Massage therapists are uniquely qualified to step back and notice how they feel in their bodies and minds. So, how can they view their choices objectively? In this episode of The ABMP Podcast, Kristin and Darren speak with Allissa Haines about her article “Is It Impostor Syndrome or . . .” in the May/June 2022 issue of Massage & Bodywork magazine, how the pandemic brought the issues of ego into scope, and how asking yourself the right questions will help you determine whether it’s impostor syndrome or good judgment.
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0:00:53.8 Darren Buford: I'm Darren Buford.
0:00:54.9 Allissa Haines: And I'm Kristin Coverly.
0:00:56.7 DB: And welcome to the ABMP podcast, the podcast where we speak with the massage and bodywork profession. Our guest today is Allissa Haines. Allissa is a practicing massage therapist of 17 years, and she partners with Michael Reynolds at Massage Business Blueprint to help her colleagues get more clients, make more money and improve their quality of life. She is also the co-host of the wonderful podcast Massage Business Blueprint, and she is a columnist and frequent feature writer for Massage and Bodywork Magazine, which brings us to our discussion today. For more information about Allissa, please visit her site at massagebusinessblueprint.com or read her work each issue at massageandbodyworkdigital.com. Hello, Allissa. Hello, Kristin.
0:01:35.4 AH: Hey, thanks for having me.
0:01:37.3 Kristin Coverly: Hello. And thanks for coming back to the ABMP podcast. We love having you as a guest, and this is gonna be a really interesting discussion, so listeners, I think you're gonna love this one. Allissa, let's start with your original article that you wrote for the May/June 2019 issue of Massage and Bodywork Magazine, titled "Feeling Like A Fake... Impostor Syndrome in massage therapists". I'm so curious, why were you drawn to write about that topic?
0:02:01.2 AH: So it was partly because as my own business grew and expanded, the decisions I had to make in my business became a lot more complex. I started as just one person in one little massage office, and then my office got bigger and I had renters, and then I had more community referral partners, and then I have a yoga studio and stuff got more and more complex and I got more and more stressed out about making decisions and about how my decisions would impact other people's lives, so that was a little more pressure than I had been used to in any kind of work environment, and at the same time, there was a lot of information coming out about impostor syndrome, and I totally saw myself in it. It's a thing that's really common in women, in high achievers, and those are in general the kind of practitioners I try to surround myself with, and I saw in a lot of us, and we would have such tremendous experience and such expertise, both in business and hands-on, and we would still really cage our thoughts with saying, "Well, perhaps it could be X, Y, Z", instead of saying, "In my experience, it's usually X, Y, Z, and here's how it has proven well to work with", and we would just really cage our thoughts and our assertions, so that they would just be...
0:03:15.3 AH: I don't know, it seemed like our thoughts needed to be affirmed before being valid, and I saw that. We should probably talk a little bit about what impostor syndrome and the impostor cycle is... Can I jump into that?
0:03:24.9 KC: Yes, please do.
0:03:25.1 DB: Yes, please.
0:03:25.9 AH: Okay. So in a nutshell, 'cause I'd love for you to go back and read that full article 'cause I'm so proud of it, but if you don't want to, here's what impostor syndrome is, and it usually shows up in a cycle. So, it happens with... There's some kind of task, or project, or thing that you have to do in your business, or in anything, but let's use business examples here, like let's say you have to present 10 minutes about oncology massage to a breast cancer survivor group. In the impostor cycle, the first thing that happens is a lot of anxiety and self-doubt where you doubt whether or not you are capable and skilled enough to do this thing that you have committed to or even that you're thinking about doing. And then this can go one of two ways in this cycle. You can be the kind of person like I am, where you over-prepare and you spend tons of time and you go into every rabbit hole of every little bit of information and you slave over this... What do you call it, PowerPoint presentation and everything you're gonna say, you practice in the mirror for hours on hours, and the event or task or project might go really, really well, and that's great, but instead of saying, "This went well because I have mad skills... "
0:04:37.5 AH: You think to yourself, "This went well, but it's only because I over-prepared and I had to work so much harder than the most, whatever, normal, intelligent, capable person just to keep my head above water and to be average", or you could fall into the part where you procrastinate. So you procrastinate and maybe you do, pull up on over-nighter the night before and you slot everything together and you wing it and it goes really well, but you attribute that to luck. When the reality is, you're super skilled in this area where you have expertise, and so you are more than capable of winging it, and you probably didn't need to stay up all night the night before, you probably could have just made a few bullet points for yourself on a three by five card and called it a day. But the end result is that you never really think of your successes as successes because you're smart and capable. There's always some other reason, either you had to work way harder on it or it was just luck, or you happened to have a good audience that day or whatever, but you never really give yourself the credit that you're due for having skills and expertise.
