When it comes to diminished professional confidence, The Curse of Cassandra is potentially more damaging than Imposter Syndrome. It is very easy to be overlooked in the noisy PR and internal communication profession, and to have your ideas and views obscured by louder, more popular or branded voices, however valid your point of view or prophecy.
‘Imposter Syndrome’ there it was again, infecting the conversation about professionalism in Public Relations. It came up several times in the discussions I had and heard at a CIPR Volunteer Conference I recently attended. As if we somehow don’t deserve to be professionals at all!
Why, as a profession, are we seemingly being held back, and taken hostage, by this ridiculous cliché? And why can’t we just talk about what we really mean, a basic lack of self confidence which everyone suffers from at certain points in their careers and lives. We seem to have forgotten that it is normal, as a human being, to feel like that in challenging situations. It isn’t an incurable affliction, as the word syndrome would suggest.
For me, the solution to being a more confident PR practitioner and internal communicator is to get yourself qualified or chartered or both, and stop making excuses about why you can’t do that. As one of the event speakers pointed out, being qualified and chartered puts you on the same footing as other professionals in the boardroom or anywhere else you care to practice PR. Why wouldn’t that make you feel more confident?
A confidence death spiral
It’s pitiful that only 0.6% of the 96,000 PR practitioners in the UK are currently chartered, a stat from another speaker to back up the rally cry to ‘just do it’. Maybe the hesitancy is not really about the excuses offered of lack of ‘time and money’ as was highlighted, but more to do with a basic lack of confidence in the face of a challenge. Back to our hostage crisis then! We need to break out of this confidence ‘death spiral’ if we are ever to make one percent, let alone anything more significant. Why can’t we just get on with it? Surely where there is a will, there is a way?
There are already lots of whys in this blog, and here’s another. Why do we have to label a basic lack of self-confidence and make it into such a huge cliché anyway? Perhaps it’s because giving it a snappy label makes it more of a commercial opportunity for some, which is why the imposter is perpetuated over and over again in nearly every conversation we have about professionalism. It has become an ingrained marketing tool peddled by sellers to (potential) buyers with a confidence deficit, that’s not going to help us break out of the death spiral anytime soon.
Personally, I’m fed up of hearing about imposter syndrome, and I’m already over 300 words into this blog and haven’t got to the headline yet! Although, there is a link between my title and my confidence crisis rant so far.
A bigger myth to stress about
If you’re not already stressed out and worried by the mythological ‘Imposter Syndrome’ here is another one which I think might be potentially worse ‘The Curse of Cassandra’. Now this curse is a real myth, an ancient Greek myth to be precise.
Cassandra was blessed with the gift of prophecy, but cursed so that no one would believe a word she uttered. It’s apparently her fault that Troy got trashed by the Greeks. Like Allegra Stratton in the Partygate saga, it was the woman who got the blame!
Ever feel that you don’t get listened to or heard, however valid your views? That’s because you’ve been cursed like Cassandra, but in a modern-day context (more on this below). Maybe that’s really the root cause of your confidence crisis, and a good reason to dump the obsession with the imposter syndrome cliché for good, to focus on the real issue.
Diversity in PR should also be about diversity of thought
Another session at the conference I attended was about diversity in PR. Now, for me, that isn’t just about diversity relating to protected and unprotected characteristics. It is also about diversity of thought, and creating the right environment for that to flourish in our profession.
This is where the Curse of Cassandra is potentially more damaging than Imposter Syndrome. In a noisy profession like ours it is very easy to be overlooked, and to have your ideas and views obscured by louder, more popular or branded voices, however valid your point of view (or prophecy). Another knock to your levels of professional confidence, as well as a blow to the proliferation of a diversity of thought.
Social media doesn’t help here, or the event rosters that seem to feature the same people over and over again, and the serial industry award winners.
Let’s take social, as a case in point. The algorithms which drive these platforms are the allies of the Cassandra curse. Casually click on a particular topic, or a person’s point of view or soapbox, in a post and you’ll be cursed by the algorithm to see that topic or person over and over again in your feed or timeline, drowning out the voices of others. As was pointed out in this thought provoking article by marketing strategist David Meerman Scott, social amplification is a danger to humanity, suppressing diversity of thought.
What can we do about this?
I’ve blogged before about the power of scepticism as a defence against the tacit acceptance of a particular viewpoint or the accepted truths purveyed by the select few. We all need to be a bit more sceptical about what we see and hear in our personal and professional lives, if we are to protect and promote diversity of thought in both of them.
Being sceptical isn’t the same as being cynical or negative. It’s a superpower we should all nurture if we want to broaden out the debates in PR, stop Cassandra’s curse from becoming another hostage situation, and yes, one of the keys to becoming a more confident and diverse profession.