Dorothy Kolb of dk east associates: How To Thrive Despite Experiencing Impostor Syndrome
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Stop comparing yourself to others. Your metrics should be against you and only you. Don’t use someone else’s benchmark as your own. You don’t know what they went through or how far they still need to go. A friend told me 5 years ago, think of what you want your life to look like in 5 years. I’ve succeeded in getting there and remind myself of my own goals often.
As a part of our series about how very accomplished leaders were able to succeed despite experiencing Imposter Syndrome, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dorothy Kolb.
After working as a CPA/auditor at Deloitte in NYC, Dorothy Kolb built a 20+ year career in media finance & operations across notable companies including CBS Sports & CBS Radio, FOX Sports, NBC & HGTV/Food Network. She then launched dk east associates to bring her world-class background to emerging businesses to help them grow to their fullest potential through outsourced CFO, accounting strategy and HR services. Dorothy understands the importance of balancing things in life: She became an entrepreneur while raising her 4 teenage sons (including twins!) as a single mom. She guest lectures at the University of Maryland on social entrepreneurship and continues her love of entertainment by hosting two podcasts and being a guest on many others.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’?
Yes! I obviously worked in corporate America for quite some time but when I found myself divorced and a single mom of 4, I had to reinvent what my career would look like. I always say “necessity is the mother of invention” so I invented a life where I could be present for my kids while continuing a successful career. That was not going to be as an employee but was attainable as a consultant with my own boutique firm.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I was part of the team that launched NFL on FOX. Previously, I had been in finance and accounting but a few colleagues took a chance on me working in operations and programming. We took the approach of veering far away from the way things had always been done. It was thrilling and, while there were things that didn’t work so well, for the most part, we had great success. It allowed me to approach life thinking that I can create solutions. I didn’t have to follow what had already been done. I could be creative in my work life as well as my personal life and if things didn’t go as planned, well, then I could find another solution.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We offer creative solutions. Because of my vast experience outside of just accounting & finance, I understand the impact of decisions made based on the bottom line. I understand how adjustments in revenues and expenses will impact the final product. I strive to put scalable processes and structure in place that will work with a business but at the same time will not hinder businesses. So many people look at accounting or even the CFO as the place where the answer is “no” but we work on getting to a “yes” that will allow your business to grow and succeed.
I’ve worked with several creative agencies and helped them understand how, as unglamourous as it may seem, creating budgets for projects will assure that you are profitable. I also understand that creatives like to create! So we help make budgets less about spreadsheets and more visual so it’s digestible.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I had a really great working relationship with my general manager at KSBY-TV, Evan Pappas. He came in at a point when the station was not performing well. Our prior GM had not spoken very highly of me on his way out. Evan was able to put that aside and got to know my team and me, and our work. He made me feel like a partner in the management of the station and that he and I were a team. He taught me a lot about sales and pricing, areas that I had little knowledge of. I grew so much in the few years we had together there but what I learned from him was only part of it. He also gave me back my confidence for which I will forever be grateful.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the experience of Impostor Syndrome. How would you define Impostor Syndrome? What do people with Imposter Syndrome feel?
Imposter Syndrome is feeling like you are going to be “found out” to be less than what you are representing yourself as. It is completely unsupported but it’s so ingrained that we have a hard time separating from it. As perfectionists, it’s never perfect enough. For those seeking to be experts, we never know enough. Some of us think we have to do it all ourselves, and if we find we need to ask for help, then we are an imposter because we had to ask.
I’m going to say “we” here because I’m just as susceptible to that feeling as anyone else. We feel like we are not enough, not worthy, fake, false. We think constantly that people will find out that we don’t know anything or not enough about something when we really do. We are insecure and doubting ourselves. It’s a negative place to be but really, really in our control.
What are the downsides of Impostor Syndrome? How can it limit people?
I think imposter syndrome is all downside. I mean, yes, many of us use the “fake it till you make it” mantra to get through the early years of our careers, but some of us get stuck in that long after we no longer need to fake it. We need to realize when we have bridged the gap between learning and knowing. It can be really hard to recognize and I think that having a mentor or a coach of some kind can really help us see it and embrace the transition. Staying stuck in the “fake it” part doesn’t allow us to grow and succeed. It keeps us thinking that we are still not enough. And guess what, we are enough. All of us are enough.
