I’ll be honest: starting out in the business world was terrifying for me. I knew graduating from college that I was smart, I knew that I was driven, but I didn’t really know what waited me on the other side of graduation.
Fear of the unknown is always stressful, but I put myself out there though a countless number of interviews until I landed my dream job. I was hired as an Account Manager at an advertising agency based in South Jersey. It was everything I thought agency life would be like and more, it had two floors of employees, an impressive list of clients and the work we created was featured all over the United States– I remember thinking how lucky I was! Training was hard as there was a lot to learn and very little time to do so, but I powered through, and looking back I realize I caught on quick and was doing a pretty good job.
I was promoted a year later which was a very big deal and made me feel awesome, but at the time I was struggling with insecurities on the job. I had a lot of people pushing back on me, clients and coworkers alike. Instead of speaking my mind and explaining myself, I became a pushover.
Anyone who has worked in the agency world can attest to the fact that questioning a designer about a color choice, or a copywriter about a corny headline can easily lead to World War III in the office. I wanted to be liked, and what’s worse, I was afraid I would just seem stupid or inexperienced if I pushed back. I allowed my fear of confrontation to back me into a corner where I was really only taking orders instead of making anything better. No one really ever asked me what I thought about anything and as such I thought no one cared. I never spoke up in meetings and quickly fell into the role of the shy and timid note taker. I soon lost interest in the job I originally felt so lucky to have, and left. I found a new job in the marketing department of a global consulting company that I thought would be more up my alley and would allow me to spread my wings into the great marketer I knew I was.
The first few months at my new job I felt just as intimidated, however. Many of the people I worked with had PhDs and were a lot older and more experienced in areas I knew nothing about. I was out of my league; there was no doubt about it. I put my head down and tried to soak up as much as I could. Within six months I felt like I had learned, but I didn’t feel any better about my performance, I again had the feeling I was a glorified secretary and that no one really respected or cared about my opinions.
One very exasperating workday I was on a call with a colleague in Atlanta where I had a small breakdown and decided to let out all my frustrations about my role. Said colleague, was a superstar at work and was kind enough to look after me, giving me advice where he could. I will never forget his words of wisdom that day “sometimes you have to fake it til’ you make it.” He admitted there were times he was unsure as well but he just put his best foot forward and said what he thought without fear of being ripped to pieces.
It was later it occurred to me is that what I was lacking was this confidence in myself. Again, I knew I was smart and capable, but maybe the reason I wasn’t feeling like I was being taken seriously was because I was looking for validation of my opinions outside of myself.
It’s a lesson in all aspects of life, really. No one loves to hear criticism, we all want to feel accepted and included. The business world is not daycare, however. There are no participation trophies and those who don’t speak up are often left in the dust. Over the years I have learned that when I speak up and someone doesn’t agree, that’s their fault for not understanding I am always right (I kid, I kid). I have learned that it’s not the end of the world. I have something to bring to the table in every situation I have been placed in and that it’s all a matter of how I communicate my expertise. There are going to be countless more times in the course of my career that I will feel intimidated or unsure- and I guess that’s just where the faking it comes in.
Never forget that there is a reason you are where you are. You are the smartest person at that table when it comes to what you know so speak up, that’s what you are there for. There is a really great quote from Eleanor Roosevelt that I love “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” It is so very true. Have confidence in yourself and your abilities, and you really can do whatever it is you set your mind to.
What is the best career advice you have ever received? Leave your comments below!