Having turned 30 last year, I cannot really go around hiding my incompetence behind the ‘rookie’ argument. It seems that I’m too old to hold on to being an apprentice. Especially that I don’t really have a mentor, as of now. I have graduated to being a fully fledged adult, with a 10+ year experience behind my back.
30 going on to 40 and still not very smart.
One of the best lessons I learned as an MBA student, was from an older classmate, who had worked for years in corporate America and came to Korea pretty much to chill and find a wife. Either way, his tips to surviving in the bad, big world were ‘fake it till you make it’ and ‘make shit up’. And so I have sailed through life saying ‘sure, I can do it!’, while really figuring things out behind everyone’s backs. In short, I posted as a professional while being just a meek sardine, fresh out of water. And boy, was I shitting myself that I would be found out!
Me when I’m worried I will be exposed as unprofessional
One would think that after so many years I would have grown into the too big shoes. But unfortunately the shoes have grown too, as more responsibility is put on my shoulders because I “can surely do it” (“no I cannot!! it’s all just a smoke and mirror trick!”).
But as much as I belittle my abilities in my mind, the truth is that I CAN probably do all this and maybe more. But somehow the combination of social behavior standards (don’t be boastful) and gender expectations (‘women will never be good enough’) have taken a toll on my mindset and self-perception. The result is crushing, because as I end up in leadership roles, my imposter syndrome dictates that I’m a fake that shouldn’t be here and it’s only a matter of time until someone discovers how unqualified I am for the job.
My current job is a bit different, in that my (so far) only coworker is very much aware of what I can and cannot do. On one hand this brings along all the old-married-couple problems, like being way too comfortable with each other, slipping into colloquial speech during business meetings and some awkward social moments with mutual friends. On the other hand I CANNOT fake anything (*ekhm, ekhm*) in front of him – he knows my limits and by abilities. And still he believes in me…
Partner in crime
To track back a bit, I did a big gamble last year with this friend. One of the startups coming for the accelerator program, which I was a project manager for, couldn’t send in right away for the kickoff. The government organization running the show threatened to have that startup kicked off the program if there wasn’t anyone representing the company during the opening ceremony. When getting one of their local people to Korea failed, the CEO (located in Germany) asked me to help out. For some reason, I was hit with the thought that this one friend of mine, a permanent student and freelancer of sorts, the ideal candidate. On paper he was not the most appealing candidate, lacking in most departments. But I had this feeling that he had the passion, drive and determination that you need much much more in a startup than your traditional MBA-esque education. I managed to convince the CEO (but not the government organization that was appalled that a startup would hire someone like that and was extremely rude to my friend, telling him he was not worth it) and the rest is history. The company won first place in the program’s demo day (fuck you, government organization) and is very well on the way to secure some serious deals, even this year. In large part thanks to my friend, who proved to be a natural sales talent, a business developer prodigy.
Winner winner, chicken dinner
I, on the other hand, am not cut for sales. I lack the poker face and nerves of steel. I get anxious when things don’t go according to plan (and they usually do) and cannot hide it from my friend. My eating disorder does not help the mix. So I go around feeling like a bimbo, having my self-esteem diminish by the minute, each time I hesitate and/or stumble. Obviously, the way out of this imposter syndrome is to come clean about my real competenties (are there any?). But this business culture is based on either having the age and/or experience in order to be taken seriously. The former is still not sufficient enough, while the later is lacking. So I have to go around glamouring myself, praying I won’t be discovered.
At least with weightlifting, people know right away when you suck.
The question is, when will I be experienced enough to be, well, good enough? When will I graduate from being a ‘greenhorn’ to being ‘competent’?