How can the experience of Impostor Syndrome impact how one treats others?
Imposter syndrome truly inhibits us from being our authentic and amazing selves. Instead of bringing our unique skills and background to the table, we bring something else, something that we think the other person wants instead of what we can truly offer. I think it causes us to make assumptions rather than really listening, responding and reacting appropriately. We tend to auto-complete what others are saying. We are so focused on “this is what they want” rather than “they came to me because of what I know” that we can scuttle our own success by only putting out what our imposter-self thinks is good.
We would love to hear your story about your experience with Impostor Syndrome. Would you be able to share that with us?
Of course. Having spent most of my career in the entertainment industry, where, like most, I was constantly told there were 100 people waiting for my job. I was reduced to feeling like I was completely expendable and didn’t bring anything unique or valuable. I knew I had experience and skills to do my job better than anyone, but being forced into thinking I was nothing special eventually took its toll and became my existence.
When I left and started my own consulting business, I really thought my clients might find out the “truth” — that I wasn’t anything special. But what I found out was that I really did have a lot to offer and, in the right environment (one in which I was valued), I was able to flourish. Once I was able to accept this version of Dorothy Kolb, not only did my clients receive the benefit, but I did as well because I was able to fully tap into my experience and bring all that to light. I wanted to continue to grow, rather than feel like I was backfilling a lack of knowledge or making up for something I thought I was missing.
Did you ever shake the feeling off? If yes, what have you done to mitigate it or eliminate it?
I have for the most part although I still get into situations when I feel like a client is so impressive that I’m not “worthy” of working with them. In fact, it happened quite recently! But what I do now is to recognize the feeling and then focus on what makes them impressive — and guess what — it’s that they are good at something I am not and that I’m good at something they are not. I don’t have to be good at everything and I shouldn’t be good at everything. I need to be good at being a CFO for emerging businesses, which I am and let my clients be amazing at what they do. That makes a fantastic partnership.
In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone who is experiencing Impostor Syndrome can take to move forward despite feeling like an “Impostor”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Recognize that it’s happening. If you can recognize it, then you can’t be an imposter. When I work with a new client and I start to think, oh wow they really know what they are doing, I also remind myself that they are coming to me because I bring something that they need.
- Remind yourself of all that you know. Use post-its around your office if you need to! Keep positive emails, testimonials, etc in view to remind yourself that your clients/kids/family know you’re awesome. My kids are teens now but for a long time, I kept drawings from them around my office to remind myself that even on the worst days, I was good at being a mom. Once I had several really good client relationships and had testimonials to that fact, I put them up as well!
- Stop comparing yourself to others. Your metrics should be against you and only you. Don’t use someone else’s benchmark as your own. You don’t know what they went through or how far they still need to go. A friend told me 5 years ago, think of what you want your life to look like in 5 years. I’ve succeeded in getting there and remind myself of my own goals often.
- Choose to work with people who value you. If you have your own business, choose clients that are in alignment with your core values and who are positive in their interactions with you. If you are an employee, seek out projects or roles where your unique skills are valued and where you are not made to feel like there are 50 people waiting for your job. I’ve stopped engagements with clients where it just didn’t feel right. Those made me feel like I wasn’t valuable and likely was making them not feel great either.
- Understand that anyone who makes you feel like an imposter is covering for their own insecurities. Read that again. No one should make you feel like an imposter. If they are, they are covering their own issues. Much of my divorce stems from exactly this. Imposter syndrome is not just about your work life.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I’ve said this before, but I really feel that things like this should be part of education even as early as high school or sooner, but at a very minimum in college. If we are taught the signs of imposter syndrome being thrust upon us, then we can take steps way earlier on so that we are not battling years or decades of feeling like this.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)
Oh wow! I would love to have coffee with Barbara Corcoran! Her positive energy is contagious and her story always reminds me that we carve out our own success.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!