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Imposter Syndrome and the Accidental Banker

Someday when I write the memoir about my business career, it’s going to be called: The Accidental Banker. It’s a strange tale of how a guy with an English Degree who barely got through one semester of Accounting and completed Marketing 101 with a “D” became a National Sales Director for one of the largest banks in the country. The real narrative, though, is the struggle I had with Imposter Syndrome throughout my career.


What is Imposter Syndrome?

The term was coined in 1978 by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Ames, who found that:

“despite having adequate external evidence of accomplishments, people with imposter syndrome remained convinced that they don’t deserve the success they have.”

And many times in my career, I felt that way. It was especially bad during my time working for Chase. Suddenly I found myself in meetings full of people with MBAs and 20 years of finance experience who tossed around financial terms I couldn’t recognize, much less define. Despite the substantial work I had done assembling a great sales team, building an impressive portfolio, and adding real value in leadership team meetings, I was always waiting for exposure as a fraud. These feelings persisted for most of my eight years at Chase, despite glowing reviews, the associated bonuses, and respect from my colleagues.

How do you deal with it?

For me, it wasn’t easy to overcome. I had the help of a coach to get me through it. Some of the keys to success were:

  • Build awareness – recognize the signs of imposter syndrome as they start to come on. It may be different for everyone, but you will grow to know it in yourself.
  • Change the context – instead of immediately going to “I don’t know the answer, and I’m useless to this conversation,” instead consider “everyone at the table is here for their expertise, and I know my area quite well.”
  • Forgive yourself – you will make mistakes; everyone does. Learn from it and apply that learning the next time you find yourself in a similar situation.
  • Focus on the long game – whether it is the completion of a meeting or presentation or a rough quarter, keep your eyes on the long term goal and visualize success, then work to realize it.
  • Seek support – whether from a trusted colleague or a business coach, find someone you can work with to put these issues in context. It is easy to get stuck in our mental loops, and, early on, you may need outside help to break out.

Don’t miss the positive moments

When you struggle with imposter syndrome, it’s easy to miss your big wins. You probably tend to downplay them (it wasn’t that hard) or attribute them to luck (“I caught a good break”). Again, this is where objectivity can help. If you can’t find it in yourself, surround yourself with people who can help you see your value. It’s these successes, big and small, that will help you move away from viewing yourself as an imposter and instead see yourself as a valuable member of the team.

Eventually, I came to realize that I did bring value to the table. Could I calculate EBITDA or tell you how to underwrite a student loan? Absolutely not. Could I lead a sales team through some challenging times to succeed? Yes. Could I bring the voice of the customer to the table? Absolutely. And once I understood and accepted my unique value, those feelings of being an imposter faded away.

If you’re struggling with imposter syndrome, schedule some time to discuss it and learn how to develop a plan to overcome it.