Confronting the ‘imposter syndrome’

During a recent interview with Forbes I was asked to reflect on the “Imposter Syndrome” and whether or not I was affected by it. My answer was “All the time, actually!” I came to realize that the insecurities attendant to being a first-generation college grad never really go away, and that their myriad visits continue to bedevil one’s sense of belonging.

I began to vaguely sense this after business school. I held three MIT degrees and yet the homogeneity of my workplace caused doubt to creep into my mind. The official recognition and naming of this syndrome changed me, because it made clear that I’d always have to remain on guard and proactively shore up feared shortcomings.

As investors, we constantly remind entrepreneurs that they’ll hear many nos and will have to power through them to get to the yesses. This is easier said than done for those whose insecurities are not held at bay by centuries of generational success. But, having been on the other side of this exchange while fundraising for the last two years, I’ve gained an appreciation for the process, and this will serve to help me de-personalize any future “nos” that come my way. More importantly, it’s helped me understand that to allow fear to cow me into less of an informed risk-taker is to be party to the dismantling of my own confidence.

Remaining an effective leader in the midst of the imposter syndrome is paramount, as is remaining active and on task, especially in the service of a greater good. For me, trepidation is best diffused by doing something for someone else. Being of service is an evergreen reminder that we have value, irrespective of extrinsics. The validation then cascades into a sense of belonging and worth, and the resultant bolstering of spirit conveniently spills over into energy applicable to the “regular” work ecosystem.

There’s a shared reality that applies to first-generation college grads and/or immigrants and/or underserved communities: beyond the drag of imposterism, risk taking is also inhibited by socioeconomic Swords of Damocles, such as income that can’t be gambled because it’s earmarked for food, health, family or other essentials. Invoking Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, financial brittleness inexorably dislevels one’s ability to propose and contend with unconstrained entrepreneurs. The struggle related to the twin bears of personal and financial fear is real, and it informs my passion to foster diversity through activism and venture capital.