How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome as a Veteran | High Speed Low Drag Podcast

13271654123_b6324a89ba_zTom:    Hey, everyone. Welcome back to another episode of the High Speed Low Drag Podcast. I’m Tom Morkes here with Antonio Centeno. Today, we’re going to talk about impostors. How’s it going, Antonio?

Antonio:    It’s going great. Are you sure this is me? I mean, I could be somebody else.

Tom:    Maybe not that impostor syndrome. I think today we’re going to talk about exactly the challenge that I think a lot of creators have or a lot of really anyone trying to do something that’s outside the bounds of maybe what’s expected or what’s standard. Any kind of entrepreneur, writer, artist. And the feeling that you get when you’re trying to put your best work out there to be perceived in the best light but the thoughts in your head are going off and saying, “You can’t do this. You’re not good enough. You’re not as good as the other people.” So we want to talk about that today. Antonio, have you ever gone through that?

Antonio:    I think, actually, most of us have gone through it at some point. I mean, I remember when I was a young lieutenant and I just come over from the wing, blew up my sinuses in the T-34 and I got sent to the Infantry. I can’t say how I truly felt but let’s just say I was scared and it started — I was frightened and I thought I was going to — I don’t know how to say it but I really was petrified going into this Infantry Battalion from the wing.

I was a first lieutenant already and I was taking over a billet that was normally a second lieutenant’s billet. But I enjoyed the wing and being a student naval aviator, having my own lots of freedom. All of a sudden, I am in charge of the S1 shop. I’m surrounded by O3s and not having gone through the O3 training, which is six months in the Marine Corps. I went through six months of TBS but I did not go to SOI or all of these other very specific grunt schools.

They were looking at me as, okay, this guy is inserting into our battalion and is he going to be able to hold his own? In addition, the lieutenant in front of me really screwed things up, so much so that he actually tried to embezzle some money and was actually in the brig. So I walked into a broken unit. And I didn’t feel I was adequately prepared. So I have suffered from impostor syndrome. And it’s a psychological phenomenon.

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Basically, we’re unable to internalize our accomplishments. So despite making it through OCS, TBS and actually doing pretty well in flight school, I didn’t look at those as accomplishments. I was focused on, “They’re going to find out that I am not, I just am not as good as some of these other people I’m surrounded by.” And it was something that, yeah, I think it held me back for a while. And it wasn’t until probably the last ten months of my time with Third Battalion First Marines I really felt.

And it was thanks to the guidance of a great executive officer who pulled me and really worked hard to mentor me. I think I was finally able to overcome that. And I built up a lot of confidence. I realized I did not — This is a key point to overcoming impostor syndrome. You don’t have to be all things to all people. You just need to focus on what are those skills that really set you apart that you can bring to the table and add benefit and really be that person. So when it came to the S1, I was really taking care of the Marines in my battalion by making sure I sped up awards we’re getting out.

I made sure anytime anyone had a pay issue, it was solved. We realized that someone is not getting paid and they are deployed and that’s a huge deal if you’re worried about your family not getting a paycheck or getting money deducted out. We stopped everything to fix things like that. So being able to prioritize, being able to get things done, bending over backwards, working through the night to make sure that a lieutenant, a lance corporal that was in a certain unit, he was able to rest assured that, “Hey, we were  on it.” And, yeah, I think little things like that enabled me to overcome it.

13367418923_456154c6ff_oTom:    Yeah. It’s fascinating. I’m reading this article here. I have it from They said: Over 70% of people have experienced impostor syndrome at one time or other in their lives. I mean, that’s a lot of people. And the way they describe it here is it’s a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to see their own accomplishments. They’re dismissing them as luck, timing for results, seeing others and thinking they are more intelligent and confident than they believe themselves to be.

Yeah, I probably felt the same way in the Army as well. I think it’s even harder when it comes to too much partnership. Whereas I felt pretty confident of what I was capable of in the Army. Getting outside that though after five years active duty, well, I believed in myself.

