Are You Wearing a Mask? By Julie Assel, GPC

When I was a kid, I loved Halloween. I loved dressing up and pretending to be someone else – someone that was better, stronger, and more capable than I felt I would ever be.

Fast forward through the decades and I recognize there are times when I want to pretend to be someone else – someone who is better, stronger, and more capable than I sometimes feel. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized what I was feeling was imposter syndrome. During my tenure with the Grant Professionals Certification Institute board of directors, I started to see that many grant professionals feel the same way.

Imposter syndrome includes feelings of self-doubt despite your accomplishments. Many grant professionals would tell me that they were scared to take the Grant Professionals Certified (GPC) credential exam because they were afraid they would not pass it. I would ask them about their professional experience, and they would tell me about their years (sometimes decades!) of experience and success. While as a board member I could never tell anyone they absolutely would pass the exam, I kept thinking that these individuals who experienced this self-doubt might feel like imposters, trapped in their own perfectionism, unable to see themselves as more than capable to pass the exam. Others would tell me they took the exam expressly to validate for themselves all that they knew because they struggled to believe it on their own.

The field of grants in constantly changing. While the core knowledge can be learned relatively quickly, the field has many depths which keep grant professionals from feeling like they are experts – federal grants, funder relations, ethics…the list goes on and on. I think part of this is due to the fact that most of us do not ever really manage our grant rejections well. We must simply go onto the next grant and the next one and the next one after that. Some would say you win some you lose some. But some of those losses are incredibly hard and they make us feel incompetent even though we really aren’t.

So, what can you do when you realize you feel like an imposter? Here are four tactics for overcoming imposter syndrome for grant professionals:

  1. List your achievements – This isn’t about your win loss ratio. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Take a look at all you have done for your organization. Learn about the people in the programs your grants have funded, the lives you have impacted. Perhaps you are one of those who have earned your GPC and can list that as your own personal achievement with independent validation of your knowledge, skills, and experience.
  2. Value your perspective – Sometimes in grants, it is hard to feel valued. For example, in some organizations, grants are the bottom of the development ladder. But as grant professionals, we have a perspective on the organization that should be valued alongside the CEO, finance, and quality assurance. We see the whole organization – its weaknesses and its strengths; where it struggles and where it shines. This unique perspective is valuable because it allows us to express both the confidence to implement a program well and the delicate need for financial support, both in just the right amounts. Share your perspective with others outside your organization. If you like large groups, perhaps you can give presentation. If you like a more personal relationship, perhaps you can serve as a mentor to others.
  3. Embrace your strengths – This can be very difficult when our organizations expect us to be all things to all people, but taking stock and standing tall based on what you do best is important. In fact, one of the reasons I started hiring others in my professional grant services firm was because I embraced my strengths. I knew I needed others whose strengths were not the same as my own. I needed to stop wearing a mask and trying to do it all.
  4. Talk about your feelings – One of the things I love about the Grant Professionals Association is that I can find other people like me. People who struggle in the same areas I struggle. People who feel inadequate when they get another rejection. People who want to jump up and down when that grant you worked so very, very hard at was finally funded. Sometimes we talk about our feelings as part of networking, sometimes as part of water cooler conversations, and sometimes just while shooting the breeze. Whether it is serious or casual, talking about your feelings with others who understand what you are going through is one of the many values of a professional association!

So, to all my grant professional friends and colleagues out there – I see you.  I see your expertise. I see all your hard work. I see all the success you have. Take off your mask and be proud all of you have accomplished. You are amazing!

Competency #7: Knowledge of practices and services that raise the level of professionalism of grant developers

Skill 7.2: Identify advantages of participating in professional organizations that offer grant developers growth opportunities and advance the profession

Skill 7.3: Identify strategies that grant developers use in building social capital to benefit their communities and society at large

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