How an entrepreneur overcomes the impostor syndrome
“Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”
-David Pressfield, The War of Art
Only in the past six months when someone asks me the inevitable cocktail party question – “What do you do, Andi?” have I become comfortable with giving an answer. Perhaps that seems odd since I’ve written a blog for three years now, and I published my first book in 2014 to great reviews. “I am a writer” would be a fair answer. I’ve also worked in other creative industries and I’ve designed clothing and have had a showroom for a year. “I’m a stylist” or “I’m a brand manager” would be good answers too.
But here’s the truth.
Writing that statement above is challenging for me. I don’t consider myself an expert in any of those fields, and answering that cocktail question with “I’m a _______.” makes my knees shake.
Most of us have heard of the imposter syndrome-the psychology of internalizing our accomplishments with fears that we are a “fraud”. If you’ve ever been that person I’m talking to at that cocktail party, when I casually respond with, “I’m a writer, and I have a boutique branding company here’s how I really feel:
RUN FOR YOUR LIFE! OMG I’M DROWNING! WHERE’S THE MAKE ME INVISIBLE SWITCH!
Why? Because I assume that your first thought will be: “Oh yeah? What Best Seller list are you on? I would know who you are if you were really a writer.” or something along those lines.
In one of my favorite books, The War of Art, Stephen Pressfield says: “If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
For me, however, the imposter syndrome didn’t hit me until I decided to strike out on my own.
I’m currently working on my second book. It’s a girl’s guide to traveling stylishly, and it is being published by a fantastic and reputable publisher in New York. I’ve spent the past six months traveling, writing and preparing for what I hope to be the biggest achievement of my professional life to date. There are (often) mornings that I wake up, and I am mind blown that I get to do this for a living.
Here’s the backstory:
After college, I spent 12 years in the beauty industry. I hustled like hell to move up the corporate ladder, worked 80 hours per week minimally, and traveled non-stop. I would do anything for the client! In those days I had no trouble with sharing who I was, and what I did.
What was different? I worked for someone and they saw value in me, and so I behaved how I assumed they viewed me. I was in my twenties, and the job and promotions defined me. This was on my list of what was important: a fabulous shoe collection (“best shoe award goes to…”), a house with a pool, a weekly salon appointment (straight hair, totally cared).
I was probably more of a counterfeit innovator than I’d like to believe. But what I know now is that giving up that six figure job, opening myself up to vulnerability and potential failure, and then actually failing a few times until I was counting every last penny, freed the artistic entrepreneur inside of me, and released extraordinary possibilities.
In 2011, I founded a company that focused on giving independent fashion designers a platform to show their work. The second I began working for myself, the self-appointed “creative director” “producer” and “designer” things changed.
I had to muster a different type of confidence. There would no longer be a boss to impress to give me the assurance that I was excelling in my role. There was no time for paralysis.
It started when I was on a plane to Vegas for a trade show; I ended up sitting with Kathleen Turpel, the owner of Imaginal Marketing. She and I had been beauty industry friends for quite a few years, she’s a marketing powerhouse, and I decided to run an idea by her. I started by showing her some photos I’d styled (“I’m a stylist!”) in partnership with a local designer and proposed the idea of showcasing independent fashion designers (those sewing at home in their kitchens), at a fashion festival. We’d create beautiful editorials to market the program, invite industry insiders, and, well, New Orleans loves a festival, so surely people would show up! Right?
By the time the plane landed, we’d planned the first NOLA Fashion Week. We brainstormed for three hours on that flight and then, declaring it into existence with Kathleen’s guru level marketing wisdom, it took on the speed of a rolling snowball. I called a few designers, sat down with some PR gals in town, and everybody was game. The community and the industry showed up and supported.
I look back sometimes and can’t believe what we pulled off. In the end, that program wasn’t financially successful. I had challenges with a business partner, and learned a million lessons. However, it opened up my eyes and so many other doors. That process happened again when I started my branding company, and when I pitched my first book concept.
After reading Rebecca Rebouche’s story, “Army of One” I thought she articulated what that shift feels like brilliantly: “You have to be the one that flies in the face of doubt, including your own, to believe. When you’re a person with a vision, you’re the only one with the vision. You birthed the vision, so you have to carry it. No one else can see it as vividly as you see it.”
Now that I am reflecting back on how I gathered the confidence to execute on my personal vision, four things stand out as the keys to success:
1. Make the Declarative Statement.
I’m a writer (insert that thing you want to be here) and I have something the world needs to see. That statement is my battle cry. Freeing yourself of constraints and the idea that someone else determines who and what you’ll be and what gift you have to share allows for enormous possibilities.
2. Allow in the Guide.
Each time I’ve stated my vision with battle cry like force someone has shown up who could see the potential in it and offered me affirmation, direction, and support. They’ve said, “Get to work on this thing, and by the way I’m here to help.” Every time, that guide knew way more than I possibly did about my potential undertaking. The successes I’ve experienced while being true to my vision have been supported by graciously brilliant women who offered their expertise and mentorship.
3. Do the Work and Do the Work You Love.
Once the troops are on board, the real work begins, and the real work never, ever ends. Each time you take on a new project, the key is without a doubt, to do the work, and do the work you love. Be a student of your art. Study it to the depths and wake up every single day prepared to run farther than you’ve ever run before. Be that warrior for your calling. Even when failures happen, (they will), fail fast and move forward.
4. Give Yourself Ten Minutes.
When your brain does what mine does at that cocktail party and asks: “Who do YOU think you are?” “What gives YOU the right?” You’re NO expert in this.” Allow yourself no more than ten minutes of that, and then move on. Time yourself if you have to, just don’t let it go on for any longer than that.
When we meet at that party, now you know when I make a break for the champagne or see me hanging by the cheese tray just a little too long, this is exactly what I’m doing. Now, it’s your time. Go for it and give it all you’ve got. And in that second you start to doubt yourself remember to give yourself ten minutes and:
Make that declaration, envision one of those brilliant guides cheering you on, and prepare to hustle for what you love the moment you come back up for air.
Editor’s Note: Andi Eaton’s second book will be out next Spring 2017 with Abrams Publishing. It is is a girl’s guide to the best road trips exploring America’s most unique and hidden gems, and famous locales. Artists, fashion mavens, and music makers will share personal stories and guides for every girl with a wanderlust spirit.
Kelley Crawford is a professor, writer, mentor, dancer, and constant questioner. If you would like to contact Kelley Crawford, you can email her at email@example.com.