0:05:39.6 KC: Yes, and so many people are due their credit and really have the skills, they just aren't embracing them. I'm curious, Allissa, you said that was fresh in your mind when you wrote the article back in 2019. Do you still find that you have moments where you go through this, or was your awareness in writing the article helpful in helping you move through it?
0:05:58.9 AH: It has been very helpful for me. I think I've done a better job of kinda following some of my own suggestions about really just keeping a document, or keeping some kind of file or keeping some reminders really in front of your face that remind you that you're really good at what you do. And I actually kinda laughed because during that intro... Because Darren's intro really emphasized the writing portion of my work. I will tell you that I almost flunked... I might have said, I don't know if I've talked about this before, but I almost flunked out of English Composition Two, my freshman year of college.
0:06:35.3 AH: My teacher, my instructor, my professor was just a nightmare of a human being, and I was accused of plagiarism and my final project, my final writing project I was flunked on, so it ended up where I got like whatever D minus or something, and then I couldn't fight the grade, because that instructor went on sabbatical the next year, and then the year after that, I went away to a different college as part of an exchange program, so I was never able to fight it, and my only option was gonna be to take English Comp Two again, in my senior year of college, and I was like, "No way, I'm taking quilting as women's art, thank you very much." So, anyhow... And you're doing that introduction where it was really heavy emphasis on my writing, and I giggled, 'cause I'm like, "People pay me to write. This is part of how I make a living."
0:07:16.3 DB: Because you're really, really good at it. Really, really good at it.
0:07:21.9 AH: Screw you, Professor Kane!
0:07:21.9 KC: Yeah, we're going back, just give me that phone number, I'm making the call today to Professor Kane.
0:07:26.9 AH: But I think it's a really good example, and we'll probably dive into this a little bit, too, in the part about the update to this article, is that that planted a seed in me of thinking that I was not capable of doing this thing, that as it turns out, I'm alright at, I'm pretty good at I can make money doing it, but it was this life experience that really like smacked me in the face very early on, where I didn't even consider writing until I kind of fell into it 10 years ago or so.
0:07:56.6 KC: Yeah, and as we'll talk about more in the pod, upcoming, there are a lot of reasons why people could have this Impostor Syndrome be really front and center in their lives, and it's not just, "I don't know that I have the right work experience", there could be a lot of other reasons for it and we'll get more into that. That's really true.
0:08:15.1 DB: Now, Allissa, do you think a lot of MTs are particularly susceptible to Impostor Syndrome?
0:08:20.1 AH: I do. Partly because our field is mostly women and we see this pop up more in women, and I think that there's an interesting little thing that happens, because massage has a really low barrier to entry in most places. Now, I know that someone's gonna email me and be like, "But in New York, it requires, whatever, 5,000 hours of training." In some places it does, but in other places, it's 200 hours of training and you've got a license to touch people or you don't even need a license, you're just putting your hands on people. So this is good in a lot of ways, like we need more skilled touch providers and a lower barrier to entry can be good for that, but it can also mean it's really scary to go out into the world and be a massage therapist, and if you had a shorter education or you just didn't have a great education, you didn't feel real good about it, you didn't feel well supported in your education, in that transition to actually being a massage therapist, it can feel real scary, and especially in regards to hands-on practice, feeling like you're just like, "I'm not ready."