That was kind of conceptual way. I was confident in my abilities to get through the tough times, let’s put it that way. And then I felt confident enough to learn and ambitious enough to build something. There was also something that, even to this day, where every time I take on a new project, I still think to myself, “Am I capable of this? Am I really good enough to be writing about this? Should I just stop? Should I not share this recognition? Look, shouldn’t somebody else be doing this?” That could be a crippling thought, I think.

Antonio:    Yeah. It really could hold you back. But if you can overcome it, it really could allow you to do things which others are just going to be amazed by. And you have to — So, me getting into the tailoring industry, I didn’t know anyone. It was something that I didn’t have a background. A lot of the guys I was competing against were second, third, fourth generation tailors. I’m not a tailor. I didn’t even have time to go to a fashion school.

But I flipped that. I used that to my advantage. My thing was I’m just going to partner with a tailor and I’m going to focus on the business side. And on the other side, on the business side, I’m competing against guys that went to Harvard, that went to MIT. And you realize there are other people starting these businesses and they went to, let’s say, Y Combinator or something like these top organizations for entrepreneurs.

I’m in the middle, I’m in the backwoods of Wisconsin. But I would always try to flip. Okay, they can have — They may be in New York and they may have direct access to our target customer. However, I know what it’s like to be isolated and, therefore, I can create a user experience and create a process that really goes after the person that doesn’t have access to everything. So it’s one of those things you have — It’s often how you look at the situation.

When I was going back into the Marine Corps, one of our lieutenants, his father was the in the Marine Corps. And it was a pretty amazing thing. You could say, “Gosh, I’m never going to be as great as that guy.” But when it comes down to it, I mean, talking with Greg, it was one of those things every man, despite how tall his dad is, he has to do his own growing. And that’s a huge burden on him. And when you realize that, it’s like, wow, I’m glad that I, in a sense, had nothing to prove to anybody except myself.

When you start to really, I think, become more comfortable with yourself and your place in the world, that’s when you start to just be able to blow right through impostor syndrome.

13271792964_9b7c88df6b_zTom:    Yeah. I describe it. I say this all the time actually, I guess, the concept of specifically this topic of impostor syndrome, of the fears people have. And I say it like this: You just have to get over yourself. Because at the end of the day, I think impostor syndrome, it sets in when we’re being hyperaware of ourselves and we’re being extremely self-centered. And, yes, in a negative way a lot of times. Because you focus so much on how other people perceive you. It’s almost like the world revolves around you.

The thing is, when you get over yourself, you realize, hey, most people aren’t even paying attention. Most people could care less. It’s similar to when people say, “I have this great idea. I’m not sure if I should share it.” Man, if I could pay somebody to steal my idea, I would. Because in some cases, like I want something built so bad, but the reality is most people simply aren’t paying attention to you. I think when you just embrace that fact, the fear goes away too. If I write this, nobody is going to really see it. If I create this, I could fail and nobody is going to pay attention. But it’s interesting, that context.

Antonio:    So let’s go ahead and dive into maybe the eight steps that somebody can use to overcome this. And this is based off what we found over at Fast Company. We’re going to change the subject a bit and make it applicable to vets or anyone that has served in the Armed Forces. But I think, first off, you need to recognize that this exists. Part of it was I didn’t even know what was going on. I just felt inadequate. But then you start to realize there’s nothing to be ashamed. I mean, all of us at some point.

And I would say that 70% I think is low. I think almost all of us at some point feel that we’re in a position that we don’t necessarily deserve to be there or we maybe haven’t earned it yet. We were promoted farther or quicker than we should have been. And it could have been when we were younger. It could be when you’re in your 30s or 40s and you find that you’re at the top of the company. But recognizing that this impostor syndrome is real I think is the first step. And then from that, you can then start to move forward. What do you think, Tom?

Tom:    Yeah. I agree that the first step is understanding that it exists and that those or any situation whether it’s business or whether it’s in the military, is to understand the lay of the land, what’s going on, because you can’t make an informed decision, you can’t make any kind of decision really without understanding everything that’s going on. So step one is understanding, recognizing that these are thoughts that are in your own head.

