I’ve been at my job for over a year and I still suffer from impostor syndrome
I work for a tech startup. A software company that developed technology for nonprofit organizations to use in order to manage their donors and donations, and to better their online fundraising strategies through increasing their online presence. The company was founded by three of the coolest, most kind and intelligent men. They are good men that all come from the same nonprofit and they developed this technology because they saw a real need. Their goal was not only to create a better software in the nonprofit space, but to actually change the way we as a society give to charities. The founders work towards a collective mission of increasing the amount individuals give each year through ease of use and a better giving experience.
I like to say they are attempting to revolutionize the way people give to charities in the way that netflix revolutionized the way we watch TV.
This isn’t an advertisement for my company fyi this is not promotion. This is me explaining how really cool and smart and wonderful I think they all are. And how I don’t feel that way about myself. Ever.
Why? Because I suffer from impostor syndrome on the daily.
Getting the job- a brief history of experience
I had just moved back to California from New York. I lived in New York freelancing in film and television production for a little over two years. I had moved to New York while spending a week working with my Editor on a Documentary Film I had Directed. Before New York I lived in Los Angeles freelancing in production and working as a Nanny for a well known television actress and her writer husband.
How does one with this background work for a tech startup you may be thinking? Let me explain.
Before Los Angeles I lived in Phoenix, Arizona. At the age of twenty-five I started looking into getting sober. By that I mean that I would stand in the shadows of twelve step meetings and once in a while engage with someone that would give me advise on what I should do to change my life. My life at twenty-five was in tragic chaos and I also started venturing into a surface level search for God. And by that I mean I was reading Eat, Pray, Love and books by Eckhart Tolle. I thought that maybe the reason my life was in such turmoil was because I was a bad person that needed spiritual guidance. The truth was, yes, in some respects. But also I needed to stop drinking. I needed to get out of working in bars and drinking and using cocaine.
I had a brief stint in the music industry and was working in bars and restaurants. I had a knack for leadership and artist management and I knew talent. I would have made a great A&R rep if I could have stopped drinking so dang much at shows. I was a great bartender because I am highly skilled in the art of multi-tasking and shit talking and I would have continued to be a great bartender if I could have stopped drinking all of the inventory.
So at twenty-five I decided that I would seriously consider not drinking. And I went back to school. I went to Arizona State University and enrolled in the College of Public Programs to study for my Bachelor of Science Degree in Nonprofit Leadership and Management. It was a great program and those four years at ASU were some of the best most focused and stable (but not always sober) years of my life. I related to the material deeply and enjoy classrooms and professors and stacks of expensive books with nothing but time to read them all.
I wanted to change the world. I dreamed of graduating and starting a Nonprofit that would impact youth and music. Or going to work for a large Nonprofit Organization and working my way up through the Development Department to running the show. I studied grant writing and took a lot of English courses to the point where I probably could have double majored. I’ve always written and I’ve always excelled at writing but I feared majoring in English alone so I studied philanthropy and taxes for 501c3 purposes and event planning and management. My degree is similar to a business degree but with a focus on the nonprofit sector.
After college I worked briefly for a nonprofit organization and volunteered at a nonprofit under a grant writer, and all was fine and well until I decided that I was going to run off and change the world through film-making. That documentary film-making was like working for a nonprofit, and I had a social mission.
What is Impostor Syndrome?
It’s actually not a syndrome. It’s not a mental illness. It’s a psychological phenomenon that basically inhibits a person from internalizing their accomplishments. Mostly prevalent in women, however not only women experience it.
In 1978, two women psychologists coined the term while studying and finding that women, no matter their external accomplishments or rank and title, are convinced that they are not deserving of the success they experience. They call it luck. Most often feel like a fraud in the workplace and among their peers. You may secretly feel like at any moment you are going to be found out and that the people you work for are going to discover that they’ve been wrong about you. That you are actually not qualified, incapable, unintelligent, and only got the job or raise or position because you are exceptionally lucky.
Am I just lucky?
I wanted to make this documentary film so I hired a cinematographer and traveled to Mexico with him to film a teaser. A short synopsis of the story and the subjects. I taught myself to edit in Premier Pro after hours and hours of YouTube tutorials, and I cut together a small teaser that I felt expressed my idea and my passion.
I moved to Los Angeles with nothing but what I could fit in my car and I moved with the intention of meeting filmmakers and producers that I would want to be a part of my project. That would want to film my project. I then research and blind messaged and emailed over 100 Producers and film investors. Only two of them emailed me back. One of them took on my film as Producer and financed the project.
It took four years to finish the documentary and during those four years I freelanced in film and television production in Los Angeles, New York, and Mexico.