0:09:13.1 AH: "I'm not ready to touch people." So I think there's some legitimate nervousness in starting this career or even in starting a different part of this career, starting to serve a different clientele or moving into a different environment, and I think if you add in that most people don't have business training or they kinda stumble into being self-employed, and I mostly work with self-employed people... It's really a recipe for self-doubt and nervousness and second-guessing and insecurity. And I think add in the fact that sometimes in certain communities, massage is not held in high esteem, that that can really... You can only get asked so many times, "Oh, can I... How much do you charge for a back rub?" and in my head, I'm like, "A back rub, really?", but eventually these things like beat you down a little bit, so if you don't have a super-supportive community and you didn't feel real supported in your transition into becoming a massage therapist, there's just a lot of self-doubt.
0:10:07.9 S?: Let's take a short break to hear a word from our sponsors.
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0:10:48.8 S?: Now, let's get back to the podcast.
0:10:51.1 KC: Allissa, I'm curious, and I think maybe our listeners are curious too, as we're talking about impostor syndrome and they're probably putting themselves in different scenarios that they've experienced, I know I am, as we're having this conversation where they've had this experience, the question starts to come up... Where does the line exist between maybe just a level of nervousness which even could be healthy nervousness about a new opportunity and second guessing, to impostor syndrome? Where, what's the difference between those kind of scenarios?
0:11:18.8 AH: I was listening to something the other day and I heard it expressed that nervousness you feel in your belly and anxiety you feel in your chest, and it kind of relates to this. I think a healthy nervousness is butterflies in your belly. It causes you to pause and think through the risks and benefits of whatever it is that's making you nervous. Maybe you just need a pep talk from a colleague to get you back on track, maybe you just need to watch a video in the Five-minute Muscle app about rotator cuff stuff before you feel more comfortable like working on that rotator cuff, and I'm using that example, not just to plug your app, but also because I did that the other day and...
0:12:01.6 AH: Maybe you just need a little nudge, a little more education, a little more something make you feel more comfortable and then you do the thing and you're fine, and your belly doesn't feel weird anymore. Impostor syndrome, that's like anxiety in the chest. That is when you have such a fear of something, of an opportunity or a goal, something that you really want, but you're afraid of it, that you turn down the thing or you don't do the things. And it stops you from being who you wanna be, and that is when we gotta look into some strategies and maybe some professional help.
0:12:36.7 DB: So this is the perfect time to address the new feature article in the current issue of Massage and Bodywork Magazine. We'll call it impostor syndrome, redux. But the actual title is, "Is It Impostor Syndrome Or... " Why did you feel the need to write this new piece that addressed the old piece?
0:12:56.6 AH: In the past couple of years, we've had some... One, I've had a lot more time to sit around and think about this, 'cause I didn't go back to work full-time right away, for massage at least, and a few things became very apparent. At the very beginning of the pandemic, the ego... Oh Lord, the ego. I dramatically had underestimated the role of ego and hubris in our profession, and this was never more obvious than at the very beginning of the pandemic. Some states shut down and forced closure of personal service businesses, and in a lot of places, massage therapists were livid and felt that if physical therapy was gonna be allowed to be open, then so should we, and there is an argument to be made that massage is healthcare and should have been exempted. That's a legit argument, not the argument I'm here for, though. But what really alarmed me was so many massage therapists who openly, publicly, without shame or concern, violated local orders and just stayed open, and I couldn't believe that. I had local colleagues call me and say, "I know of two people practicing right now," it was like three days into the shutdown.
