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Journey from Imposter to High Performer


Fear. Trepidation. Anxiety. The familiar demons I had dealt with through a long and successful career, were all there. What was worrying me however, was that for the first time in two decades, an unfamiliar thought kept surfacing in my mind as I drove to work to start a new and exciting role I had been looking forward to. I felt like an imposter, questioning whether I had what it took to succeed in the job I had accepted in London to start a new business for the bank. 

I had taken a huge career gamble in giving up leadership of the most profitable unit in Asia, and a business I understood. I had excelled in that business for over a decade and a half. And therein lay the reason for the self doubt. The bank may have trusted my track record of building successful businesses while handing me the responsibility to create another one, but I was acutely aware I had never actually been involved in this part of the bank's business. 

The questions I asked myself were - Was I an imposter? Did I really deserve to be here? Would I succeed? 

Looking back at that morning, I now thank the length of the commute from my house in Surrey to the City. Even the ninety-three traffic lights. Particularly the ninety-three traffic lights. They gave me time to reflect on my life and career thus far, and how unlikely that journey had been. I thought about the seemingly unsurmountable challenges I had found a way to overcome. I reflected on my successes. 

And as I parked in the basement of the bank's Liverpool Street office, the realisation hit me - I had been an imposter every time I started a new journey. But it had never mattered, and wouldn't this time either. I would overcome, and I would succeed.

It's a thought that would change the way I looked at life since - we are imposters only if we allow our minds to accept that we are. The moment we rise above that mental limitation, we can be whatever we wish to be. We may have to prove it to ourselves time and again through our deeds, but the real victory comes from acknowledging that it exists, and the belief that we can rise above it.

It is something that one of our colleagues at Two Roads , National Geographic Adventurer Rob Lilwall wrote about recently. 'I think a good first step, and a healing one, is just to admit it. When we 'name' something we are struggling with, it starts to give us back some control,' he said. 

Rob knows all about imposter syndrome. Between 2004 and 2007 he traveled solo across 28 countries with his cycle Alanis (named after Alanis Morrisette) covering 50,000 kilometres. In 2011 he set off on foot from Gobi Desert, walking for the following six and a half months the 3,500 miles back to Hong Kong where he lived. National Geographic commissioned a TV series about the journey. In 2016, Rob set off on a 71-day solo attempt to walk across China's Taklamakan Desert. He made the journey across 1,000 km of sand dunes, hauling a home made beach cart called Odysseus, full of his supplies. It took him six months.

Our clients at Two Roads and I continue to be inspired by the many lessons Rob Lilwall learned during the course of his adventures, a flavour of which you will find here. They have the power to change the way we conduct our lives and businesses. One of them is the imposter syndrome.

Talking about the Taklamakan adventure, Rob wrote this week: 'I had many motivations for doing that journey, but one of them, I had to admit, was to do with 'imposter syndrome'. I realised I wanted to prove that I was a great adventurer! I felt insecure with what I had done (or not done) in the adventure world - the adventures not being epic enough, I'm not tough enough etc. I was afraid of what others might think if they really knew me.' 

The imposter syndrome is ubiquitous. It doesn't matter who you are or what you may have achieved in the past. Three years ago, England's World Cup winning cricketer and a respected broadcaster, Ebony Rainford-Brent spoke out about it. 

Once she had laid down her bat, Rainford-Brent was contracted by the BBC to commentate on women's matches. This was fine until the day the broadcaster asked her to join the team commentating on one of men's cricket's greatest rivalries - The Ashes. 

'Suddenly I started getting these nightmares that when I was on air someone was going to come and drag me off every time I was on the mic and say you’re not good enough. I’ve been doing broadcasting for seven years and these nightmares plagued me for three of those years. So when I was supposed to be broadcasting to how ever many people, I couldn’t get my words out because I was constantly thinking ‘is someone going to come and drag me off at any moment? she said. 

'I think that’s what imposter syndrome is, whether you’re in a boardroom or doing a pitch, you think somebody is going to tell you you’ve got to go. You think you’re going to get found out. It’s not great to be plagued for that long, but that’s imposter syndrome, it’s the chip away,' she concluded. 

Rainford-Brent is now one of the most respected commentators in the world.

Whether it was my nervous self on my first day at a new banking role in London, Rob Lilwall embarking on a solo journey into the Takalamakan Desert, or Ebony Rainford-Brent commentating on The Ashes, all of us experienced the same fears and self-doubts. We all overcame it by following a process. Accept it. Deal with it.

Like my commute to work that day in London, your journey from imposter to high performer will have its traffic lights. On that journey whether you allow the negativity of the red to overwhelm you, or choose to embrace the green, will determine your destination. 

The choice of being an imposter or high performer, will always be yours.

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