That it’s not other people doing that. You’re creating this in your own head. And then once you understand that, you can move on to step two, which is to be able to receive positive feedback from people and actually embrace it and internalize it.

Antonio:    Yes, to be able to accept the compliment. So many people just can’t accept even a compliment. They feel they’ve got to deflect it. Realize, I mean, there’s billion of us and we’re going to be naturally good at things. And other times, we’re not just naturally good, Tom, I mean, we actually put in the time and effort. If somebody says to you, “Hey, man, you’re really good at understanding, pay what you want.” Now, that didn’t just happen and that leads us to point two. You can’t attribute that to luck. Can you, Tom?

Tom:    I guess, that’s one of the things that, on the one hand, I do — I am the kind of person I think I’ll tend to maybe, I don’t know if it’s humility or what to say there is part luck in there. But at the end of the day, I am the one that sought it out. I’m the one that recognized the opportunity. I’m the one that–

Antonio:    You did a lot of work, Tom. You wrote. You’ve written an entire ebook on this. It didn’t just — I mean, luck, to me, is if you fell on your keyboard and somehow you actually type out a word. That didn’t just happen with that ebook, did it?

Tom:    No, it was very much — It was created precisely for a reason with an intention that there was purpose behind it. Yeah, I set off doing it with a purpose in mind.

Antonio:    Luck is opportunity — What is that? Luck equals opportunity plus–

Tom:    Preparedness, I think.

Antonio:    Okay. Let’s go to number three. Don’t attribute your success to luck. Boom. There we go. Number four, don’t talk about your abilities or successes with words like merely, only, simply, et cetera. I think what they’re meaning there is don’t try to push down your successes. Recognize them for what they are. And maybe even celebrate them a bit.

Tom:    Yeah, I agree. I think it’s similar to number two, which is receiving positive feedback. It’s also not to downplay your accomplishments.

Antonio:    Now, number five, they say keep a journal. We’re going to update this for those of us that are on the web. How about run a blog? Or create a video log? Or run a podcast? I would have to say, I mean, Tom, when you look back at your body of work, I mean, it’s pretty impressive now. You’re able to look at the, look at where you’re getting published, who you’ve worked with, and how if I type anything in about you, all of a sudden, there’s this image of this guy wearing a baseball cap with a check shirt. You use that same photo all over the place.

Tom:    Yeah. I want to be easily recognizable, so red plaid shirt and hat. But, yeah. It’s a good point. And I think blogging is one of the best ways just to get over impostor syndrome, period. Because it forces you to get over yourself. It forces you to start putting your work out there and saying, “I don’t care if people see this.” But then it also becomes a record of your accomplishments.

Antonio:    Exactly. I mean, you can do the journal. And that’s cool. But I would really highly recommend if you were looking to become a thought leader or to build your reputation up, there’s nothing wrong with going out there and putting out vlogs, putting up an — You’ve got an iPhone. Simply you can record your voice. You can record a video. And start putting your thoughts out there. Especially if you’ve got something to say and you say laser focused.

Now, number six, recognize that the perfect performer doesn’t exist. And I think this is realizing that all of us have our flaws. Sometimes it’s hard to believe. I mean, you see a guy like Seth Godin just out there kicking butt and then you realize that, wow, this is a real human being. What was it like actually meeting him in person? Is his head as shiny as it looks?

13271599683_eb78530226_zTom:    He’s a super down to earth guy. And that’s not — You can’t say it about everybody especially at his level of success and fame. But that’s the thing that struck me. I was like, wow, this guy is really down to earth. He practices what he preaches. You don’t get any sense of arrogance about him which is something that I admire and I try to live myself in that respect. It was pretty cool being in his presence, for sure, and me getting a chance to interact with him.

