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In the fall of 2016, I was almost a year into my startup journey building Wish Dish. One of my mentors named Jason Belzer said to me, “Bryan, I think going to Forbes U30 Conference in Boston would be good for you.”
I booked my flight and hotel that night, eagerly awaiting my departure date.
I knew the conference would be an important event, but I didn’t know how it would impact me for years to come. I didn’t know that I’d learn a powerful lesson there, one that every young ambitious professional should learn.
When I arrived in Boston, I was blown away by the incredible lineup of speakers. It was surreal to be in the same room with people like Michael Phelps, Maria Sharapova, and other sports and business leaders that I looked up to my whole life.
The only thing more powerful than my awe of seeing my idols up close was feeling timid, doubtful, and fraudulent. I felt like I didn’t belong. At all. On one of the first nights, I went to an event, and I remember people talking about their accolades and accomplishments. I felt like my experience didn’t add up to theirs like it was unworthy of sharing. I thought to myself, “they would never want to talk to me because I have nothing to teach them.”
I was insecure in myself, my experience, and my abilities and it was clear to everyone around me I felt this way. Shrinking myself felt like this heavy, dense fog cloud that sat over my head, following me around everywhere. In this cloud of doubt, no rays of confidence were able to peer through. I felt smaller than ever.
I felt like this because I wasn’t fully confident in myself and I was still finding my tribe and trying to understand how I fit in the world. Even though I went to the conference to learn and be inspired, the Forbes U30 conference also showed me how far I still needed to go on my path to be comfortable in my own skin.
Finding My Mantra
When I returned back to Athens, GA, I remember calling Jason and sharing my experience with him. I was embarrassed, vulnerable, exhausted, and needed a pick-me-up pep talk. After describing what I went through at the event and my takeaways, he said something to me I’ll never forget: “Act As If.”
He told me that successful people are too caught up in their own dreams and desires to consider if your dreams are valid. So, why give them the permission to validate or invalidate your goals and self-esteem? Jason’s advice to act as if I belonged (even if I didn’t feel like I did) was a powerful new way to reframe situations with people who I admired or thought had more expertise and knowledge than me.
These three words are my mantra whenever I feel inferior or overmatched. From that phone call onward, no matter how difficult it was in conversations, “Act As If” became my mantra. It may as well be tattooed on me.
A Universal Entrepreneurial Experience
We’ve all experienced imposter syndrome at one point or another, no matter our background, education, or specialty. Sales mogul Morgan Ingram shared his own experience with feeling less-than. When he first started coaching sales teams, he felt like he didn’t have enough experience to be telling people how to improve their sales tactics. He didn’t feel like it was right for him to be teaching a class where the students were his age. With time, though, he began to realize that it wasn’t his age, but his unique skill set that mattered. Once he changed his mindset, his confidence grew and his coaching sessions improved. Looking back now, he says he had to learn to get rid of that tiny voice in the back of your head that tells you you’re not good enough. He says that “people appreciate your unique experience and your journey. Don’t let the voice take that away from you.”
Dylan Gambardella, a Forbes 30 Under 30 entrepreneur and Co-founder of Next Gen HQ, felt this sense of hopelessness, too. He said that “the entrepreneur’s journey is daunting – there are no two ways about it. You’ll face doubters, haters, and naysayers who challenge your vision and force you to question seemingly all that you know. Every success may appear fleeting, as you prepare for another hiccup or failure around the bend.”
With all the effort and challenges that go into being an entrepreneur, why bother? Why struggle through imposter syndrome?
According to Dylan, we push through the discomfort because we know entrepreneurship is worth it. The freedom to build and live your dream life is unlike anything else. Entrepreneurship isn’t about money or fame, but rather a way to live the best life for yourself. Dylan is grateful to surround himself with people who take up the call of finding momentum along their journey.
As young ambitious professionals and entrepreneurs, it’s easy to doubt our ability and our potential. It’s easy to think, “I am not good enough to be here. I can’t own and claim who I am and my work.” At times, it might not even feel like it’s worth it.
Once I had that simple sentence to latch on to, I gave myself permission to show up in conversations fully as myself, despite how uncomfortable it sometimes felt. The reality is, nobody can see your doubts and insecurities unless you show them. Realizing this and recognizing the control you have in anxious scenarios is a quick, failsafe way to ensure you’re confident, putting your best foot forward, and leaving a lasting impression.
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