Recently I was asked to give a talk on my experience with impostor syndrome, and I would like to share that view with a wider audience.
I left my home country of Trinidad and Tobago to attend the Wharton School of Business in the US. I stepped foot on campus full of hope, excitement, and most of all full of confidence. I believed I was the brightest and best…after all my abilities had rewarded me with a full scholarship to the number one business school in the world! However, I immediately started noticing all the ways in which I was unlike others around me. Very quickly, I started wondering if the university had made some cruel joke when sending me that congratulatory letter of admission. I looked and sounded different; the way in which classes were conducted varied from what I was used to; most critically, completely foreign concepts and ideas rolled effortlessly off the tongues of my classmates. As I spiralled deeper into this vortex, I started to doubt my intellect, which then negatively impacted my performance.
Those years were transformative. I had to learn to ignore the voices of uncertainty and constantly remind myself of why I deserved to be there. I adapted to a new style of teaching and fell into the flow of interacting with world-class professors and classmates. I eventually learned that my uniqueness was my superpower and that I didn’t need to be the smartest or most quick-witted person in the room to still make a material impact. I did not know it at the time, but I had survived my first painful experience of impostor syndrome. Despite that, I graduated with a degree that has since opened many doors for me.
Fast forward many years later to my first project as a freshly minted management consultant. I knew little about the industry and was acutely aware that I was being billed at a very expensive rate to solve some of the most critical issues in the client’s business. I started to feel ill-equipped and like a fraud. To combat those feelings, I slept an average of four hours a night, determined to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible — this isn’t an approach that I would now recommend! Preparation, hard work and relentless attention to detail became my watchwords. I learnt to listen attentively, read the room, and quickly figure out how best to be useful in each client or team situation. Across time, I steadily gained knowledge and started to build myself into the global telecoms and media business consultant that I am today. About a year ago I started working at Accenture and I continue to have flashbacks to those former feelings. A recent example is when I was asked to sit on the Accenture Strategy and Consulting UKI management board and to lead and nurture a team of ~1,000 people, a considerable part of our UKI strategy and consulting footprint. Truth be told, I’m keeping an eye on my inbox for that note of deep apology on my mis-appointment!
For me, those feelings associated with impostor syndrome come when I’m pushed out of my comfort zone and I must stretch myself to take on an unfamiliar challenge. As such, I see impostor syndrome as a necessary evil to my constant quest for self-improvement. While I still continue to experience it, over the years I have become adept at diagnosing quickly and regulating my reaction — I continue to stay true to myself and bring my unique perspective to the table; I listen and observe attentively in order to understand how best to act effectively; and I keep a keen eye on organisation, client and team needs. I also try to stay away from less healthy practices of my younger years and focus on having a balanced approach. My takeaway, with a glass half-full perspective, is that those feelings associated with impostor syndrome mean that I am doing something right.