0:14:10.3 AH: We had 8,000 people a day getting sick, and someone was like, "I know of two practitioners who are still seeing clients, and one of them says she has a really bad head cold." Oh, good Lord. And there was like... We're such a mess here in Massachusetts, there was nobody to report them to, and there was no health department that had any kind of means or manpower to deal with it. It was a nightmare, and we saw this happening all over the country. We saw people getting really loud about being so unhappy about being shut down that they just ignored it. And then when... And I noticed this, especially again, where I am in Massachusetts, that when we re-opened, we had a big list of protocols for... They call this close-contact workers, and they had a real strict list of protocols that were like 98% fantastic, and there was a little... They required gloves for a couple of months until we talked to them and we're like, "You need to take the gloves away, that's not how this works", but we had massage therapist just openly saying, "You don't have to wear a mask if you come to me" and it was required at the time, or "I'm not gonna wear the gloves, unless you really want me to", like, "No, you have to... "
0:15:14.8 AH: I know you don't like it. I did not like it either, but you wear the gloves until the regulating authorities tell you you don't have to wear the gloves anymore. And we just had a lot of people blow off what authorities were saying, what regulatory authorities were saying, and act like they knew best, act like they knew more than epidemiologists with multiple doctorates in the field, like, "No, you don't... " And I got a little nervous that some of the confidence-building suggestions I had suggested were encouraging people to really, really go too far, and that made me a little nervous that I had participated in any of that, because I want to build people up in areas where they feel insecure. I do not want to be a danger to public safety.
0:16:02.3 DB: You don't wanna build the super ego?
0:16:04.3 AH: Yeah, who knew? Who knew?
0:16:06.3 KC: I guess, is that a different syndrome. Super ego syndrome.
0:16:09.7 AH: It probably is and I am not qualified to name that.
0:16:11.8 DB: That's a whole bunch of Freud stuff, that's a super ego and the id and all that stuff, yeah.
0:16:16.5 AH: And props to our friend, Cal Cates, who called me on this when I wrote the first article and said, "Here... It's a great article, blah, blah, blah. You're my friend, I'm gonna be nice to you, but here is what I think you may have missed. I think you missed the shadow side", and they were a million percent correct. I missed it and I'm sorry. But the second thing that really popped up was, you know, we had a lot happening, especially towards the beginning of the pandemic and ongoing with Black Lives Matter and a much more obvious and public view of racial issues in the country, and that brought about a lot of information about historical disenfranchisement, life experiences of people who are not cis, white, hetero men, and what I learned really helped me frame things. And also understand that sometimes it's not impostor syndrome that is making you question your ability. Sometimes it is that you have been undervalued and excluded and abused in work environments for years and years and years. Just like that, and this is not... I'm not trying to relate my experience to like deep racial divides, but just like I got beat down by my English professor and that had something that really had an impact on me for years.
0:17:27.6 AH: I can't imagine what would have happened if I had been beat down by every professor, what would have happened to me? And sometimes your reaction, your nervousness, your fear, any self-doubt you have, it's not impostor syndrome, it is an absolutely normal trauma response to the way that you have been treated in work experiences or family experiences or whatever throughout your life. I was a little worried that some of what I said about impostor syndrome will be taken... I don't want people to ignore more serious things or think that they've just got this little thing going on, and it'll be fine if they write some affirmations when no, it's not fine. You have a right to not be fine, this is a valid response, and there is help available for that.
0:18:07.3 DB: That is such a valid and really crucial point, Allissa, and listeners, Kristin and I read an article just a couple of days ago that we thought was super powerful in Harvard Business Review, titled Stop Telling Women They Have Impostor Syndrome, and you can find that online by just doing a little Google search, so I'll drop that little nugget in there.
0:18:24.4 KC: Allissa, I am 100% confident that so many of our listeners are really connecting with something that you've said and probably multiple things that you've said already to this point, and they're recognizing in themselves that they've had these challenges, whether it's fully impostor syndrome or not, or somewhere in between, lacking confidence, whatever it might be, that's held them back or kept them from stepping into their own power and their own next level development. And in your original article, you wrote a series of suggestions for improving impostor syndrome, trying to move through it a little bit in yourself... Let's talk about those. Are those still valid from that first article, after you've written the second?
0:19:04.7 AH: Yes, absolutely. And primarily keeping track of client successes and however that works for you. Maybe it means whenever you get a good review, you print it out, you tack it on a bulletin board. For me, I train in prenatal massage, right out of massage school and had a lot of prenatal clients, and they always used to bring baby pictures in, and I would have a whole baby board on my wall, just like a pediatrician's office. And at some point... But still, every time a prenatal mom called, I would get nervous about having to do a prenatal massage, and my friend's like, "Listen, these mommas loved you enough to send you a picture of their baby after it was born. You're good at this, it's fine." And that bulletin board of baby pictures really became like a real confidence booster for me. So whatever you need to do to keep your record of successes front of mind, do what works for you.
