Self-professed, former “fraud” Hilary Brown, currently the director of marketing at Kyser Musical Products, offers sound advice for learning to cope with self-doubt. Listen to her recent “SWIM Masters” episode here.
The perennial question: “To what do you attribute your professional success?”
If you’re anything like me, maybe your answer is luck. Maybe you were just “in the right place at the right time.” Or, if you’re like me, you likely didn’t consider yourself successful to begin with. The irony is that for many professional women, major promotions and job transitions often amplify those inadequacies.
Believe me, I get it. I know that feeling of failure all too well. My professional narrative for at least a decade was marked by an overarching lack of confidence. Any constructive criticism I received, I interpreted as a divisive strategy to call my professionalism into question. And as much as I felt alone in these perceptions, the good—albeit unfortunate—news is, I’m not.
Of all the challenges women face in the workplace—-and in a society in which perceived “power” and pressure to achieve are paramount—self-doubt is often the most crippling. Imposter syndrome disproportionally affects high-performing, executive women—75% of them to be exact. Why wouldn’t it? Gender norms have traditionally dictated that, since childhood boys are encouraged to assume leadership roles, demonstrate self-confidence and exhibit less emotion than girls. Add to the “sugar and spice” stereotype the added pressure of family expectations, domestic gender roles and cultural disparities. And of course, there’s the workplace itself, which oftentimes remains misdirected and plagued with systemic issues. It all contributes to the epidemic of self-imposed doubt.
The good news is that we alone have the ability to change that simply by reframing our thinking. Here are a few quick strategies that helped me on my journey.
No One is Perfect
As much as we strive to maintain a balanced and well-rounded skill set—perfection is a utopian ideal. Sure, we all wish we could be the best at everything, but acknowledge that unless you are superhuman or a cyborg, this is an unrealistic expectation. Assess your skills, particularly those at which you’re particularly proficient, and focus on doing them well. You’ll not only substantiate your expertise, but also identify areas for improvement and collaboration.
Wins are Wins
That email. The presentation flub. The botched project. We micro-analyze every mistake and misstep, yet fail to do the same for our achievements—especially the minuscule ones. Setting small milestones, planning rewards and learning to celebrate these goals once you hit them is a great way to appreciate the fruits of your labor and develop greater confidence.
Support is Critical
If you’re a self-professed imposter like I am, you probably internalize feelings of failure rather than proliferate them. Realize the emotional value in sharing with a trust support network. Supportive executive mentors, performance managers, peers and even our social circles can undoubtedly bolster your personal progress. Both having and building a solid support squad ensures the feedback you’re both giving and receiving is objective and constructive.
These thoughts may be irrational, but they are 100% normal. And by taking steps to change your perspective and overcome them, you’ll be well on your way to performing as your best self. Take it from a former fraud like me.
Hilary Brown abandoned her family’s hopes of a “real job” to pursue her life’s passion as a voracious consumer of pop culture, namely music, and its intersection with feminism. She evolved that pipe dream into 15-year career as a marketing director and digital brand strategist for the world’s foremost music and musical instrument corporations, including Kyser Musical Products, Fender, Chicago Music Exchange and many more, as well as her own boutique marketing agency, Handwired Media. She is formerly a contributing journalist to Music Inc. magazine, DownBeat magazine, Guitar Player, Reverb.com, and has spearheaded deep academic research on intersectionality in entertainment for several universities. In addition to her background in investigative journalism and digital marketing, Hilary is also ardent activist and executive board member for equitable representation across all arts, as former Chief Marketing Officer of music NPO Chicago Sinfonietta, the President of UN Women USA’s Chicago chapter, a youth empowerment workshop leader at Girls Rock! Chicago, a marketing committee member for Smart Women in Music, and a Sustaining Fellow at the Art Institute of Chicago.
She is particularly invested in merging her passion for data-driven marketing and designing lucrative mentorship programs to build critical professional and economic leadership skills in women of underserved populations. In her spare time, she is an active bass player, shameless coffee addict, and avid marathoner.