Be brave..

“Hi, I’m Rachael and I am a mountaineering instructor”
The patter trips off my toungue with ease these days, having spent the past six years convincing myself that I am one. The powers that decided I could be a mountaineering instructor only seemed to need 4 and a half days of convincing as I passed the assessment first time with a shower of glowing praise and a job at the end of it. So why do I struggle so much with the title myself? The answer is that I am terrified! Terrified that one day someone will find out that I am not good enough to do this job, that I am simply winging my way through my career, that I am an *imposter*…


That’s a big word isn’t it? Imposter. Like Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can, I am Frank Abagnale Jr-ing my way through the outdoor world with a forced display of confidence and assurety in my abilities.

Wait a minute. Aren’t you Rachael Crewesmith? Aren’t you one of the new generation of promising young instructors gaining credibility by working at the top level in the UK? Yes that’s right, that’s me.

The truth is, I am good at my job. I have worked hard, on the basis of twelve years of rock climbing and mountaineering experience and even longer as a sports coach and leader, to get to where I am today. I am constantly learning, reflecting, evolving, improving. And I am not frightened to say “I don’t know the answer but I will find out”.

What I battle with is the voices telling me I am an imposter. And they are not all in my head.
“Bloody women, getting in through the back door.”
“She makes a mockery of the entire system”.
“I helped her with her Mountain Leader”.
“You’re hardly a Jedi”.
“People just think they can pass an award and then instantly become a tutor”.
All of these comments have been said either to, or about me. It’s easy to forget all the praise when a sting like this hits you across the cheek. So what can we do about it?

It’s the Ed Sheeran Effect. NME described him as an “overnight success”. He was dismissed as a manufactured pop star. It wasn’t cool to like him. But delve deeper and you will see that Ed has been around for ages. For as long as me, in fact. Working away at small gigs, promoting himself out of the boot of his car: learning, reflecting, evolving, improving. In fact, I am still promoting myself out of the boot of my car, I’ve just got a slightly bigger car.

I have battled with Imposter Syndrome only since starting out as a mountaineering instructor. I never felt this when I coached the U12 hockey team at school, aged just 15, or when I took on a senior coaching role at a performance hockey camp, aged just 20, or when I represented my country at the World Hockey Youth Promoters Festival aged just 21. No one said to me “she’s not ready for that” and I never doubted myself.

I have aways purposefully surrounded mysef with people who are successful, experienced and good at their jobs. Whilst being powerfully positive in pushing me towards high standards and constant improvement, it can lead to inferiority complex, always being the littlest fish in the biggest pond. When I passed the Single Pitch Award in 2008, my assessor said “Go and get on with the MIA now”. I did a half laugh and went back to the climbing wall, convinced it would be a long time until I was as good as Nick, my boss, who had only just passed the MIA himself. It took another six years before I would have the courage to apply for the training course and even then I woke up with nightmares in the preceeding weeks thinking someone would find me out, would realise I wasn’t entitled to be there.

Entitled. Now there is a word. I have come across this most in the world of mountain biking, especially since embarking on the pathway to becoming a tutor of the leadership schemes. Some of the comments above are related to bikes and the sense of entitlement that comes with someone who has been riding longer/faster/further/on a more expensive bike is almost comical if it wasn’t so tragic. Tragic because it almost put me off completely and I have a sneaky suspicion that if it had that effect on me, then we have lost quite a few candidates who are much more promising, but perhaps less brave than me.

So here we go, the reason you are here, reading this article. Being brave. Are you brave? At Google, they have a poster on the wall:

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

Dont think of this as “I would solo El Cap” or “I would do the Fort William Road Gap on my hard tail”. No, these things are stupid. How about “I would become a Mountain Leader” or “I would apply for that senior instructor post even though I haven’t quite got the prerequisites”.

When British Cycling first asked me to embark upon the pathway to becoming a tutor of the mountain bike leadership scheme, I said no. I’m not experienced enough. I have a lot to learn. What would people think of me? I wasn’t brave enough to put myself out there in the face of criticism, jealousy and possibly failure. It took a conversation with a friend who still works in our industry, 15 years older than me (and considerably wiser), to give me courage: “Remember, pioneering women, of which you are one, never had it easy. You may have to chain yourself and your bike to the railings.”

She made me see the bigger picture, that regardless of who I thought I was, I am a pioneering woman and perhaps I needed to take this opportunity on behalf of all the women who have been put off before me. On behalf of all the women who have thought about being a leader but haven’t quite had the courage to step up. And so I took a deep breath, strapped on my Brave Pants and said yes.

It has been a journey of ups and downs. Ups in confidence, experience and tutoring capabilities, downs in epic, rocky descents on my biycle with brilliant fellow tutors and promising trainee leaders. It wasn’t as scary as I thought and I am better than I thought. Winning!

In terms of pivotal moments in my career, becoming an MTB tutor has made me realise that I really can do anything if I am brave enough. I have started taking on work which stretches me out of my comfort zone. This in turn makes me a better practitioner, introduces me to new people and gives me a slightly wider scope each time.

Learning, reflecting, evolving, improving.

I just applied for a job I didn’t have all the criteria for. Woah! You did what? You must have seen the TED Talk “Teaching our girls to be brave”? In that, Reshma Saujani states that, in a study in the USA, they found that women will only apply for a job if they have 100% of the desired criteria. Men will apply if they have just 60%. Well I am not going to be one of those women any more, I am going to try anyway. Sure, you have to have the experience and ability to give you credibility and I am not meaning to gloss over the hard work, time and effort I put in to this journey. I work damned hard and I know that every successful instructor will say the same. But I had to have belief to help me through the hard work. I believed I was capable.

So next time you are offered an opportunity and you think “I’m not experienced enough.” “I have a lot to learn.” “What would people think of me?”, I urge you with every fibre of your being, to gather up your qualities, your qualifications and your Brave Pants, make sure you have the credibility to be taken seriously and to seize the opportunity by the horns. Because chances are, you are aready capable of it, you just haven’t realised yet.

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