfulness. And I’ve been studying mindfulness for a while, and you just opened it up and made it so accessible. When people say describe what is mindfulness? I think it’s a very simple question and yet a very challenging one to answer unless you’ve practiced it, and I feel like for those who haven’t practiced it, you really gave them insight into what it means And why it’s powerful and answered so beautifully how it connects to imposter ism. Thank you that was really well done. And I love how then you elevate it to and why we need to bring it to people of influence so that we can not only impact impostor ism. So there is more inclusion in a sense of belonging, which of course impacts impostor ism, but it just needs to happen more frequently for so many reasons. Really well, sad things.
Melissa Chureau 1:00:30
I mean, our culture is craving this right now. Yes. I mean, when you look at the great resignation, as they’re calling it, all of these people are reassessing who they want to be what they want, how they want to spend their time. And they know, whatever what was whatever was happening, isn’t working. And it’s right. That’s right. They don’t want that. So we can really seize the moment. Right, this is really is this is really where, you know, the tides shift. And we have this opportunity. Should we take it? Yeah. Yeah, that’s the question. That is the question. This is ours for the taking?
Kristin Taylor 1:01:17
Yeah, yeah. Well, you have shared so much, I just could listen to you for so much longer, you really are a really great guide and teacher sharing as openly as you did. And I think myself included, I think so many of us can relate, although our stories aren’t exactly the same, but the feeling of being like an outsider, of not being enough. And in how you shared your story, really weaving together. Those moments where your eyes are opened, are different ways of responding to all of those feelings that come up and contextualize it into the culture at large. So I just want to thank you so much for all that you have shared of yourself. And with everyone in terms of here’s the opportunity. Here’s a way that we can do things differently. And I appreciate your your Sage insights, they they really matter.
Melissa Chureau 1:02:16
Thank you so much. It’s been such a wonderful opportunity to get to reconnect with you. And it’s amazing that you’re bringing these different voices to the world is I think that’s really important. And you know, especially, especially now, how we make it through is so important, and the way that we do that is together, and you’re creating that space for us to do that together. Thank you.
Kristin Taylor 1:02:48
You’re very welcome. And to anyone who’s listening, I invite so many stories he knows so many diverse stories, people from different backgrounds, different experiences, people of different cultures, and colors and gender identities that these stories need to be elevated as much as possible. And it is more than my honor to elevate those voices yours included. So thank you so much, Melissa.
Melissa Chureau 1:03:12
Kristin Taylor 1:03:15
As a fellow mindfulness practitioner, and listening to Melissa, I so admire how she is able to elegantly translate mindfulness principles in a way that makes them so immediate, relatable, and so accessible, while also reminding us how powerful it can be in driving greater connection, community and inclusion. I found myself sharing in her hope, and feeling inspired by her vision that indeed, perhaps the great resignation, as it’s so recently been coined, might not just hold the promise of a better future, but instead act as an actual catalyst. Should leaders say yes to the invitation it represents by making mindfulness a bedrock of leadership practice, allowing us to know ourselves more fully. And in doing so, lead with improved self awareness, self compassion, when not if we stumble, empathy, discernment, responsibility, and wisdom. Our theme song and sound engineering was provided by Shane Suffriti you can listen to more of Shane’s music at www.shanesuffriti.com. If you have a story about making it through something that forever changed, you are want to tell us what you think about our podcast. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org If you enjoyed today’s episode, we humbly ask that you share it with others. Thank you for listening. We’ll see you next time on How I Made It Through.
EIQ Media, LLC 1:04:52
How I Made It Through is produced and distributed by EIQ Media, LLC. Elevate your emotional IQ with podcasts and content focused on overcoming adversity, leadership, mental health, entrepreneurship, spiritually transformative experiences and more.