Impact is in our DNA: How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome (& an ag emissions mindmap)

This blog post and the ag emissions mindmap it contains were originally published in January 2022 as part of an online digital writing course called Ship 30 for 30

I have a secret, and it's been eating me up.

You see, I work at Tenacious Ventures, Australia's first dedicated agrifood tech venture capital firm. Our mission is to invest in companies helping transform food and agriculture toward a carbon-neutral, climate change resilient future. But unlike the rest of the Tenacious team, I know very little about agriculture (“ag” for short).

My ag knowledge is acquired by osmosis, a by-product of working in the industry.

I spent two decades working as an engineer, half spent on hardware devices with ag applications - so, I knew enough to get by. As long as you didn't scratch beneath the surface, you might not realize how superficial my ag knowledge is; second hand with lots of gaps. But I knew.

As a result, I've never been a confident communicator in this domain.

Instead, I'd learned to deflect and redirect conversations, which hadn't bothered me in the least. Until I began working at Tenacious Ventures, that is. Then, suddenly friends, family, colleagues, and strangers started asking me about my thoughts and opinions on climate change, COP26, the impact of COVID on ag supply chains, ag trends and hot investment areas, and more.

I felt an expectation to become an instant expert in all things agriculture!

It was precisely the proverbial ‘kick up the backside’ that I needed. Deflecting and avoiding conversations about these topics was no longer an option.

The perfect opportunity fell into my lap.

Last year, Tenacious Ventures ran a Research & Insights Community of Practice for agri-food corporations. The cohort focused on lowering the emissions intensity of supply chains. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to learn on the job and maybe plug some of those knowledge gaps.

But then I fell into the same old trap.

I wasn’t part of the community of practice; our clients were. I could listen in on the sessions and learn by osmosis. The other Tenacious team members, the experts, had done the research. All I needed to do was show up and read the material.

I was back to having content served up to me.

If there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that simply reading course material is a passive process for me, equivalent to in one ear and out the other.

I need to interact with the topic through dialogue, exploration, various mediums, and many perspectives. I enjoy having an immersive experience that engages all of my senses. Rather than simple curiosity, learning with a purpose keeps me engaged and produces the best learning outcomes. When I have a problem to solve or a question to answer, I am more curious and do better at learning.

To truly level up my ag knowledge, I needed to find a way to engage with the subject matter on my terms.

So I decided to opt for a more active process rather than just sitting in on presentations when work commitments allowed. I decided to follow the community of practice cohort and embark on an emissions journey of my own.

What does all this have to do with imposter syndrome? 

Well, how do you write about something you don’t know much about? Not to mention the fact that our company brand is known for consistently delivering insights and thought leadership in ag. I felt pressure to do the same. Yet I knew I couldn’t measure up. Delivering a generic post with no insights or unique views wouldn’t be on brand; Ship30for30 be damned!

Then I had an epiphany: insights don’t come before knowledge.

The pressure of producing a thought leadership post is that it assumes you know things well enough to have insight. Where I’m at is still learning, understanding, and attempting to synthesize knowledge in order to orient myself.

There is no shame in that.

A post devoid of insights may not make for the finest of reading, that’s for sure, but perhaps somebody else out there is in the same boat as me, trying to make sense of a complex subject. Floundering, feeling overwhelmed, or simply unsure of where to begin. Or perhaps, like me, they enjoy seeing knowledge presented in a variety of ways. And for this person, an interactive mind map might be that extra tool they need to help them make sense of the information. After all, value is in the eye of the beholder.

So this is me. Loud and proud. Learning about emissions intensity in agriculture and sharing my journey thus far.

Check out the interactive Emissions Intensity in Ag 101 primer that I created below, or at this link. (Yep, I love mind maps.)

Full disclosure: part of the content comes directly from the Tenacious resources developed for this cohort. I followed the links served up in these resources and went on to read in more depth. I also went off and did lots more research on different tangents that piqued my interest in other areas. Some of it is based on notes from the sessions I listened to (I took mind map notes). Not everything I have researched on this topic is captured in this mind map - this is just one part of it.

This is me actively engaging in the learning process, filling in gaps and deepening my knowledge. Insights do not precede the acquisition of knowledge. There is no shame in that.

I no longer feel like an imposter.

By actively engaging in the learning process, it turns out, I now have some insights of my own to share. Oh, and now I am thinking about making Tenacious Ventures carbon neutral for Phase 2 of my learning journey.

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Key takeaways

  • Insights don't come before knowledge and learning
  • Learning out loud, or sharing the learning process, is an effective way to synthesize information and help others in their learning journeys

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