Associate Sam Gorodetzer, who joined the firm at 22, writes about gaining professional confidence and breaking through “imposter syndrome.”
I am in a unique position at Ceisler Media. At 23, I am (at least for the moment) the youngest full-time employee, and one of just two team members who joined the firm straight from college. These are points of pride, but also sources of significant anxiety.
Every day is a learning experience, and I am proud of how much I have grown as I approach my first anniversary as an associate. But being surrounded by talented, creative and more experienced colleagues can be intimidating.
Which is why, early on, I began to experience “imposter syndrome.”
What is imposter syndrome? Generally, it’s defined as doubting your skills and feeling like a fraud. It tends to affect high-achieving people as well as young people, like me, embarking on their careers. This four-minute TED-Ed video explains how it even impacted Maya Angelou and Albert Einstein.
Imposter syndrome feels different for everyone. For me, it manifested as a lack of confidence and the constant questioning of every decision I made. I was pestered by the idea I did not deserve to be where I was, I felt there must have been some mistake. I had a constant knot in my throat because I thought, “Well, today is the day when they realize their mistake and tell me I don’t deserve to be here.”
These feelings surged with the first hiccup I encountered in my work product – creating an Excel spreadsheet with thousands of rows of data. Every time I thought I was done, I was told another change had to be made, another format should be used. With every adjustment, the anxiety piled on, the knot in my throat got tighter.
“How can I possibly deserve to be here if I can’t get a simple, albeit large, research project right?” I asked myself. “I can’t even seem to format the excel document the way they want it. What am I doing here?”
It wasn’t until I had been an associate for seven months and was placed on our firm’s Intern Management team that I realized how much I had grown since first joining Ceisler Media – and how well I fit in. When I was initially asked if I would consider being a part of the intern team, I was excited, but also felt my self-doubt bubble back to the surface.
Do I know enough? Am I experienced enough? Will the interns even take me seriously?
But I steeled my nerves, set my anxiety aside and joined the team. It was the best decision I could have made.
Working with our interns has been an important affirmation for me. It has shown me that I do have skills to offer, I am good at this work, and I can be a valuable asset. The first time I helped an intern edit an internal memo she wrote, it was eye-opening. I was in the position to teach someone using the experiences, knowledge and understanding that I never truly realized I possessed.
Working with our intern cohort and attending job fairs on behalf of the firm gives me the chance to showcase what I have learned. Having the chance to edit interns’ work, guide their research and involve them in meetings has given me an increased sense of purpose and belonging. Their growth is my growth, and it has been an effective way to remind myself of the progress I have made since first beginning as an associate.
Seek out feedback – especially when feeling insecure about your abilities. The act of seeking out feedback helps to build lines of communication and trust with those around you. Positive feedback helps to build your confidence, and constructive feedback helps to build your skills.
Speak up and act like you belong. When I began to understand and discuss my feelings of self-doubt, one of my amazing mentors told me that “fake it ‘til you make it” is actually a viable and effective strategy. Taking an active approach shows your colleagues that you are self-motivated and eager to grow. It also forces you to learn on your feet. Yes, it may lead to the occasional mistake, but getting past these bumps early will make for smoother sailing later in my career.
Finally, I learned that having a good mentor and being a good mentor is equally important for personal growth. I am lucky to have a fantastic team around me. My colleagues and mentors are brilliant, kind, patient and, most importantly, eager for me to succeed. Mentors help us to improve and build upon our skills, but being a mentor provides us with a platform to prove those skills to ourselves and others.
With time has come increased responsibilities, and with these new responsibilities has come greater comfort in my capabilities. My experience working on our Independence Blue Cross account, which I previously wrote about here, was a huge step and confidence boost for me. Being trusted to work, make decisions and interact with clients on my own led to a period of personal progress.
I still have the occasional flash of self-doubt, the fleeting thought that I may not deserve to be where I am. But I am quickly reminded of the successes I have encountered since joining the firm. Over time, that knot in my throat has shrunk.
I have come along quite a bit in my first year as an associate. With the support and encouragement of colleagues and mentors, I have learned to trust my instincts and be more confident in my skills. There are still lessons to be learned, more tips and tricks to be implemented, but that’s all a part of the journey.
Kate, Elise, Melissa, Michael and all of my other mentors, thank you for all you do to help me find success. As I approach my second year as an associate, I am excited to carry on mentoring our current and future interns and look forward to my own continued development.