I remember sitting in a diner across from Steiner Studios when I first moved to New York and calling them on the phone to hear about job openings. I said to my friend that I will work on that lot. Steiner Studios is the largest production studio on the East Coast. I was working on that lot as a Production Assistance a few short months later. I worked as a Locations Scout in New York, not knowing the city well at all or the job well at all but I did it and I navigated the city and I learned the role of Location Manager on a film set. I then learned the role of a Production Coordinator on a Film Set and then Production Manager.
Downplaying these accomplishments is what I know how to do. It was luck. It was me falling into jobs that I wasn’t qualified for and had no business doing, and then I would be found out and everyone would see me for a fraud.
The truth was, I was skilled and talented and determined, and maybe if I had not been drinking so much I would have excelled more, but my drinking during those years was crippling. Which could absolutely contribute to my impostor syndrome because not only did I feel like a fraud but I was drowning behind closed doors in my addiction.
So how did I get the tech job?
I was qualified.
I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Nonprofit Leadership and Management. I studied under some of the finest Grant Writers in Arizona. I worked hard in college and managed a high GPA. I am a decent writer in general and a great story teller. I can tell stories because I understand people. I am compassionate and empathetic. Because I understand people I am a great leader.
When I believe in something there is no stopping me. I can find a Producer for a Documentary film as a first time director with zero experience in that industry. I can work on film sets and with high profile people that are at the top of their game and I bring something to the table each time. I am a problem solver and work extremely well under pressure to the point where I almost prefer it. I am a talented communicator and am able to manage a lot of different personality types.
My job now requires that I have a Nonprofit background because as a Customer Success Manager I work with Nonprofits directly teaching them to use our software and acting as a strategy partner in their fundraising efforts. I work directly with organizations that are changing the world and I get to play a small part of that. I am good at what I do.
Why do I still feel like an impostor?
I can’t explain it. It must have to do with lack of self worth and self confidence. I know I’m not alone, so that is comforting. After having been at this job for going on two years now, I still sit in the room with the founders of this company and I look around at my co-workers and they all look so hip and beautiful or handsome. They talk like grown ups and innovative thought leaders. They discuss software and different technological advances in our industry and the technology of our platform and they are so smart. So smart.
It’s a hip millennial type tech company where kombucha is on tap and we have cute dogs in the office and a ping pong table. We get unlimited PTO as a perk because they care about our work life balance.
I’m praised often by my team and by my Director. Each time we have a one-on-one meeting I’m sure I’m going to get fired which is ridiculous and laughable by now, but those thoughts get me. Each time I’m praised I feel like it’s luck or that I had nothing to do with the accomplishment and maybe they are just being nice. After all this time and all the hard work I’ve put in I still feel like I’m going to get found out. I’m going to be outed as a fraud.
If you can relate
This is how I manage to keep those thoughts and feeling from interfering with my life and work and most importantly, my sobriety.
- I recognize the thoughts when they come and I call them out right away. If a thought tells me that I’m about to get fired because I have a scheduled one-on-one with my boss like we do every other week I recognize that thought as silly and I laugh at it. I laugh to myself about it and allow myself to feel silly over it. And I tell myself that it’s just a thought.
- Not all thoughts are yours. This is something you can learn to manage in meditation or in a spiritual practice but the human brain thinks some 60,000 thoughts per day and you can imagine that not all of those are good thoughts or real thoughts or thoughts that you need to acknowledge. It’s just noise. Learn to recognize them as such and when you do, you take away their power.
- Positive self talk can feel uncomfortable or weird but just try it because it works. Consider that if you have 60,000 thoughts a day and some 80% of them are negative, how could your mindset change if you intentionally think positive thoughts about yourself? I do it everyday. I tell myself that I am worthy and deserving. That I work hard. That I show up and do a good job.
- Ask for feedback from your boss and co-workers. It’s not easy to ask for criticism in the work that you do, but it’s important. If you are feeling insecure about being able to fulfill your responsibilities in your role and are wondering if you are up to par. Ask. Hopefully your boss is a good communicator and understands how to guide their team with constructive and helpful criticism, and they will be open and honest with you. I have found that in my job and with my boss and it feels good to just ask how I’m doing and what I can improve on.
- Remember that you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t capable and deserving and qualified. I highly doubt that after almost two years of working in this position that if I were a fraud, that the super intelligent team of leaders and co-workers wouldn’t have found me out by now.
Finally, you aren’t alone. People like Michelle Obama and Neil Armstrong and Tom Hanks and Maya Angelou have stated that they too experience impostor syndrome.