0:19:50.8 AH: It also really helps to remind yourself, don't compare your inside life to somebody else's outside life, and this is just... We are victims of social media and of all of the ways we can communicate nowadays. It's real easy to watch friends and colleagues and family members put up the most shiny and pretty versions of their lives, and if you're comparing your exploded dishwasher and your kid's dirty diaper and your seven cancellations this week and your low paycheck to yourself against someone's really pretty beach photo of their kids in clean white shirts, that's not gonna go well. You're not gonna feel good. And it reminds... I have to remind myself on occasion when I see something aesthetically beautiful or potentially a lot more cohesive than my life is, to be like, "No, that's their outside life, they are probably a hot mess inside, too." So don't compare, don't compare your inside life to someone else's outside life. We need to cross-stitch that on a pillow. [laughter] And I think to follow with that the fix for that is to seek deeper connections with colleagues, with referral partners, that's gonna help you foster a feeling of collaboration instead of comparison competition.
0:21:06.1 AH: It can be such a huge relief to know that someone else is a mess with QuickBooks as well, and you don't need to feel like loser about it because that's perfectly normal and this is why we have bookkeepers, and this is why we have tutorials to teach you how to do this and that, and deeper connections are gonna help you see real life a lot better.
0:21:26.1 KC: I'm curious, too, in thinking about impostor syndrome, when someone is qualified, they're just holding themselves back for whatever reason, versus someone who truly is not qualified for the event or opportunity. How would someone, if they're presented with a new opportunity, is there a checklist or a questioning process you encourage someone to go through to determine which of these is really true for them?
0:21:51.7 AH: Yeah, and I think this part is really frustrating that, because the people who are gonna think through this are probably the people that don't need it, but nonetheless... Yeah, to check your own ego, it's not super complicated, you gotta think through sources that you respect, so would a trusted instructor or mentor encourage me to do this thing? Attend this event as a soft tissue expert? Would they encourage me to do this complicated technique on the neck of someone who has, whatever, arterial sclerosis?
0:22:25.1 AH: Would a trusted instructor, would someone I really respect, would a pathology book that Ruth Warner writes, would that suggest that this is safe? And if so, then great, there you go. But also, do you have the necessary education, credentialing licensing to practice any particular trade or technique or to make a decision or to make some public statement? And this could really have been checked through, like people who just decided they didn't need to mask in their office even though we were starting to realize masking was really important. Would the licensing board say, "This is okay"? Would my most prudishly practicing instructor say that this is okay? Do I have more education about viruses and transmission then the people who made this rule? No, no, no, you don't. None... This does not meet the criteria. You have to kinda step back from yourself and be able to say, "Would someone smarter than me suggest this?"
0:23:22.0 DB: Alright, listeners, this was a true treat to have Allissa back on the podcast again and specifically to talk about just this awesome... I wouldn't call it part one and part two, but the original piece that she wrote in the magazine and the second piece, which really just adds more depth and complexity and nuance, actually, to the original topic and things that we hadn't... None of us had really thought about. So when you had asked to write it for the magazine, I was so curious why you wanted to do it, and then when it came in, and I saw a lot of the workplace things that you end the piece with, about micro-aggressions and things like that, I was like, "Oh my God, this is so good, and people should really dive into this." so listeners, if you have not read these pieces, please go read these two feature articles that Allissa wrote. They are beautiful. I wanna thank our guest today, Allissa Haines. For more information about this feature article, visit massageandbodyworkdigital.com. And for more information about the work Allissa does, visit massagebusinessblueprint.com. Thanks, Allissa, and thanks, Kristin.
0:24:22.6 AH: Thank you.
0:24:22.8 KC: Allissa, thank you so much. That was an excellent podcast, and listeners don't forget that in addition to all of her incredible writing, she also has a number of absolutely fantastic courses available to you in the ABMP Education Center at abmp.com/learn.
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