Kim Grzywacz on combating impostor syndrome: Create your own personal mission statement

Published by Nicole Grundmeier on

Newton's cradle

BY KIM GRZYWACZ, SALES DIRECTOR, CIT SIGNATURE TRANSPORTATION

Grzywacz
Grzywacz

In 2021, I found myself looking at all I had accomplished, participated in, been asked to be a part of, and I thought to myself, “Who is this person? I do not recognize her.” By the end of the year, I learned this phenomenon had a name: impostor syndrome. It was like a light bulb went on. I felt validated and relieved. What I was feeling was completely normal.

Then, 2023 rolled around, and I saw articles for ABI about impostor syndrome. The voice inside my head told me to reach out and offer to lead a book club on this subject. After all, I had led two book clubs on the subject in 2022 – one for a national council and one for a statewide association. I could do this again.

Then, I received this response: “Would you consider writing a guest column for Fearless sometime about impostor syndrome and what women can do to overcome it? Book recommendations would be wonderful, too,” wrote Nicole Grundmeier, a staff writer for the Business Record and for Fearless.

Me? You are asking me? All I did was offer my services to facilitate a book club. I had the materials, and I’d be ready to roll with a few alterations.

Do you see it? Do you see what was happening to me after one simple question? My impostor came knocking. I wanted to do what I was familiar with. I wanted to repeat my services with another organization. I was asked to create something new. I needed to silence my impostor long enough to remember that I had already thought I needed to create blog posts from the book clubs I have led. I have been longing to get creative again. Here was an opportunity to force me to do so. Thankfully, the knock of opportunity was louder than my impostor’s objections.

Still with me? (See, I even ask this question because I think at this point my introduction is too long and you have scrolled past my column.)

Overcoming the Imposter

After leading two book clubs, I am going to share my favorite tips from the book “Overcoming the Impostor: Silence Your Inner Critic and Lead with Confidence” by Kris Kelso.

Using this book as a guide, here is my advice for Fearless readers.

Fake it until you make it
This has been one of my mantras for many years, but especially when I switched from 18 years as an elementary school teacher to working for (with) my husband, John, at his company, CIT Signature Transportation. It amazed me how my skills as a teacher transferred into my new roles.

It did take some time. Have you ever taken a personality assessment? I had not before joining the business world. When I took my first test, I was a “C” (Cautious Thinker) with a “D” (Dominant Director) personality trait as my secondary. I laugh now. It didn’t feel right. But, in my new role, I was very cautious and sought approval for most of what I did. That all changed. When I take the test now, I am a strong D, with C as my secondary trait. That feels right – even  when I don’t want it to be. (And, yes, even Ds have an impostor.)

Do not let your impostor tell you that faking it until you make it is cheating. It is not cheating when you find within yourself the skills and knowledge to persevere and succeed. During the pandemic, which brought our business to a screeching halt, I wrote “Fake It Until You Make It – My Motto in Times of Grief and Exhaustion.” I was not cheating then. I won’t be cheating the next time I need to fake it.

Accept praise and compliments
One way your impostor shadows you is by rejecting praise and compliments. How often do you have a comeback when you are given a compliment? Here were some of mine:

Acquaintance: “I love your dress!”
Me: “Thank you. I’ve had it for years. Your shoes are great.”

Fellow board member: “Thank you for speaking up at the meeting today.”
Me: “I forgot to say … ”  

Instead, try this.

Co-worker: “That presentation was spot-on.”
Me: “Thank you. What did you like most about it?”

By not accepting a compliment, you reject the person giving you the compliment. You tell them they are wrong. They do not know what they are talking about. You feed their impostor. Once I realized this, I knew I had to change my response. I had the perfect opportunity to practice this. I was chosen to be the 2019 Annual Meeting and Marketplace Chair for the American Bus Association. This role makes you the face of the yearly conference and places you on stage – literally and figuratively. It was not easy, but I gave a lot of smiles of appreciation and “thank-yous” over those five days. I never want to reject someone when they are being nice.

Reframe your thinking
Your impostor knows you intimately. It knows your strengths and weaknesses. It knows your entire history. It will use your voice against you. It will feed your insecurities and manipulate you into feeling unique and special for all of the wrong reasons.

When I speak up at the American Bus Association board meetings, I always preface it with, “I am just a small company … ” After one spirited discussion, a large operator told me, “You may be small, but when you speak, people listen.” He did me a great favor by silencing my impostor. The next time I speak, I will say, “I represent the small companies.”

What language of yours needs to be changed?

Surround yourself with smarter people

What does your crowd look like?

Jim Rohn, an entrepreneur, writer and motivational speaker, frequently says, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

My husband, John, knew that to be successful in his company, he needed to surround himself with smart people. He joined a business management group, attended industry meetings and served on boards. He knew that if you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.

This is the same direction he gave me. Six months into my employment with him, I attended my first solo industry conference, the American Bus Association’s Annual Meeting and Marketplace in 2013. (Yes, the same one I would chair six years later.)

Those people I met as a “plus-one” took me under their wing and showed me the ropes. I also started attending those industry meetings as a participant with John. Letting my “D” personality speak at meetings garnered invitations to join boards. I said yes. Being around leaders in the industry is how I increased my knowledge and leadership.

In 2020, I became the seventh Women in Buses award recipient. Five of the previous honorees are my mentors. (The sixth was 100 years old when she was honored. She retired long before I joined the industry.) Being a part of the Women in Buses Council surrounded me with many intelligent women. As I reflect, it is equally important this council allows me to meet up-and-coming women in the industry, providing them with the same support and encouragement. My thank-you speech was all about these relationships.

So, ask yourself: Who are the people that intimidate you? How can you spend more time with them? Learn from them? I challenge you to place yourself in one meeting where you feel you do not belong.

Success comes at a cost and requires sacrifice
Surrounding myself with leaders in the industry meant I was attending meetings, many of which required flights and days away from home. We have five children. Four of them were still younger than 18 when I began joining boards. My husband and I attend as many of their school events as possible. (Nothing like sitting on bleachers from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. on a Friday night, watching your freshman football player followed by the varsity cheerleader.) Yet, there were missed events because I was away. I have never believed in work-life “balance.”

Even as a teacher, I stayed late and corrected papers after my kids went to bed. I finally came up with my own analogy: Work-life is Newton’s Cradle.

Success does require sacrifice. You never know what someone is sacrificing for their success. It could be as simple as never binge-watching a show to celebrating milestones on the next-best date because you are away from home. The idea is to be intentional in your sacrifice. It is important to define what success means to you. Are you eyeing an award? Do you want a specific position? Do you have learning goals? Do you want to develop a new skill? Are you following your passions?

At this point in my learning, I created my own personal mission statement. I now measure my success against this mission: To be authentically audacious in consistent, persistent actions as I become who God intended.

Kim Grzywacz is the sales director of CIT Signature Transportation. She lives in Huxley and can be reached at kgrzywacz@citbus.com.


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