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Facing imposter syndrome as a small business

by multimill
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Our company is heading toward its 20th year anniversary this fall and the reason I mention this is to give context to what many might perceive as our small ‘side gig’ career and how easy it is to buy into that cheap shot. My husband and I choose to take it as a compliment that we make what we do, look easy enough for any retired couple to look forward to doing once they ‘stop working’. Once upon a time, I couldn’t bite my tongue hard enough to challenge this perception and other times, I’d walk head long into those deceiving words like the term imposter syndrome suggests. These days, I have become comfortable in knowing the truth of the matter and have perfected the winsome smile. We are considered a small mom and pop shop and we have made our contributions to the employment and enjoyment of the cities around us, small as those strides may be.  

The language we speak at our office doesn’t contain words or phrases like B2B, venture capital or even customer acquisition costs. Not much anyway. It is small town USA, one of the “89% of businesses with fewer than 10 employees”, so says the US Census Bureau. But we are mighty powerful as a group. We are more apt to use words like vision, balance due, docusign and ‘champagne dreams on a beer budget’. 

Three or four years into my career, I became a member of a business peer advisory group called Vistage. This was a game changer for me because I learned from seasoned professionals about everything from ecommerce, finance and benefits packages, to marketing, organizational and consumer relation strategies to staff disfunctions, CRM tools and managerial styles, from the best speakers in the country, as well as those who sat beside me.  Fully 85% of what I learned was more applicable to bigger business, but I was able to pluck nuggets of gold from every session and bring back to experiment with my tiny team. 

At our monthly member meetings, we sat around a big conference table, on the top floor of a downtown business building and commiserated about what sometimes felt as a very lonely existence to be an entrepreneur, business leader and decision maker. We formed deep connections not only as a means of validation but also working through the day-to-day struggles that came with working on the business that we never had time to deal with while working in the business. 

My own nameplate however, always felt like the smallest in the room. I sat with men and women who headed up multi-million-dollar companies, who had personal secretaries, spoke professionally and knowingly about their careers and I was just one half of a small business that had no HR department let alone a CFO, CMO or many other C-suite classifications. I doubted seriously, that the others in the room received half the boost that I gained each month as I left for home.

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I was wrong.

Each month, I slowly and shyly shared my small world views, my interpretations of speaker’s messages, and my take on business problems that were up for the solving. My opinions and “know-how” came not from a business degree, but more from the observation of conflict resolution that I espoused from marriage, raising children, and doing business with thousands of couples and their families. Humans it turns out, are the same whether they wear business suits or blue jeans, and marriages, relationships and families are integrally involved in the success make-up of all businesses. 

Driving home from downtown to Round Rock, I would call my brother and bounce off his brain, all the information, emotions and new ideas that I had parsed, felt, and received. Crying was not unusual. He passed away four years into my membership so I was forced to absorb all that I learned by driving home in absolute quiet thereafter but I never stopped hearing his voice. 

Just like marriage, I’ve adapted to change, I’m quicker to listen and slower to speak, more patient to understand the other side of the story and accept and create boundaries that have been placed by me as well as others. 

Somewhere along the way, we as people as well as business owners, workers and leaders, learned to be fearful of the perception of others. That didn’t come from God above. Too many birthdays and tripping around the sun have taught me to accept grace. I am loved, I am chosen and there is nothing I need to prove. That wisdom did not come overnight nor from me, and it is still an exercise I work on. There are days I feel not enough, and there are days I want to go back to bed but they are few and more and more far between. I rely on the truth that Jesus taught me and that is that I was made for a purpose and it simply isn’t about me. I was made by God and for God and the days that I actually remember those words and live them out, I tend to breathe a lot easier. The world wants us to believe the opposite and that’s why we’re exhausted trying to prove our merit. It’s not our burden to carry.

Small business provides 44% of the US gross domestic product and roughly 50% of the employment. We think too small when thinking we don’t make much of an impact or that we need to justify who we are. Stand tall, my friend.

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Twenty years. I’ve aged more like 40. Life is good though. We have nurtured and provided for so many families as co-workers and we’ve loved on and cared for thousands more and that to me, is worth far more than all the monies we’ve earned and lost. Needing to love on just a few more, is what has kept us going all these years and I suppose I’m not done yet.

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