I spent too many years waiting for others to approve of me before falling into the things that make me happy.
I think my first memory of imposter syndrome was probably when I was about three or four years old. My family didn’t have much money since my dad was a musician and my mom was an artist, but they wanted to make sure my brother and I had the same extracurricular activities available to us as other kids. I remember enrolling in ballet and tap dance classes and being absolutely IN LOVE with going. My teacher Ms. Helen was tall and lean with amazing curly 1980s hair and kickass sweaters that she wore over her tights. I was so excited to be learning how to show up Shirley Temple or prep for dancing The Nutcracker one day. But to my dismay, my parents could only afford the first couple of years. It was way too expensive for me to continue.
This heartbreak of “not having enough” sunk in deep. If I wanted to stay on the path of sugar plum fairies and Fred Astaire, I was going to have to keep dreaming because the reality was, I was never going to be one of the cool little girls in our town. As it was, I felt I stuck out like a sore thumb with my missing front tooth from a childhood trauma and now we were the “poor” family. Great! Sigh…
Somehow over the years of elementary school I realized that dance class wasn’t as important as I thought it was and I still managed to join dance teams. This seemed like a great idea but being the only white-passing child among a large population of Latinos and African Americans, I stuck out yet again. But, I kept pushing forward and not giving a f*ck because dancing made me happy. The spotlight of being in front of everyone gave me some major fuel. The extrovert in me decided to outshine the awkward, gap-toothed girl who hit puberty before her peers. If I couldn’t be one of the “cool kids”, I could at least pretend momentarily.
Fake It Til You Make It
I think that somehow that moment of pretending probably lasted much longer than it should have because I kept pushing myself to “fit in”. I carried that sentiment with me when we moved from New York down to Florida the summer before middle school. Fortunately and unfortunately, no one knew who I was when we arrived in the south. I could theoretically become anyone that I wanted to be.
I decided somewhere between 5th and 6th grade that I wanted to become an actress. I had probably seen one too many Christina Ricci films and saw how awkwardly pretty she was and thought, “I could do that. I look awkward/pretty. I can act in movies and television”. But there was one problem with that. I had no clue how to even begin with this new found career path. Luckily, I was very forthright with my new endeavor and I spoke to my parents about my desire to act. They looked up some information and found acting classes that they could afford being held at the local recreational center.
Turns out though, I was actually pretty decent at acting. I fell in love with turning myself into the characters on the pages of scripts. After all, I had been acting (or pretending) to be popular, pretty, someone who had money and would blend in with everyone else. That was what we were supposed to do as pre-teens, right, blend in to be cool?
Crash Into Myself
This whole acting thing became a HUGE part of my life. I had caught the theater bug. I soon became involved with the community theater, and had even landed some great (for a kid) roles. Not only was I doing musical theater, singing and dancing (Yes, dancing!) for hours on end after school, but I was also fortunate enough to get cast in The Crucible in the next town over. I didn’t let these castings go to my head, but let’s be honest, it did make me feel like I was finally good at something outside of academia.
This path continued for several years including getting accepted into a performing arts high school for acting. Only problem was that this school was very serious about acting, and as much as I thought I was, apparently everyone else who got accepted into the theater program was too. It was the first time in a while that I got knocked down a few pegs based on something very new to me, I was not “good enough” to get cast in some of the plays. While I don’t expect any pity for this because it probably did me some good to not have it all, I do think that some of that rejection stayed with me much longer than it should have. It festered like a scab that got picked at every few months. It didn’t scar me too much though because I decided to attend college in New York City so I could be a theater major and have the ability to go on auditions.
Cue the Little Voice Inside My Head
While up in NYC I felt on top of the world! I was FINALLY getting somewhere with my big dream of becoming the next Christina Ricci. Too bad so were many other 18 year-olds. I had tried auditioning for an agent who had connections with casting directors for commercials. The very first thing he wanted me to do was get better headshots. I took the train out to upstate New York to shoot with a world-renowned photographer who happened to be friends with my family. I was pumped for my first real grown-up acting assignment - headshots. After what seemed like hours and hours of sitting and posing, my family friend said, “Can I give you some advice? I don’t think you have what it takes to make it as an actress and I think some classes could do you some good.” Wait, what? All we were doing was taking photos! How on earth did he know if I’d make a good actress or not?! But I guess in hindsight he probably gave me some prompts to give certain facial expressions, which I’m sure I probably didn’t do because I was so incredibly uncomfortable and nervous with the thought of having to take professional headshots.
This piece of advice became an even thicker layer of “not good enough” on top of the already piled up pieces from my childhood. I later brushed it off as best as I could, but felt unsettled with what I was being told. I continued to try to pursue acting and ended up at a few auditions. This time, the little voice inside of my head became louder from casting directors. I was too short, too tall, too skinny, too heavy, too brunette, too ethnic, not ethnic enough… you get the jist. I was being torn apart in ways that I was not mentally prepared for.
If this was going to keep going like this, I didn’t want to act anymore. I had already battled low self esteem from the uprooting of being in New York away from family and the sociopath that I somehow managed to fall in love with. This sensation of not being “enough” coursed through my soul in ways that to this day, I still deal with. I had decided I had had enough. I no longer wanted to be judged by my looks, my money or lack thereof, or my talent or lack thereof. I decided that my intelligence should be enough - I needed to find a career path that if I failed at it, it was my own doing not someone else’s or in comparison to others.
Another Way Another Day
After spending some time in therapy, some time at home with my family and friends, dumping the sociopath and doing some soul searching, I decided to go into music business. Music has always been a major part of my life. With my father being a classical guitarist, my mother who sang in bands and my brother who was making a career out of heavy metal, I knew that I had found a much better suited path. I distinctly remember falling asleep in onesie pajamas at the age of two or so on the floor of the recording studio my father was in.
This new journey led me to interning at MTV2 in Affiliate Sales & Marketing. What I didn’t know at the time was that it was the research and development around target audiences that really drove me. I had found my new passion and calling - one that has stuck with me ever since. I spent two semesters interning at MTV2 and even spent a summer freelancing for them. They loved my passion and drive but they also loved my strong work ethic, my willingness to learn and help out in any way that I could and the ideas that I had around how to shape the musical tastes of my age group.
Forget the Little Voice and Dream Big
The love that I developed for marketing grew from those halls spent at the Viacom building and bled over into Sony BMG. I finished my undergraduate career interning in Artist Development for Sony. Unfortunately what I didn’t anticipate was the Great Recession hitting, something that forced me to move back home after not finding steady work post-graduation. I don’t regret anything though, and feel incredibly lucky for the opportunities I had during that time in my life.
If I had allowed imposter syndrome to get the better of me, which sometimes it still does, I would never have pulled the trigger on Let’s Taco Bout Marketing. I spent too many years waiting for others to approve of me before falling into the things that make me happy. Even though I have more years ahead of me, I still feel I wasted too much time listening to the little voice inside my head saying, “You’re not good enough”.
I think that there are still going to be those days that imposter syndrome knocks me down. I wouldn’t be human if it didn’t. But I think that the years I spent listening to imposter syndrome robbed me of joy and happiness. There isn’t any other way to break the mold of imposter syndrome than to tell it f*ck off and don’t come back. We are not born experts and aren’t meant to be treated as if anything less than that is a failure. But somehow we all tend to lose sight of that fact. If we all waited until we were ready to do something, we never would begin. Here’s to hoping you dive in too.
For advice on how to overcome imposter syndrome, click here
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