In the Feb/March 2023 issue of Garden & Gun Magazine, fellow North Carolinian, Vivian Howard, writes of her own imposter syndrome. If you haven't read it yet, you can find it here.
And while writing this blog post, I received an email from the podcast 10percent Happier about imposter syndrome – isn't it funny how things keep appearing, trying to get your attention? You can read that post here.
With these two articles appearing in my inbox, I knew I was getting a sign to write my own blog post about this subject.
When someone as successful as Vivian Howard publicly acknowledges that she suffers from societal comparison and self-doubt, it made me reflect on my own professional experience, career route and 'training' to becoming a women entrepreneur in the food industry.
This theme of imposter syndrome comes up again and again throughout one's career, if you haven't taken the road more traveled in that industry, or if you take on new challenges and pivot in industries. It can often plague successful people, burdening them to work harder, longer hours and build up credentials and accolades to finally feel they have obtained the skills/knowledge/experience to belong to a top clique or circle of visibility to be admired. And it seems to plague women and minorities more than men.
I've founded a growing consumer packaged goods food business from a recipe that has been passed down in my family and my only culinary 'training' is having worked in restaurants (only as a server and not a cook/chef) in my teens and 20s. I haven't been to culinary school or trained beyond being a home style, kitchen cook - which to me means reading, interpreting and putting your own spin on published recipes. That's my full experience in the culinary world.
And I'm okay in revealing this, because while my own journey to food entrepreneurship has been circuitous and windy, I do feel it's always been there inside me, just waiting to be uncovered, because I dreamed of it years before it became a reality. In fact, I recently found my notes and research conducted in 2007 when the idea started to take seed.
So as founder of this CPG company, I've given myself the titles of '4th generation Relish Maker' and 'Relisher of Life' hoping that my pedigree and puns will be sufficient to (possibly?) conceal that I have had a manufacturer produce my commercial food products, as I've only cooked prototypes in my kitchen. As while I was employed in nonfood-related industries, with this hindsight, I am able to see I was nurturing and building up other skills to enable me to start my small business – skills such as tenacity, problem solving, resourcefulness and community building.
My food business journey hasn't been the traditional, socially dictated route heavy on culinary schools, kitchen stages and restaurant openings, but it's keeping me going nonetheless. That and some accolades and acknowledgments. My three products have won over 35 awards, I've run my business for over ten years, I've been President of the NC Specialty Foods Association and am currently Treasurer of WE Power Food, a local non-profit that specifically aims to help women food entrepreneurs. How could an imposter with no culinary training have that on their resume I say to myself when feeling insecure and seeing the obvious gaps highlighted in my food career? Because these awards, titles and peer reverence are meant to keep imposter syndrome at bay, right?
Most people only know the the abbreviated saying of 'Jack of all trades, master of none'. It tricks you into thinking that you aren't good enough if you have a varied life experience because you haven't niched down.
But the complete saying, 'Jack of all trades, master of none, though ofttimes better than master of one', allows the diversity of experience and life build you into a well rounded person. It allows for the fullness of life, breadth of experience (rather than depth) and the humanity of a well rounded person. Progress, not perfection as aren't we all a work a progress if we continue to keep going?
So, when imposter syndrome comes calling, remind yourself you are enough. Your journey is all your own. Don't allow comparison to be the thief of your own joy, leaving you stuck in 'less than' mode. You'll figure it out. YOU WILL.
I was recently reading an interview with Law Roche, the celebrity stylist who just announced his retirement at the height of his career, right after styling multiple people at the Oscars. He started as an outsider in the field as all the celebrity stylists are LA white women in a clique and here he was a black man who didn't grow up in that California circle. When he moved to Hollywood, his early clients were Zendaya and Ariana Grande and he continued to build from there. He outpaced and out-talented all those women and did it his way, as old blue eyes sang. It's a great article even if you aren't into celebrity fashion styling as it's way more than that. You can read it here.
But to bring it all back - your work, your experience, your talent, your route, it's all valid and anyone who says any differently, is probably jealous, insecure or, is never going to support you anyway. Keep doing your work and showing up to find your authentic and real self - to create an imposter no more. There does come a point when you are able to own experience and be able to rest in your skill set.
Because, when you let go of having something to prove, you have the freedom of everything to gain.
Here's another excellent (again recent article) from The New Yorker about the history of Imposter Syndrome (it was actually called imposter phenomenon) that's worth a read if you aren't familiar with this concept and why we should continue to push against it as it might be systemic racism and gender inequality that are the issues as well of just part of being alive.