For two years, I worked as a Senior Financial Analyst at a publicly traded retail company. It was my very first time working in Finance. I knew within the first week or so that it wasn’t a good long term fit. However, I had just finished my MBA at Rice University where I concentrated in Finance and I really did want to continue to learn about this new whole world of numbers. So I put on my newly minted Finance hat and went to work, nervous and determined to make it happen.
I remember very clearly the first time my supervisor walked me thru the Store Occupancy model that I was going to be taking over. I furiously scribbled notes (“Okay, tenant inducements, straight line rent, hmmm … okay, okay, yeah, yeah, okay, make the adjustment for the fiscal calendar”) as she walked thru each tab and how they connected. She explained it all so very clearly and I thought to myself, “I’m going to get this. I’ll just take a look at it very closely, use my notes, and figure it out. I can do this. I can totally forecast how much we are going to spend on rent expense.”
Oh, boy, was I wrong.
When I went back to my desk and opened up the file, it was as if I were the new stepmom taking care of my stepkids alone for the first time and they were out to Kevin McCallister Home Alone me.
WTF. WTF. WTF. Is this the same model she just walked me thru?
I swear there were ghosts living in that damn file. I shed so many tears because of that financial model. Literally sobbing over forecasting how much money was going to be spent in rent expense over the next fiscal year. We’re talking over 1,000 stores. Anxiety induced insomnia. When I did manage to sleep, I had dreams of scrolling thru an Excel worksheet. I kid you not.
The worst was when I’d do work, hit Save, watch the computer process, only to have “File Not Saved” appear across the screen. All after having updated a key piece of the forecast.
“Lord Jesus, have mercy. This can’t be life,” I said to myself over and over again.
I can remember telling a dear friend of mine, “Omg, they’re going to fire me. They’re going to realize that I don’t know how to do any of this shit and they are going to full on fire me. I am going to be found out. They are going to make me stand up in front of the entire management team at our next financial review and they are going to rip me a new one. My days are numbered.”
I felt like a fake. I knew they’d find out and I’d be fired. I’d have to move back in with my family and I’d have failed. I’d have to get a job making sandwiches at a local deli. So much for being a Rice MBA. Turns out I had really obtained an MBF -- Master’s in Business Failure.
I worked harder, of course. 7 days a week. Pretty much sunrise to sunset. We worked in an open format office with no windows. It was really disconcerting to not have seen the sun the entire day. I did it for days on end. The store occupancy model wasn’t the only line item on the P&L I was tasked with, so I had to overhaul that baby AND somehow make time for everything else.
I worked with an impending sense of doom, that at any moment the fragile house of cards in which I was existing would come crashing down on me.
My natural extrovert tendencies were curbed as I tried to look engaged during my meetings, but only enough so that I wouldn’t be asked a question. I prayed that I wouldn’t have to speak because honestly mental math is not my jam and somehow I could never seem to remember the month over month numbers that others seemed to spout off so easily.
In one meeting, I famously (and very seriously) said, “I don’t have an opinion on the matter.” It was my matter and it should have mattered and I should have had an opinion on it but I didn’t. At that moment, I didn't have the heart to play the game.
Turns out, I had a severe case of imposter syndrome.
Oh, yeah, it’s a thing, I later learned.
According to Melody Wilding, “this psychological phenomenon reflects a belief that you’re an inadequate and incompetent failure, despite evidence that indicates you’re skilled and quite successful.”
What I have failed to tell you is that everyone thought I was doing just fine. During my performance reviews with my supervisor, I actually received many compliments and praise. It was an out of body experience. I was certain I was about to be fired, but instead I got a raise.
You would think that was enough to cure my I.S., right? Wrong.
It only got worse. I just could not shake the feeling of being a fake, like I didn’t belong, like it was only a matter of time. I overanalyzed every piece of feedback I ever received for hidden meanings. I was convinced my supervisor loathed me, even though now when I think back to my time there, she never did give me a legitimate reason to think she had it out for me.
I was just convinced and you couldn’t tell me otherwise.
Which brings me to today.
I recently participated in a Google WomenWill Lead training and I was surprised to learn that I wasn’t the only woman in the world who has felt like a fake at work.
Imposter syndrome is a real thing and, according to Dr. Valerie Young, it affects approximately 70% of all people.
Now that I’m fully aligned with my life’s purpose, I realize that this experience gave me a gift -- a gift that I can now share with all of you.
You see, what I didn’t realize is that, when it comes to imposter syndrome, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of me and my performance.
It only matters what I think.
I know this to be true because, if it weren’t true, my imposter syndrome would have gone away when I got my glowing performance reviews.
But it didn’t. In fact, it got worse because I then thought, “Omg, I’m in too deep. They really don’t see that I’m a fraud. When they find out, they’re going to be even more pissed that I have wasted their time and money.”
I did not see myself clearly and it made me really miserable. I realize now that it didn’t have to be that way and most of my misery was caused by the thoughts I was thinking.
I just needed to develop a maven mindset and use it to overcome my I.S.
What is a maven mindset?
Great question. A maven mindset is a mindset of excellence. It is a mental space composed of thoughts that you are thinking on purpose. You are focused on what you bring to the table. You apply the same objectivity used to assess a work project on yourself and your abilities.
Don’t get it twisted: having a maven mindset does NOT mean you don’t experience fear, self-doubt and imposter syndrome. That’s impossible. Having a maven mindset means that, when you do come face-to-face with those mindset moochers, you’re able to reframe so that they don’t take you out the game.
If you want to make the most impact in your life and your career in the shortest amount of time, go for the jugular and work on your mindset. Every single day. With the consistency and discipline of an Olympic athlete. I guarantee you that you will see improvements because you're changing the way you see yourself and the world around you.
Now it's your turn. Comment below and let me know about your experience with imposter syndrome.
I'm cheering for you. Louder than the Stock Exchange back in the 80s.
From the Front Row,