Antonio:    Yeah. I felt that same way when I met Chris Brogan. I had known who he was and his bigger than life personality online. And then meeting him in person, it was something that — Actually, he was bigger than I thought he was going to be, very tall, kind of a bigger buy. But it’s one of those things that you realize this is a real human being. He’s the same as me. He probably does the three Ss in the morning just like any of us. And the great part about recognizing that is to realize that if the perfect performer doesn’t exist, then there’s hope for all of us.

Tom:    Yeah, absolutely. And it’s also, I think part of that too is being comfortable then with failure.

And comfortable with setbacks and struggles and hurdles. At least, it’s something that I embrace and I say to myself I’m going to go through pain to — No pain, no gain, right? Just the same way that is in the gym. It’s the same way as it is with everything in life and entrepreneurship and everything like that. I assume that some things I do aren’t going to work out and some of the things that I write aren’t going to get credits from the audience, some things that I try to produce or sell, nobody is going to like. Okay, now that I accept that, am I still going to do it? And the answer is always yes. I’m like, okay, and I’m over myself and I can move on.

Antonio:    Good to go, man. Let’s go to point number seven, which is be proud of being humble. And I think this comes to probably a lot of us that have impostor syndrome. We come from maybe humble beginnings or maybe we’d been surrounded by people that really believe in humility and not putting — Probably the people that don’t suffer from impostor syndrome are oftentimes maybe way too overconfident. And they have not a humble bone in their body. I don’t know.

I have no statistics on that but I would say that it is something I really am proud of what I’m building up, what I have. And it’s one of those things — I guess, here’s my little particular story. I still drive the same pickup truck that I got. I bought it when it was a year old back in 1998. So I still drive the 1997 Chevy Silverado. My goal is to get this thing to 20 years, when it becomes a classic. And then put it in the garage and leave it there for my son. And then go buy a new Silverado. That’s my story.

But I remember reading about — Who was it? Sam Walton. He would pick people up at the airport. And if you got the Sam Walton treatment, supposedly he picked you up in his old beat up pickup truck and he’s a billionaire. But when it came down to it, he’s looking for people that they never lose sight of where this company came from and what it was about and who its core market was.

Tom:    Yeah. And I can’t agree with that enough and I certainly can’t raise that enough. And it’s just so important, just like a happiness perspective, that at the end of the day, the happiness is relative and that the recognition to success is relative as well. So if you’ve been through painful times, I’m sure pretty much most people in the military have been through those times, I know I personally have tried to never lose sight of that, to never lose sight of what I had to go through to get where I am and to recognize the painful or difficult times make the times now that are the success that I have that much sweeter.

Yeah, be proud of being humble. And also don’t lose sight of the hardships that you’ve been through, I think that’s maybe just more personal thing, then that’s just perspective, where I’d come and what I’ve done and it get me to feel better about myself when I put out something good.

Antonio:    And the eighth step that they talk about is remembering that it’s okay to seek help from others. And this was something — I think my first couple of companies, I did them alone with — Well, I had my wife helping me out quite a bit. I would, of course, bring on a team. But what I’ve really enjoyed, and I started a number of companies in the last couple years, I mean, High Speed Low Drag being one of them, is bringing other people that complement you and that together you actually form a much stronger team. Because my end goal was I would rather have 33% of an amazing success than 100% of something that never goes anywhere.

Tom:    Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. I’m a big fan of collaboration, big fan of teaming up with people that you admire and creating stuff that’s way better than any individual could do alone. So completely agree.

Antonio:    All right, man. Well, I think that’s it with impostor syndrome. Probably in the article, we’ll link over two, the Fast Company articles where we pulled the nice little graphs and other stuff that goes into a little bit more detail there. But gentlemen, if you’ve got questions, if you want to learn more, go check us out at High Speed Low Drag. Use our contact form. Reach out to us. If you enjoy the podcast, go to iTunes, leave a review, give us some feedback. But we love hearing from other veterans out there and we want to see you. Go out there in the civilian world and kick butt.

Tom:    Absolutely. And thanks, everyone, for listening. I enjoyed today’s conversation. Hopefully you did too. And we will see you next week.

Antonio:    All right. Semper Fi.

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