When I first learned about the idea of Imposter Syndrome a few years ago, I thought, “Well, damn. That’s exactly what I’ve been living with most of my life.”
My Imposter Syndrome story runs deep, and has generated a confusing array of emotions over time — fear, pride, guilt, uncertainty, and even a strange sense of confidence. Through a lot of work on self awareness and discovery, a commitment to busting my own stories and assumptions, I have learned to work with it. And I thought I would share what I’ve learned with you, in case you’ve got Imposter Syndrome too.
In order for you to understand where my Imposter Syndrome comes from, I’ll share a little bit about my background. I grew up in Detroit on the East Side (the best side). My family’s lived in the city for a couple of generations, and proud of it. My dad told me many times to “never forget where I came from.”
The unstated meaning was that I was from a hard-working city (not one of those fancy suburbs) and that no matter where I went or what I did, I was to stay humble and hustle as hard as I could.
Every year my dad’s union gave him a pocket calendar, and he would pass it along to me to “keep me working class.”
I got my first job at 14 in a bakery and haven’t stopped working since.
My sister and I were the first in our family to go to college.
My parents weren’t able to provide much guidance on what I should do while I was there, so I figured it out.
My first job after college was in recruiting at McKinsey.
I didn’t understand what consulting was, but it paid well and seemed like a good company. A black car picked me up from my parents’ house on my first day and my dad asked, “what kind of job did you get?”
That was the first time I felt embarrassed for my success.
I know my dad would be proud of me (he passed away 10 years ago), but I sometimes worry that he would think my world is wildly different from where I grew up; that I’m a little fancy, and would have more in common with the people from Grosse Pointe than I would people from our neighborhood in Detroit. And so I find myself conflicted.
When I talk about my career so far I default to stories about “luck” and “opportunity”, even though I know I put a lot of hard work into it.
When I’m with my family I’m not sure how to talk about what I do, and when I’m with my friends or colleagues, I can feel like a fraud. I know I’m not alone in thinking I have a couple versions of myself. I value authenticity, though.
I want to be more comfortable being myself no matter where I am. What’s holding me back is me. I have to put a good amount of effort into self-management to work with my Imposter Syndrome. It’s my job to help coach and guide leaders to understand their values, style, and impact. I aim to walk to the talk and want to live up to the title and role I have here at HubSpot. So when I’m struggling, I keep three things in mind:
1.My background and experiences are different AND valuable. I can remember where I came from, and appreciate where I am in my life. I grew up in a diverse and supportive neighborhood in Detroit that taught me how I wanted to treat people (kindly and fairly). My life experiences have shaped my values, and those values are my north star, no matter what I’m doing.
I bring a unique perspective because of how and where I grew up, and I am proud of that.
2. I can aspire to be humble and be proud of my work. I have a hard time taking positive feedback and compliments — I’m working on that. I remind myself that I’m always learning, and that growth comes from understanding what I’ve accomplished and what I am doing well, just as much as it comes from my failures and missteps.
Working really hard and “hustling” is part of who I am, and all of that effort has helped me achieve some pretty cool things. I’m going to keep working hard, and get more comfortable talking about what I’ve done, and what I can do. And I’m going to continue to be grateful for all of the people who have helped me along the way.
3.I have a choice in how much information I want to disclose. I realized that I can hold my dad’s advice in my heart (to remember where I came from), but that I don’t have to tell everyone about my background. I’m not hiding anything; I’m just choosing what I want to disclose based on my level of trust with the other person, and my willingness to be vulnerable. I have a bias to share more with the intent of connecting, and I want to keep doing that. Hand in hand goes a pretty solid intuition, so I will trust myself to know what’s right and appropriate.
I just spent a weekend at home, and I was reminded of how proud and friendly people from Detroit are. When I think about where I came from, and all of the life experiences I’ve had so far, I want to stay proud too. So I when my Imposter Syndrome kicks in, and I find myself feeling like an outsider, I will hold the above in mind — remind myself to keep hustling, be kind, and share my story on terms that work for me. It’s still evolving, and so am I.
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Imposter Syndrome — I’ve Got It, and I’m Working On It was originally published in ThinkGrowth.org on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.