“I’m going to be the VP of Marketing.”
I could feel the tension in the room build before the words even finished leaving my lips. Sitting across the table from me was the guy who’d been hired to lead sales and marketing. He’d just asked a probing question about where I saw myself in the future.
I was 24 years old – and the low man on the totem pole of a company I’d been at less than 9 months. With one sentence, I’d thrown out the window all office social norms, niceties, and any reverence for ‘the way things are done.’
At the time I had no way of knowing how many challenges that single conversation would later create for me. I was young. Ambitious. Relentless. On occasion, reckless. But I was out to get mine. And no one could stand in my way.
Full of Piss and Vinegar
Like a young buck with a chip on his shoulder. That was me for the the better part of my early 20s. And admittedly, from time to time still is.
I walked with the air of a swagger I’d not yet earned. It was less of entitlement and more of conviction. An unshakeable belief in myself and my ability to win. Like a young fighter eager to touch gloves with the reigning champ.
But, like many a young fighter, I learned the hard way – it doesn’t matter how hard you punch in the first round of a 12-round match. A career, like a boxing match, is a game of endurance.
I made a lot of mistakes early in my career that can be attributed directly back to my youth. My eagerness. My ego. My impatience.
I wanted to be recognized for what I knew I could become. Before I’d proven it. And that’s a tough sales pitch no matter how good you are.
You Are Your Greatest Opponent
Ambition travels with a lot of baggage. Especially in the early days. Left unchecked, it breeds a weird kind of schizophrenic paranoia.
It breeds doubt. Anxiety. Pressure. And a laundry list of conspiracy theories:
- Is somebody else doing better than me?
- Should I be farther along than I am?
- Could I be working harder than I am? Longer hours?
- Do other people know how hard I’m working?
- Is my contribution known and evident?
- Am I getting credit for my efforts?
- Should I be making more money?
- Am I being taken advantage of?
- Is my title impressive enough?
- Do my coworkers respect me?
- Am I a fraud?
Imposter syndrome is a function of pretending to be something you’ve not yet fully become. It’s natural in any transition period. But mostly it wastes precious energy. It redirects mental and physical resources toward perpetuating myths rather than converting those into value in reality.
I learned that the hard way.
A Better Coping Mechanism
Along the way I picked up several valuable lessons. Here’s one of them:
Opportunities come easier when you’re doing good work and paying close attention – than when you’re trying to convince people to create them for you.
At several points in time, my work became a cry for attention. I’d go above and beyond simply because I believed it to be my best way to get noticed. It was not about doing good for the sake of good work. It was a shell game.
I learned that working to get noticed is a passive approach to creating opportunities for yourself. It’s manipulative. Both to yourself and the person you hope to convince. It screams “I’ll do good work when I want something.” But there are only so many carrots you can dangle in front of someone before you run out of carrots.
Instead, I discovered a different approach. It’s offered me more satisfaction, more control, and more opportunities than I can count.
The secret lies in approaching life with a dissatisfied patience.
Ever since I discovered this mindset, I’ve been happier. More fulfilled. More content. More deliberate. And not surprisingly, more effective at creating opportunities.
How To Practice Dissatisfied Patience
Instead of worrying about opportunities outside my control, I try to focus on the present circumstances.
- What opportunities do I have to improve things I already have domain over?
- Is there a way to improve a process to free up more time?
- Are there any ongoing problems I have the ability to solve – for myself or for others?
- What activities do not require anyone else’s permission?
- How could I take [X project] to the next level?
In other words, I try to shift the focus from future uncertainty to a local present. Instead of worrying about what I think I could become, I focus on what I can do to do my very best here and now.
When I stopped waving my hand around like a madman hoping to get called on, and instead just focused on doing good work, I discovered I got called on a lot more often.
This did not mean losing the fire in my belly to do more, to be more, or to achieve more. Instead it meant channeling it – so that if and when an opportunity does present itself, I’d not only be ready, but I’d be the obvious choice.